Jan 31
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Spotlight on: Stefano Unterthiner, Wildlife & Conservation Photographer, answers YOUR questions!

A typical work day for many of us includes 8 hours toiling away in front of a computer screen seated in a cushioned chair shuffling through emails, reports and meeting notes. However, a typical work day for wildlife and conservation photographer Stefano Unterthiner couldn’t be more different.

Wandering albatross pair being photographed by Stefano Unterthiner

ngm_jan_2014_cvr 2

Capturing images of spectacular wildlife across the globe in all weather conditions imaginable is a typical day-in-the-life for Stefano and most recently, Stefano was lugging his camera equipment across various Indonesian islands in 90⁰F steamy heat following the footsteps of the closest thing we have on Earth to real dragons … the Komodo dragon.  Photographing this strong, lethal but vulnerable species was the challenge for Stefano while on assignment for National Geographic capturing amazing photographs for Once Upon a Dragon, an article in this month’s issue of the magazine focusing on the history and future of these prehistoric-looking reptiles.

Komodo dragon image ©Stefano Unterthiner/National Geographic

Saliva dangling, a dragon shows off its wide strut on Rinca at low tide. The lizard’s spit is venomous, but prey usually die from being torn apart—or, if they are bitten but manage to escape, from infection of their wounds. ©Stefano Unterthiner/National Geographic

In a rare opportunity to get a behind-the-lens glimpse of life as a wildlife & conservation photographer, we worked with National Geographic to interview Stefano about his experience in the field for the article. Before the interview, we invited you, our amazing followers, to ask your questions about wildlife & conservation photography, the behind-the-scenes stories about Stefano’s work for the article, and his thoughts on the power of wildlife photography in raising awareness of threatened species. We think you’re going to love his answers!

“I was pretty happy when I got the shot.” 

Mike asked, “Can you tell us a story behind one or more of your images in the article?” 

Stefano shared that one of the pictures he particularly liked didn’t actually appear in the magazine but it’s an image of a Komodo dragon lying in the middle of vegetation just before dusk (it’s the twelfth picture on the page). It was very difficult to actually find the dragons, even with the help of the ranger, but also to figure out the right lighting and angles since it was so close to dusk. He said, “from a technical point of view, it was probably the most challenging photograph I ever took since I needed to find the dragon in the right position while it was nearly dark and then also position the light correctly. My wife was actually holding the light over the dragon for me. But after it was done, I was pretty happy when I got the shot”.

“I feel in danger all of the time.” 

Dave asked, “Was there ever a time when you felt like you were in danger?”

Stefano shared that actually,”I feel in danger all the time. You have to otherwise you take too much risk”. He went on to say that this assignment was probably one of the most difficult jobs in his life. “You can never forget that the animal is so deadly. In the very beginning, I started working with the animals just learning about them. I started taking photographs with the polecam (a camera attached to a long handle) but you can’t really control the composition, focus, light, etc., so I started working with the hand camera always with a ranger behind me.” He recalled one occasion when he was photographing a dragon from a tree to get a different perspective. The ranger told him when it was OK for him to jump down. “I didn’t realize that when I jumped down, the dragon could feel the vibration on the ground exactly where I jumped. Luckily, I moved a millimeter away from where I landed and the dragon just missed me with its mouth. It was my fault because I wasn’t as aware of the animal as I should have been .”

Komodo Dragon photo

A female dragon tastes the air on Rinca Island, part of Komodo National Park. Each tine of the forked tongue picks up molecules from prey or carrion to carry to a sensory organ in the mouth. A high concentration guides the way. ©Stefano Unterthiner/National Geographic

“The local people aren’t actually a threat to the species. They have respect for the dragons.”

Mattia asked, “How do you think your recent work could help to change the perception of Komodo dragons through local people and policy makers? Do you believe your images could be a useful tool against harmful behavior to this species (invasive tourism, poaching, etc.)?”

Stefano answered that, “for the Komodo dragon, the local people aren’t actually a threat to the species. They have a respect for the dragons.” In the Once Upon a Dragon article, it was shared that islanders historically would leave some of the spoils from their successful deer hunts out for their reptilian neighbors. Stefano stressed that, “the opportunity to help the species is with the policymakers who can make decisions like creating new habitat space for the dragons on other islands, especially where there are larger deer populations [the dragon's preferred prey]. I hope policymakers will see my images and encourage more support for the dragons.”

