May 17
With a third of the world’s amphibians, a quarter of all mammals and one in eight birds thought to be endangered, raising the public profile of these species and their plight is essential if we are to succeed in rescuing these species from the brink of extinction.  
 
Endangered Species Day, which was started by the United States Senate back in 2006, gives people the chance to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species through events and activities, and highlights the everyday actions that everybody can take to help protect the natural world. 
 

This year Endangered Species Day is on the 17th of May and here at ARKive to show our support we have decided to showcase some of the less well known endangered species.

Greater bamboo lemur 

Once widespread throughout Madagascar, the greater bamboo lemur is now restricted to just 1-4% of its historic range. The largest of the bamboo lemurs, this species was believed to be extinct for almost 50 years until it was rediscovered in 1972. The main threats to the greater bamboo lemur is habitat destruction by slash and burn agriculture, mining and illegal logging.  

Spoon-billed sandpiper

The spoon-billed sandpiper is a small, attractive bird with a distinctive spoon-shaped bill. As this species has very particular habitat requirements, only breeding in coastal areas with sand and sparse vegetation within six kilometres of the sea, habitat loss and alteration have greatly impacted upon it. Recent population surveys have shown that numbers of this species are declining rapidly. However, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust are taking action to save this species by setting up a conservation breeding programme to buy some time while the major problems are tackled.

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey 

Presumed to be extinct before its rediscovery in 1989, the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is an unusual and distinctive-looking monkey. With its broad, flattened face, pale blue rings around the eyes and thick, pink lips, it almost has a comical appearance. The range of the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey has been greatly reduced by massive deforestation and intensive hunting. The total population of this monkey may number only around 200 to 250 individuals, and these are fragmented into small subpopulations which are unable to interbreed.

Vaquita

The vaquita is a small and slender porpoise species endemic to Mexico. In 2007 it was estimated that only about 150 vaquitas remained in the world. The main threat to this species is drowning after becoming entangled in gill nets and trawl nets, which is estimated to be claiming the lives of 39 to 84 vaquitas each year.

Chinese giant salamander

 Growing up to 1.8 metres in length, the Chinese giant salamander holds the record for being the largest salamander in the world. This fully aquatic amphibian is well adapted to its lifestyle in the mountain streams of China. As a result of habitat alteration, stream pollution and over-collection for its flesh, which is considered a delicacy in Asia, populations of the Chinese giant salamander have dropped by more than 80% since the 1960s. 
 

 

Ploughshare tortoise 

Endemic to Madagascar, the ploughshare tortoise is one of the rarest land tortoises in the world. Classified as Critically Endangered, this tortoise faces several threats, including habitat loss from bush fires and predation of eggs and young by the introduced bush pig. The primary threat to the ploughshare tortoise is illegal collection for the international pet trade, which has escalated in recent years. This situation is made worse due to this species’ slow growth rate and low breeding potential, which reduces the ability of populations to recover.
 

Coco-de-mer

A giant of the plant world, the coco-de-mer is a palm species which produces the largest and heaviest seeds of any plant in the world. Endemic to the Seychelles, the Endangered coco-de-mer has already been lost from three of the Seychelles islands in its former range. The main threat to this plant species is the collection of its seeds, which has almost stopped all natural regeneration of population’s.

Saola

The saola is an unusual, long-horned bovid which was discovered as recently as 1992. The entire range of the saola is found in a narrow area of forest on the border between Vietnam and Laos. Classified as Critically Endangered, the saola is increasingly threatened as a result of hunting, as well as habitat loss and habitat fragmentation due to the development of infrastructure within its small range.   

Titicaca water frog

Endemic to Lake Titicaca, the Titicaca water frog is the largest truly aquatic frog and can weigh up to 1 kg. While its extremely loose skin gives it a bizarre appearance, the skin is very rich in capillaries, enabling the frog to remain underwater without having to surface for air. Unfortunately, the Titicaca water frog is under great threat as a result of over-collection for human consumption.

Estuarine pipefish

Believed to be extinct in the early 1990s until being rediscovered in 1995, the estuarine pipefish is still at risk of extinction. The loss of this pipefish from the majority of its former range is thought to be due to construction of upstream dams. These developments restrict the supply of fresh water which brings with it essential nutrients required by the phytoplankton upon which the food chain depends.

 These are just a few of the species which need our help – find out more about endangered species by visiting our Endangered Species topic page.

Jemma Pealing, ARKive Researcher

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

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