Jul 17

Plans for a new opencast mine near South Africa’s Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve may increase pollution and poaching in the area, which would lead to further reductions in the size of the local southern white rhinoceros population. 

Among the most charismatic and recognisable of Africa’s mega-fauna, the white rhinoceros is the largest of the five rhinoceros species and one of the world’s biggest land animals, second only to the African and Asian elephant in size. A subspecies of white rhinoceros, the southern white rhinoceros, is currently the most numerous of all the world’s rhinos, and 93 percent of the total population is thought to occur in South Africa. This subspecies was rescued from near extinction a century ago, and represents a real conservation success story. In 1895, only around 50 individuals remained but careful conservation has increased this number to the 20,000 individuals that exist today. However, threats to the southern white rhinoceros are on the increase, and news of a proposed mining operation in close proximity to one of the most important nature reserve for this, and many other, species may spell disaster for this iconic animal.

The Near Threatened southern white rhinoceros is currently the most populous of the world’s rhinoceros species

The Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa is the oldest nature reserve in Africa and was established in 1895, largely to protect the remaining population of the southern white rhinoceros. Situated at the confluence of the Black and White Umfolozi Rivers, this natural reserve is home to Africa’s ‘big five’, as well as innumerable other iconic species and over 340 bird species. There are fears that opencast coal mining in close proximity to the park may pollute the air and rivers, displace local communities, and threaten the southern white rhinoceros. Local communities’ fears are founded in experience, they say that drilling and blasting at the Somkhele coal mine, six miles away, already creates pollution and affects livestock. There are concerns that not only will the toxic dust from the new mine affect the local wildlife, but the influx of people is also likely to increase the accessibility of the park to poachers.

The African leopard is also found in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park

Poaching is an increasing threat to all rhinoceros species. Just 13 rhinoceros were killed in 2007, while recent figures show that over 500 have been killed so far in 2014, indicating the highest level of poaching since records began. The growing demand for rhinoceros horn is thought to be due to economic growth and increased disposable income in Southeast Asia and China, where the horn is used for traditional medicine and as a sign of prestige among the business elite. The price of rhinoceros horn is greater than that of gold, and poachers are becoming increasingly organised, and there have been many reports of helicopters and high-tech gadgetry being used in poaching attempts. It is thought that the mine could help to facilitate poaching, and increase the difficulty of policing the park. The response to the plans from local communities and conservationists worldwide has been one of concern and consternation.

The horn of the white rhinoceros is becoming a more valuable target for poachers due to increasing demand from Asia

Find out more about the white rhinoceros on Arkive.

Discover more South African species on Arkive.

Read more on this story at The Guardian – Mining poses new threat to world’s greatest rhino sanctuary.

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

May 8

A recent study has found that Australian marsupials such as tree possums, bandicoots and quolls are suffering a sudden decline, placing them at risk of extinction in Australia.

Northern quoll image

The northern quoll is the smallest of the four Australian quoll species

Dramatic decline

Several of Australia’s unusual marsupials, including bandicoots and phascogales, are currently experiencing a dramatic decline in the north of the country, according to recent research. Small mammal species across the continent have been known to be at risk of extinction for some time, but Chris Johnson, a wildlife conservation professor from the University of Tasmania, noted a marked and worrying change in the northern regions of Australia.

There’s a pretty clear picture and it shows that lots of species have declined dramatically,” he said. “Where we can infer the timing of decline, it’s been fairly recent and there are now large areas where small mammals are either very rare or don’t exist but the habitat looks like it should support small mammals.”

Northern brush-tailed phascogale image

The northern brush-tailed phascogale is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Worrying changes

The recent changes have been described by scientists as being a ‘new wave of decline’, but Johnson says that it is not clear how sudden these changes were. The most noticeable declines began in the early 1990s, and were particularly evident in conservation areas such as Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. In recent decades, around 20 small native mammal species have disappeared from Kakadu, including bandicoots, northern quolls, tree possums and northern brush-tailed phascogales, and a similar pattern has been seen in other parts of the country.

Western barred bandicoot image

The western barred bandicoot is one marsupial which has already been lost from most of its former range in southern and western Australia

Feline culprits

Scientists analysed information from a database of current mammal populations, comparing the current wave of extinction across different species with past extinction patterns. The researchers reported their findings to a meeting of experts in Canberra this week, revealing that some common factors had emerged.

First, the extinctions are occurring mainly in ground-dwelling animals of small body size which live in open, dry habitat. This points the finger of suspicion strongly at an introduced predator – the cat,” said Johnson. “We have seen similar extinction patterns driven by predators like foxes in southern Australia – so the big question was: ‘Is history repeating itself, or is it something new?’”

