Apr 23

Organised by UNESCO, World Book and Copyright Day is held yearly on the 23rd of April, a date which also marks the birth and death of William Shakespeare, and aims to promote reading, publishing and copyright. To celebrate and help people rediscover the pleasure of reading, we’ve gathered together some of our favourite animals featured in famous and much-loved works of literature. How many of these books have you read?!

Life of Pi – Richard Parker

Bengal tiger image

Bengal tiger

Winner of four Oscars, the popular 2012 film Life of Pi was based on Yann Martel’s intriguing novel of the same name, and tells the story of Pi, a young boy from Pondicherry, India, who ends up on a remarkable journey. When the ship taking him to North America sinks, Pi is left stranded on a lifeboat for 227 days with only Richard Parker for company. Trouble is, Richard Parker is a Bengal tiger

Harry Potter – Hedwig

Snowy owl image

Snowy owl

Adored by children and adults alike, the Harry Potter books have sold more than 450 million copies worldwide, making it the best-selling series in history. Each novel in the seven-book series envelops readers in a wonderful world of magic and mayhem, and is filled with charismatic characters and fantastical creatures. Among these is Harry Potter’s loyal feathery friend Hedwig the snowy owl, a large, powerful owl species with piercing golden-yellow eyes.

Moby Dick – Moby Dick

Sperm whale image

Sperm whale

He tasks me! That whale, he tasks me!

It doesn’t end at all well for Captain Ahab when he tries to take on Moby Dick, the gigantic white sperm whale that had bitten off the sea-farer’s leg on his last whaling voyage. In the story, Captain Ahab, a vengeful whale-hunter, is determined to track down the great whale and kill it, but the tables are turned when the harpoon rope becomes entangled around his neck, and he is dragged to the ocean’s depths by the very animal he was trying to kill.

Esio Trot – Alfie

Egyptian tortoise image

Egyptian tortoise

ESIO TROT, ESIO TROT, TEG REGGIB REGGIB!”

The star of Roald Dahl’s 1990 children’s novel Esio Trot is none other than Alfie, a little tortoise who, his owner believes, would be much happier if he were a little bigger. We can’t be sure exactly what species Alfie is supposed to be, but one fellow carapaced creature that knows all about being diminutive is the Egyptian tortoise. This runty reptile has a high-domed shell which grows no longer than about 14 centimetres at full size!

The Ancient Mariner – the albatross

Wandering albatross image

Wandering albatross

Being followed by an albatross is often considered to be a good omen for sea-farers, and in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an albatross appears at a most opportune moment, leading the ship and its crew out of the bitterly cold Antarctic. However, much to the anger of the other sailors, the Mariner shoots the bird, an action which causes bad fortune to befall him and his ship mates. The albatross in the poem could well have been a wandering albatross, which has the largest wingspan of any bird, reaching up to an impressive 3.5 metres across.

The Jungle Book – Baloo

Sloth bear image

Sloth bear

Much-loved by many, Baloo the bear in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is described as being ‘the sleepy brown bear’. However, this law-teaching character is actually thought to be a sloth bear, which is found in the Seoni area of India where the novel takes place. Sloth bears are unique amongst bears in that the majority of their diet is composed of insects, particularly termites and ants…this might explain Baloo’s choice of snack as he sings ‘Bear Necessities’ in the animated Disney film adaptation!

White Fang – White Fang

Grey wolf image

Grey wolf

Published in 1906, Jack London’s novel White Fang is set during the Klondike Gold Rush in Canada’s Yukon Territory at the end of the 19th century. It tells the story of the trials and tribulations faced by White Fang, part dog and part grey wolf, as he grows from a feisty pup into a majestic canine. Grey wolves are highly social and intelligent animals which hunt efficiently in packs. Once wide ranging in the northern hemisphere, the grey wolf now has a more restricted distribution, being extinct in parts of Western Europe, Mexico and the USA.

