Mar 21

Photographs on the Arkive website  have helped two naturalists who had never met and work around 200 miles (310 kms) apart to identify two previously unrecorded species of one of Earth’s oldest flowering plants: the magnolia.

In 2010, Roberto Pedraza Ruiz gave Arkive a series of animal and plant photos he had taken in a life-rich cloud forest within eastern Mexico’s Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. One of the photos he donated was identified as being the magnolia, Magnolia dealbata, classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

But the image raised questions for Dr José Antonio Vázquez, a botanist at the University of Guadalajara, when he came across it during a search of Arkive’s 16,000 free-to-view online flora and fauna fact-files.

Magnolia rzedowskiana flower

It was this image that first raised questions. It is now identified as a Magnolia rzedowskiana flower.

As Roberto explains: “For Dr Vázquez, the specimen in the photo seemed unusual and he requested that I sent him more pictures. So I made several more trips to the cloud forest, documenting the flowers and fruits of the trees until finally receiving confirmation that I had photographed not only one but two completely new species of magnolias.”

Two new species of magnolia discovered

The first of the finds, originally identified on Arkive, has already been documented and has been given the name Magnolia rzedowskiana, after Dr Jerzy Rzedoswski, Mexico’s most eminent botanist who has collected and documented over 50,000 species and celebrating his 90th birthday this year.  A description of the second specimen is about to published and will be named Magnolia pedrazae, after Roberto.

He says: “This is without doubt the highest honour that a conservationist and nature photographer can receive. It means that this incredibly special tree – an endemic of the Sierra Gorda and product of an evolutionary process that spans millennia – has become part of the family.”

Magnolia rzedowskiana

Magnolia rzedowskiana

Lucie Muir, Director of Wildscreen, added: “We were absolutely thrilled when Roberto told us that a new species of magnolia had been identified because of botanist looking through the images on the Arkive website. It’s amazing that new species are still being discovered and that on this occasion Arkive was part of the discovery story.”

Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda

The use of the Pedraza name is especially apt as it was Roberto’s parents who started the grassroots movement which led to the creation of the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG) to look after a section of the eastern Sierra Madre where the high peaks, rain shadow, remoteness and latitude mean biodiversity is especially rich.

Roberto Pedraza Ruiz

Roberto Pedraza Ruiz

Roberto grew up in the region and soon turned to photography as a way of documenting and sharing the area’s biological wealth and GESG’s work to protect it.  It was during one of his GESG expeditions in 1996 that Roberto found loggers at work in the cloud forest where the new species of magnolia grow.   After he raised the alarm, 40 friends clubbed together to buy the land and halt the operation – so saving a habitat where ancient oaks and cypress reach heights of 130 feet (40 metres), their limbs draped in dense mats of moss, ferns, orchids and bromeliads; and a place where he has photographed many rare or previously unrecorded life-forms, including jaguars, pumas and margays and a new family of molluscs.

Roberto says: “These discoveries highlight the importance of protecting sites with high biological value, giving ecosystems and species refuges from human activity, spaces where they are protected from humans’ ever-increasing demands for land and ecosystem services. If steps had not been taken to protect them, these species and others may have disappeared before we even learned of their existence.”

More information

Roberto has been donating his images to Arkive since 2010. View all of his images here and view the new species profile for Magnolia rzedowskiana here.

Find out more about the work of  Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda here.

Jun 11

A flock of scarlet macaws has been released in southern Mexico as part of a reintroduction project to return this charismatic bird to its former range.

Photo of scarlet macaw preening

Although not considered to be globally threatened, the scarlet macaw has almost disappeared from southern Mexico

The macaws were released into the jungles of Aluxes Ecopark, near Palenque National Park in Chiapas, and all 17 individuals so far appear to be doing well. The project comes after years of coordinated efforts between Aluxes Ecopark, Xcaret Ecopark, the Institute of Biology of the University of Mexico (UNAM), and the Mexican environment agency (SEMARNAT).

Macaws under threat

The scarlet macaw is widespread across Central and South America, and is currently classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. However, this vibrantly coloured species has all but disappeared from southern Mexico, mainly due to the destruction of its rainforest habitat and over-collection for the pet trade.

Photo of scarlet macaw in flight, side view

Scarlet macaws are potentially long-lived, reaching ages of 60 years or more

Fortunately for the macaw, forest restoration projects, awareness campaigns and protection of Palenque National Park have significantly reduced tropical rainforest destruction in the region, and the wildlife trade has also declined. Sufficient protection for the scarlet macaw and its habitat means that reintroduction is now a viable option to restore this species to its former range.