Johnson explained that the declines were being seen in species typically eaten by cats, and that, tellingly, no such declines were seen in cat-free regions. However, cats are thought to have been introduced with the settlement of Europeans in the late 1700s, while the noticeable marsupial declines were far more recent, prompting Johnson and his colleagues to ask: what had changed to make cats such a damaging predator?

Dingo image

Professor Johnson suggests boosting local biodiversity through the reintroduction of native predators such as the dingo

Unanswered questions

Typical factors in species decline include the outbreak of disease and habitat loss through land clearance, but neither of these was evident in northern Australia. However, it is thought that the use of fire by cattle ranchers may be having an effect on native marsupial populations.

It is probably no one thing,” said Johnson, “but the data points to a combination of several effects – all of which tend to favour the hunting style adopted by cats which places small ground-dwelling animals at greater risk.”

The creation of sanctuaries in the bush or on offshore islands is one method currently being used to help protect a variety of marsupial species and boost their falling numbers. However, Professor Johnson is also championing a method which involves boosting local biodiversity by allowing the breeding and reintroduction of predators such as dingos to ecosystems where they have been eradicated by humans. It is hoped that, as the native predators replace feral predators or at least reduce their numbers, native prey species will be given the opportunity to rebound and thrive.

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Australian marsupials such as possums in sudden decline.

View images and videos of Australian species on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

May 2

Recently, the saiga, an odd-looking Critically Endangered antelope of the Mongolian steppes, was highlighted in the media due to a sharp-eyed Star Wars fan noticing its striking resemblance to some of the characters from the series. This discovery led to a surge of interest in the species and the various threats to its survival.

The 'Star Wars-like' saiga antelope

The saiga is not the only animal with more than a passing resemblance to creatures from the Star Wars galaxy. To celebrate Star Wars Day on May 4th, we attempted to seek out even more lookalikes from the natural world. Can you guess which Star Wars characters we think these species resemble?

Hint 1: You don’t want to owe him a debt

Arabian toad-headed agama image

Hint 2: Always seen with the previous character

Sri Lankan frogmouth image

Hint 3: It’s a carp!

Common carp image

Hint 4: Much larger in Star Wars

Wingless mantis image

Hint 5: Natives of Endor

Brown howling monkey image

Hint 6: They hope it isn’t a cold night

Thinhorn sheep image

Hint 7: Aggrrttaaggrrttaaggrrttaaggrr!

Sumatran orangutan image

Hint 8: With you the fourth May be!

Horsfields tarsier image

These resemblances are more than just a coincidence, with the inspiration for Wookies coming from orangutans, lemurs and dogs.

These amazing creatures highlight the many unique gifts that the biodiversity of Earth gives us. The vast array of morphologies and lifestyles on Earth has influenced human creativity throughout history, from ancient mythology through to science fiction. Whether we realise it or not, all of us draw inspiration from the creatures around us and the world would be a much drabber place without these weird and wonderful animals. Why not see if you can find any other lookalikes, and leave a comment below.

Answers: 1. Jabba the Hutt, 2. Salacious B. Crumb, 3. Admiral Ackbar, 4. The Acklay, 5. Ewok, 6. Tauntaun, 7. Wookie, 8. Yoda

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

Apr 20

With Easter just a hop, skip and a jump away, we thought we’d crack into the ARKive coll-egg-tion and have a scramble around to eggs-tract some egg-citing eggs to eggs-hibit in our blog. Along the way, we’ve also learned about the eggs-istence of some rather eggs-centric egg-laying and guarding habits, and we hope you’re as eggs-tatic about our finds as we are!

Gooseberry fool?

Peacock butterfly egg image

Peacock butterfly eggs look a lot like gooseberries!

While you might be forgiven for being fooled into thinking that these green globules are plump and juicy gooseberries, they are, in fact, peacock butterfly eggs. The eggs of this species are laid in groups under nettles, usually in May, and hatch two weeks later.

Sunny-side up? Over-easy? Well-done?

Emu egg image

Emu eggs come in various shades of greenish-black

However you like your eggs, there’s no denying that these ones look as though they’ve been char-grilled in their shells! But fear not, these emu eggs are supposed to look like this; they come in various shades of greenish-black and are the size of a small grapefruit. The male emu is an eggs-traordinary guardian, taking sole responsibility for incubating the eggs over the course of two months while the female wanders off to potentially find another mate, and protecting the chicks against predators for several months once they’ve hatched.

100 kids and counting…

Green turtle egg image

Green turtles can lay an impressive number of eggs per nesting season

In the UK, having more than about four siblings would constitute being part of a pretty large and impressive family, but in the world of marine turtles, this is a mere drop in the ocean. Female green turtles produce between 100 and 150 ping-pong-ball-like eggs per clutch, and can lay up to nine separate clutches per breeding season. While this may seem rather a lot, marine turtles don’t guard their nests or look after their young, and with the threat of land- and ocean-dwelling predators, the survival rate of hatchlings is very low.