Jaws – the great white shark

Great white shark image

Great white shark

A 1974 novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws tells the story of the residents of a fictional seaside town terrorised by a man-eating great white shark, and the efforts of three men to rid the small resort of the fearsome beast. While the film of the same name became a Hollywood blockbuster, it can’t have done much good for the reputation of some of the ocean’s most incredible predators! Despite media frenzy surrounding the topic, only an average of 30 to 50 shark attacks are reported each year, and of these just 5 to 10 prove to be fatal. If you consider that, in the coastal states of the USA alone, lightning strikes and kills more than 41 people each year, it’s really not that high a statistic!

The Wind in the Willows – Mr Toad

Common toad image

Common toad

Mr Toad, an impulsive motor car enthusiast and the owner of Toad Hall, is one of the central characters in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. Described as resourceful and intelligent, Mr Toad is a self-centred yet loveable rogue, and finds himself in several scrapes throughout the book. While not known for its penchant for tweed suits, the common toad is believed to be the inspiration behind the wealthy occupant of Toad Hall.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – the caterpillar

Swallowtail caterpillar image

Swallowtail caterpillar

We couldn’t finish off this blog without mentioning a wonderful childhood favourite which documents a fascinating biological process…The Very Hungry Caterpillar! Young and old are enthralled by this picture book following the journey of a caterpillar as it chomps its way through various food items before pupating and emerging as a beautiful butterfly!

We hope you’ve enjoyed reuniting with some of the most famous (and infamous!) creatures in literature! Was your favourite animal character featured here? If not, comment below to tell us who your top choice is!

Four of our Top Ten Animals in Literature have made it onto the shortlist of the world’s Top 50 Favourite Species…so why not check out what else has been nominated and cast your vote!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Apr 20
Photo of juvenile western swamp turtle in habitat

Western swamp turtle (Pseudemydura umbrina)

Species: Western swamp turtle (Pseudemydura umbrina)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The western swamp turtle is the only turtle species that digs its nest with its front legs rather than its back ones.

The western swamp turtle is the most endangered reptile in Australia, where it is found only in a tiny area on the edge of Perth. It inhabits shallow, temporary swamps that only fill during the autumn rains. The western swamp turtle is inactive during the dry summer months, remaining dormant in a hole in the soil or under leaf litter or fallen branches. This species eats only live prey, such as insect larvae, worms and tadpoles, and is unusual in that it produces just one small clutch of three to five eggs each year. The western swamp turtle is long lived, potentially reaching ages of 60 to 70 years.

Although it has always had a restricted distribution, the western swamp turtle has undergone a serious decline in recent decades due to the drainage of its swamps and predation by the introduced red fox (Vulpes vulpes). The slow reproductive rate of this species hampers its recovery, and only one viable wild population remains, with two others now maintained by reintroductions. Fortunately, the sites where this turtle still survives are protected as nature reserves, and fox-proof fences have been erected to protect the turtles. A captive breeding programme for the western swamp turtle is also underway at Perth Zoo.

Find out more about the conservation of freshwater turtles at Conservation International – Freshwater turtles, the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group and Turtle Survival Alliance.

See images of the western swamp turtle on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Mar 11

Several freshwater turtle and tortoise species are to be afforded greater protection as a result of successful conservation talks at the CITES meeting in Bangkok, Thailand.

Swinhoe’s soft shell turtle image

Swinhoe’s soft shell turtle is number 2 on the 25 most endangered turtles list

Turtle proposals

At the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), proposals were put forward to restrict trade in 44 Asian turtle and tortoise species, as well as three North American pond turtle species. These proposals were mostly led by the U.S., although some of the suggested amendments were presented jointly by the U.S. and China, marking the first time that these two countries have worked together to conserve reptiles.

Conservation victory

Government negotiators at the meeting have accepted the proposals, which have now been adopted under the CITES agreement. This has been viewed as a victory for the conservation of reptiles, and is a welcome step towards saving these threatened species.

We are extremely heartened by today’s vote to give greater protection to these highly imperiled species,” said Bryan Arroyo, head of the U.S. delegation to the CITES 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP16). “More than half of the world’s freshwater turtles are threatened with extinction, yet they continue to be traded, unsustainably, for food, as pets, and in traditional medicines. We’ve taken a significant step forward today to begin managing that trade.”