“I just follow what I love.”

Lisa asked, “What first inspired you on the wildlife & conservation photographer path?”

Stefano answered this question simply and poetically by stating it wasn’t a single event or even a particular person that inspired him on the wildlife & conservation photographer path. He said, “Nature is my inspiration.” The natural world gives him all the motivation to follow his path and what seems to keep him on the path is his desire to help conserve it. He simply stated, “I just follow what I love”, fantastic advice for just about any situation in life!

Stefano follows his love for nature to all corners of the world including Sulawesi where he captured this award-winning portrait of a crested-black macaque

“There is no magic solution; it’s a lot of hard work.”

Ceres asked, “What do you think is one of the greatest difficulties for someone trying to get into the field of wildlife and conservation photography?”

Stefano shared that in his opinion, the best thing a person with aspirations to become a wildlife & conservation photographer can do is to, “be yourself, take photos from your own perspective, and pick species that are interesting to you. There is no magic solution; it’s a lot of hard work. There are lots of photographers out there and the key is to do something new to help you stand out from the pack.”

“The hardest shots are the ones I never got.”

Kristin asked, “What’s the hardest shot you ever took? What made it so hard to get?”

Stefano shared, “Honestly, the hardest shots are the ones I never got.” He went on to describe that there are often times images in his head and he tries in vain to capture them in nature but sometimes, it just never works out. “But one picture I am thinking of in my head is when I was on my first assignment for National Geographic to photograph king penguins. It was the last day of shooting and I wanted to capture an image of the penguins and orca in the same shot together. I had hiked 4 miles to the coast and while there, it started pouring down rain. The whales were swimming in the surf and then the king penguins entered the ocean.  It was lot of time and work to get to the place where I took the shot but for a few minutes when I finally got [the shot], it was perfect.” You can see the penguin and orca image on his website; it’s the 15th image on the page.

“If you want to really make a change, you need partners. ARKive and National Geographic are those partners.”

I asked Stefano if he had any parting thoughts on his komodo dragon assignment or wildlife & conservation photography in general.

“My idea of conservation photography is that everybody wants to think they are going to help change the world but there’s more to it. I’m lucky to work with organizations like ARKive and National Geographic because, if  I’m doing my job as a conservation photographer, I need to partner with others to spread the word further. Conservation photography isn’t just about the photograph. It is being able to work with people and organizations with the same aim as yourself. I believe this is very important especially for the young people starting out in wildlife & conservation photography. If you want to really make a change, you need partners. ARKive and National Geographic are those partners.”

What an incredible note to end the interview! Now that you’ve heard his stories, take a moment to read the wonderful article, Once Upon a Dragon, in National Geographic magazine on news stands now.

Stefano Unterthiner is an avid supporter and contributor to ARKive and we’re very fortunate to be able to share his stunning imagery with students, teachers, conservationists and more around the world. Have a look at our Stefano Unterthiner MyARKive Scrapbook to browse all of his stunning images on ARKive.

Liana Vitali, ARKive Education & Outreach Manager, Wildscreen USA

May 1
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Spotlight On: Barrow Island

You may not have heard of it before, but located 60 kilometres off the north-west coast of Western Australia, Barrow Island is one of the most important conservation reserves in the region. The island itself is around 25 kilometres long and 10 kilometres wide, and the arid landscape is mainly dominated by spinifex grasslands.

Barrow Island photo

Around 2,800 species have been recorded on Barrow, including 24 species and subspecies found nowhere else on Earth. Thanks to a world renowned Quarantine Management System to prevent the introduction of harmful invasive species and diseases to the island, some rare species are able to thrive here, despite having been driven to extinction on the mainland.

Marvellous marsupials

Burrowing bettong photo

The burrowing bettong or ‘boodie’ no longer exists on mainland Australia, and until recently was only found on three islands off the coast of Western Australia including Barrow. The only burrowing member of the kangaroo family, this nocturnal marsupial lives in small groups in an underground burrow or warren which may have just a single entrance, or up to 100! Other marsupials found on Barrow Island include the golden bandicoot, the black-footed rock-wallaby and the Barrow Island euro, a subspecies of the common wallaroo.