High-flying hunger games…

Bald eagle egg image

Bald eagle nests are some of the largest of any bird species

Bald eagle nests, made with sticks and lined with moss, grass, seaweed and other vegetation, are some of the largest of any bird species, sometimes reaching several metres in width. These enormous nests presumably provide a comfy and snug environment for the eggs during the 35-day incubation period, yet things can soon turn ugly. By being bigger and louder, the first-born chick is often afforded more parental attention and food, and will even occasionally kill its younger siblings.

Treasures of the deep

California horn shark egg image

Shark eggs, such as this California horn shark egg, are often referred to as ‘mermaid’s purses’

A mermaid’s purse might well sound like something a sea-dwelling siren would keep her money and credit cards in, but a pilfering pickpocket could get a nasty surprise if they were to try to purloin this particular purse as it is actually a shark egg-case! Mermaid’s purses vary greatly in shape, size and colour, depending on the shark species in question.

Eggs-panding eggs

 

Common frog egg image

Common frog eggs are coated in a jelly-like substance

Frog egg masses, often referred to as frogspawn, tend to look rather like a gruesome collection of eyeballs. The female common frog releases between 1,000 and 2,000 eggs at a time, which are covered in a jelly-like coating. This coating expands when it comes into contact with water, providing protection for the tadpoles growing within.

Egg pasta

 

Sea lemon egg image

Pasta del mar – sea lemons produce somewhat pasta-like egg masses

What may look like a delectable strand of abandoned tagliatelle cast into the depths of the ocean is, in actual fact, a mass of sea lemon eggs. A common sea slug around Britain’s shores, the sea lemon produces thousands of eggs at a time which form a long, coiled, ribbon-like mass. These egg masses are produced in the spring and are attached to rocks, so if you take an Easter weekend dip in the sea and find such a structure, we would advise leaving it well alone and not adding it to your carbonara!

Ha-bee Easter!

 

Honey bee egg image

Honey bee egg

A supplier of sugary goodness and a harbinger of spring to many, the honey bee lays its eggs from March to October. Honey bee colonies have a complex structure, formed of the queen, workers and drones, all of which serve different functions. Worker bees have a variety of roles within the colony, with some being tasked with feeding the developing larvae which emerge from the eggs around three days after they are laid.

Eggshellent parenting

 

King penguin egg image

King penguins incubate their egg on their feet

King penguins appear to take parenting very seriously, with each pair keeping a close eye on their precious egg. Incubation is shared by the male and female and is split into two- or three-week cycles, and parental duties remain shared once the chick has hatched. It’s a good job that king penguins don’t let their eggs out of their sight, otherwise they may not believe the chick belonged to them…the chick looks so different to the adult that they were first described as two completely different species!

Eggs-treme monotreme

Short-beaked echidna egg

A short-beaked echidna egg

While the majority of mammals give birth to live young, there are some eggs-treme mammalian species that lay eggs! These eggs-tra special critters are known as monotremes, and the short-beaked echidna is one of them. The echidna’s leathery egg is laid into a pouch on the female’s abdomen, where it is incubated for about ten days before it hatches. The young echidna, or ‘puggle’, remains there until it is 45 to 55 days old.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these eggs-amples of awesome eggs, and that you all have a wonderful Easter weekend!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Apr 19

Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis)

Species: Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The Vancouver Island marmot is thought to be one of the rarest mammals in North America, with a wild population of fewer than 100 individuals.

More information: The endemic Vancouver Island marmot is a stocky rodent that has a chestnut-brown pelage with a cream-coloured area around its nose and mouth. As with all marmots, the Vancouver Island marmot lives in family groups that usually contain one male, two females and the juveniles and young produced that year. The families occupy complex underground burrow systems in which they hibernate between the end of September and early May, surviving by using up the fat reserves that are built up throughout the summer.

Logging activities and weather fluctuations within the habitat of the Vancouver Island marmot are thought to have caused population declines. Additionally, the local deer population has recently increased and their presence is known to increase the amount of predators in an area which may also take Vancouver Island marmots.

The Vancouver Island marmot is legally protected through its listing on the British Columbia Wildlife Act. A recovery plan was established in 1988 in an attempt to save this species from the brink of extinction, and a captive breeding programme is now in place, with reintroductions of captive-bred individuals planned for the future.

See images of the Vancouver Island marmot on ARKive

Find out more about Vancouver Island and other islands of the North Pacific

Find out more about other marmot species

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

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