Burmese starred tortoise image

The Burmese starred tortoise is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Threatened reptiles

The acceptance of the proposals means that trade in the 44 Asian species and 3 North American species will now be more carefully regulated, and this result has come just in time. According to a 2011 report published by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Turtle Conservation Coalition, nearly 70 percent of the world’s 25 most endangered turtles are found in Asia, where the reptiles are in high demand for meat and other products including traditional medicine. For example, Swinhoe’s soft shell turtle, also known as the Yangtze giant softshell tortoise, is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and is one of the species which will benefit from the new proposals.

With the depletion of Asia’s turtle populations, harvesting has shifted to the U.S., where there is concern for native turtle species such as the diamondback terrapin, which is increasingly under threat. It is hoped that the newly adopted regulations will play a part in managing turtle harvesting in the U.S. before it becomes a bigger issue.

 

Burmese roofed turtle image

The Burmese roofed turtle is one of the 25 most endangered turtle species

International cooperation

The joint submission of two proposals by China and the U.S. has been highlighted as a big event, demonstrating remarkable cooperation between the countries for increased protection for a number of Asian turtle species.

This signals that the Chinese government is committed to being serious about conservation. It’s a leap forward for both countries in terms of conservation,” said Arroyo.

Various campaign groups were also pleased with the outcome, with charity Care for the Wild releasing a statement urging pet owners to remember that the trend for housing exotic pets has a price, and that these creatures belong in the wild.

The CITES CoP16 runs until the 14th March.

Read more on this story at BBC News – Turtle ‘victory’ at wildlife meeting and Mongabay – Turtles win greater protection at CITES meeting.

View photos and videos of turtles and tortoises on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Feb 28

The leatherback turtle is disappearing from its most important nesting sites in the western Pacific, according to a new study.

Photo of female leatherback turtle at nesting site on beach

Female leatherback turtle on nesting beach

The study found that the number of leatherback turtle nests in the Bird’s Head Peninsula of New Guinea has dropped by a staggering 78% in the last 30 years. These beaches account for three-quarters of the western Pacific’s nesting leatherback turtles, meaning this decline could have serious consequences for the future of the species in the Pacific Ocean.

Sea turtles have been around about 100 million years and survived the extinction of the dinosaurs but are struggling to survive the impact of humans,” said Thane Wibbels, one of the researchers.

Photo of fishermen with dead, captured leatherback turtle

Fishermen holding a dead, captured leatherback turtle

Leatherback threats

The leatherback turtle is the largest of the world’s turtles, and is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Like all sea turtles, this species faces a range of threats, including entanglement in fishing gear, boat strikes, harvesting of its eggs by humans, and predation of its eggs by feral dogs and pigs. In addition, the leatherback turtle also accidentally consumes plastic bags, mistaking them for its jellyfish prey.

Climate change is also a serious threat to the leatherback turtle. Rising sea levels and increasingly frequent and violent storms may erode nesting beaches and destroy nests, while changing ocean currents are likely to affect the turtle’s prey.

Photo of feral dogs digging up leatherback turtle eggs

Feral dogs are a threat to leatherback turtles, digging up and eating their eggs

The gender of leatherback turtle hatchlings is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated, so warmer sand is likely to produce more females, skewing the species’ sex ratio. In addition, warmer temperatures have been known to cause abnormalities in hatchlings, and to affect the health and development of the young turtles.

In comparison to the Atlantic Ocean, where several nesting populations of leatherback turtles have increased in recent years, the status of the species in other oceans is of greater concern.

The leatherback is one of the most intriguing animals in nature, and we are watching it head towards extinction in front of our eyes,” said Wibbels.

Leatherback conservation

Conservationists have begun programmes to move leatherback turtle nests to more sheltered and shaded areas, where the eggs will be cooler, in the hope of increasing the success rate of hatchlings.