Macaw reintroductions

Before the scarlet macaw reintroduction project could go ahead, approval had to first be gained from the relevant authorities. The health and genetics of the captive-bred birds also had to be assessed to ensure that they were suitable for release.

The first macaw reintroduction took place in April, with a second small flock scheduled for release at the end of June. After this, small groups of 10 to 12 birds at a time will be released until a quota of 60 to 70 for this year is met. The reintroductions will then continue until 2015, and if successful will result in a doubling of the species’ current numbers in the region.

Close up photo of scarlet macaws allopreening

The main threats to the scarlet macaw are habitat destruction and the pet trade

Speaking about the reintroduction, Alejandro Estrada, one of the leading researchers from the Institute of Biology at UNAM, explained that they should “create a scarlet macaw corridor that will reconnect the remnant populations with the introduced macaws and will result in a region-wide restoration of the scarlet macaw in its northernmost distribution in the Neotropics.”

Preparing for release

Before the captive-bred scarlet macaws can successfully be released, they need to be trained in how to survive in the wild. This includes housing the birds in groups for several weeks to encourage them to form flocks, as well as training them to recognise wild foods and to avoid predators, including humans.

Once released, the birds will be provided with extra food to supplement their diets as they adjust to foraging for wild foods, which include fruits, nuts, seeds, flowers and leaves. According to Estrada, now that the first birds are living wild, they will be able to act as ‘tutors’ for new flocks, helping them to adapt more quickly.

The released macaws will be tracked over the coming years, to monitor how the reintroduction efforts are going. Artificial nest boxes will also be set up in the release area.

Photo of a flock of scarlet macaws in flight with red and green macaws

Scarlet macaws usually live in pairs or small family groups, which may join together into larger flocks

Encouraging support

The macaw reintroduction efforts have received encouraging support from the Mexican government, which has helped to publicise the species’ return to the wild. Various campaigns have helped to build a sense of local pride in this beautifully coloured bird, and the community around Palenque already appears to be captivated by its reappearance.

Those involved in the project are hopeful that this sense of pride in and concern for the scarlet macaw will also help to develop a greater interest in the conservation of the region’s tropical forests and the other species which inhabit them.


Read more on this story at Mongabay – Flying rainbows: the scarlet macaw returns to Mexico.

Find out more about scarlet macaw conservation at The ARA Project and the Tambopata Macaw Project.

View photos and videos of the scarlet macaw on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jun 10

The Mexican government has approved an important measure which aims to protect the vaquita, a porpoise species thought to be the world’s rarest and most threatened marine mammal.

Vaquita image

The vaquita is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Critically Endangered

The vaquita is the smallest porpoise species in the world, reaching a maximum length of just 1.5 metres, and is the only cetacean endemic to Mexico, being found only in the upper Gulf of California.

Sadly, it also has the unfortunate distinction of being the most threatened marine mammal. Classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the vaquita is struggling for survival as a result of becoming entangled in gill nets and trawl nets cast by commercial and artisanal fisheries to catch shrimps and fish, including sharks. It is estimated that between 39 and 84 vaquitas drown as bycatch every year, which is a worryingly high number given that, in 2007, only an estimated 150 individuals of this species remained.

Positive action

Fortunately, according to WWF-Mexico, positive action is now being taken to promote sustainable fisheries in the vaquita’s range, in measures which will benefit the species as well as fishermen and their families. A new regulation will establish shrimping standards in Mexico, and will define the types of fishing gear permitted in different zones of the country.

Vaquita image

Drowning in fishing nets is the main threat to the vaquita

An official norm

The new regulation, known as an ‘official norm’, has come into play as a result of a WWF petition to Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto. Signed by an impressive 38,000 people from 127 countries, the petition requested that measures be established to protect the vaquita whilst also ensuring that fishermen can continue to earn a living through sustainable fishing.

With this norm, drift gillnets – one of the nets used in artisanal shrimping operations in which vaquitas die incidentally – will be gradually substituted, during a three year period, for selective fishing gears that do not kill this porpoise, but that allow fishers to keep earning their livelihoods,” said Omar Vidal, WWF-Mexico’s Director General.

The effective application of the norm requires the participation and commitment of local fishermen. The optimal use of the net requires the development of particular skills; therefore, the support of the government and other organizations through training and temporary compensation programs will be essential along the fisher’s learning curve.”

This positive action represents a major opportunity to promote sustainable fisheries in the Gulf of California region, whilst simultaneously protecting an endemic threatened species.

View more photos of the vaquita on ARKive.

To learn more about protecting our marine environment, visit the World Oceans Day page or take part in ARKive’s ocean-themed virtual scavenger hunt.


Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author


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