Photo of leatherback turtle hatchling

Leatherback turtle hatchlings face many perils, and very few survive to adulthood

The leatherback turtle is legally protected throughout most of its range, and a variety of other conservation measures are underway to help save this impressive marine reptile. For example, the attachment of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) to fishing nets to reduce bycatch of turtles has been recommended.

However, much still needs to be done to save this marine giant. According to the researchers, a range of conservation measures need to be implemented at nesting beaches and in national and international waters if the decline of the Pacific’s last remaining leatherback stronghold is to be reversed.

 

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Leatherback sea turtles suffer 78 percent decline at critical nesting sites in Pacific.

Read about our recent Twitter turtle takeover.

View photos and videos of turtles on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive text author

Feb 15

Nearly a fifth of the world’s reptile species are at risk of extinction, according to a new study.

Photo of female globe-horned chameleon on branch

The globe-horned chameleon is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

The study, led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in collaboration with 200 experts from the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission, is the first of its kind to summarise the global conservation status of the world’s reptiles.

By analysing a random sample of 1,500 reptile species, it found that around 19% of reptiles are threatened. Of these, 12% are classified as Critically Endangered, 41% as Endangered and 47% as Vulnerable.

Reptiles under threat

The findings of the study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, also highlighted the possible extinction of three reptile species. These include the jungle runner lizard (Ameiva vittata), which has only ever been recorded in one part of Bolivia but has not been seen since its habitat was destroyed.

The study also showed that threats to reptiles are particularly high in tropical regions, where deforestation and the spread of agriculture are significant concerns.

Photo of pig-nosed turtle underwater

Freshwater turtles, such as the pig-nosed turtle, are some of the most threatened of all reptiles

Of all the reptile groups, freshwater turtles are one of the most threatened, with half of all freshwater turtle species believed to be at risk of extinction, mainly due to harvesting for food and the pet and medicine trades. Overall, 30% of all reptiles associated with freshwater and marine environments are under threat.

Sensitive to change

There are over 9,000 known species of reptiles in the world, and this diverse group includes turtles, tortoises, snakes, crocodiles, lizards, tuataras, and the worm-like amphisbaenians. Reptiles play an important role in ecosystems, both as predators and prey.

The risk is – if you lose a really important food source you can change food webs quite dramatically,” said Dr Monika Böhm, lead author of the study.

Photo of a group of young gharials at breeding centre

Classified as Critically Endangered, the gharial is under threat from habitat loss

Reptiles are often associated with extreme habitats and tough environmental conditions, so it is easy to assume that they will be fine in our changing world,” she said. “However, many species are very highly specialised in terms of habitat use and the climatic conditions they require for day to day functioning. This makes them particularly sensitive to environmental changes.”

Reptile conservation priorities

One of the aims of this study was to provide an indicator of reptile biodiversity that can be compared with other species groups and monitored over time. The findings of the study will also help scientists to decide which species should be priorities for conservation action.

Gaps in knowledge and shortcomings in effective conservation actions need to be addressed to ensure that reptiles continue to thrive around the world,” said Ben Collen, Head of ZSL’s Indicators and Assessments Unit and one of the co-authors of the study. “These findings provide a shortcut to allow important conservation decisions to be made as soon as possible and firmly place reptiles on the conservation map.”

Photo of female Antiguan racer

The Critically Endangered Antiguan racer is one of the world’s rarest snakes

According to Philip Bowles, Coordinator of the Snake and Lizard Red List Authority of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, “The findings sound alarm bells about the state of these species and the growing threats that they face. Tackling the identified threats, which include habitat loss and over-harvesting, are key conservation priorities in order to reverse the declines in these reptiles.”

 

Read more on this story at BBC – World’s reptiles at risk of extinction and The Guardian – One in five reptile species face extinction – study.

View photos and videos of reptiles on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

About

RSS feedArkive.org is the place for films, photos and facts about endangered species. Subscribe to our blog today to keep up to date!

Email updates

Sign up to receive a regular email digest of Arkive blog posts.
Preferred frequency:

Arkive twitter

Twitter: ARKive