Birds on Barrow

Spinifexbird photo

Designated as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International, 119 bird species have been recorded on Barrow. The island supports a large number of migratory shorebirds including pied oystercatchers and fairy terns, as well as raptors such as the brahminy kite and osprey. Other species commonly seen here include an endemic subspecies of the white-winged fairy wren and the spinifexbird, the most abundant bird on the island, which thrives in the spinifex grasslands.

The predatory perentie

Perentie photo

The second largest lizard in the world after the Komodo dragon, the perentie is the top predator on Barrow Island. Prey is easily tracked as the perentie has extremely good eyesight and uses its long tongue to pick up chemical signals in the air. Like other monitor species, the perentie is able to run extremely fast over great distances, reaching speeds of up to 40 kilometres per hour, about the same speed as an Olympic sprinter! Once caught, prey is shaken violently until dead, and then swallowed whole.

An unusual amphibian

Main's frog photo

Only one species of frog is found on Barrow Island, a desert burrowing frog called Main’s frog. Only seen at the surface during the summer wet season, Main’s frog is able to survive in this arid habitat by spending the rest of the year underground in a state of torpor, retaining water inside its body by sealing itself inside a cocoon. It emerges to breed following heavy rains, with the female laying up to 1,000 eggs into temporary pools of water.

Travelling turtles

Green turtle photo

Important sea turtle rookeries are found on the shores of Barrow Island, with green turtles and flatback turtles coming ashore to nest between November and February. Undertaking tremendous feats of navigation, an adult green turtle returns to the same beach to breed each season, and some populations of green turtle migrate thousands of kilometres to feed and breed. We have recently developed a brand new Turtle Life Cycle education module to teach students aged 7-11 about the lives of these incredible turtles.

Natural resources on Barrow

Oil pumpjack photo

As well as being an area of great conservation importance, Barrow Island is also Australia’s largest operating onshore oilfield. More than 300 million barrels of oil have been produced on Barrow Island since 1964, with strict environmental, safety and health standards and procedures having been put in place in order to safeguard the environment and minimise the impact on the island ecosystem.

Find out more about Barrow Island

If you are interested in learning more about conservation on Barrow Island you can find out more from Chevron and the Department of Environment and Conservation.

You can also check out our new Barrow Island feature page and explore a wealth of species found there.

Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher

Apr 30
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Spotlight on: Chimpanzees

Disneynature’s latest film Chimpanzee,  which was exclusively previewed on the opening night of Wildscreen Festival 2012, is coming to cinemas across the UK on May 3rd.  Chimpanzee follows the remarkable story of Oscar, a baby chimp whose life takes a surprising turn after he is left all alone following a confrontation with a rival band of chimps. Here at the ARKive office to celebrate the release of this film we thought we would take a closer look at chimpanzees, our closest living relative.

A young chimpanzee

Along with the pygmy chimp and bonobo, the chimpanzee is the closest living relative to humans, and is estimated to share 98 percent of our genes. Chimpanzees are very social animals living in stable communities which range in size from 15 to 150 members. Male chimpanzees stay in the same community for their entire lives where a strict linear hierarchy is employed. 

Group of sleeping chimpanzees

Chimpanzees feed mainly on fruit, but when this is scarce they supplement their diet with leaves, seeds and insects. Another favourite food of chimpanzees is meat, with groups cooperating together to hunt and kill monkeys. Chimpanzees are highly intelligent animals and are one of few species known to use tools. They use sticks to remove ants or termites from their nests and stones to crack open nuts. Chimpanzees are also known to use leaves as sponges to absorb drinking water.

Chimpanzee using a rock to crack a palm nut

Female chimpanzees normally give birth to one infant which develops slowly. Young chimpanzees ride on their mothers back, gripping on to her fur, until the age of two and are not weaned until around four years old, although they retain strong ties with their mother after this. 

Female chimpanzee with her baby

Chimpanzees will often spend hours grooming each other, removing dirt, insects and seeds from each others fur. This not only keeps individuals dirt free and healthy, but it also helps to strengthen and maintain bonds between group members.

Chimpanzees grooming each other

To find out more visit ARKive’s chimpanzee species profile. 

Jemma Pealing
Media Researcher

Apr 17
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Spotlight On: Rocky Shores, UK

One of the great things about living in the UK is that as an island nation we are never too far away from the coast! What is even better is that we fortunate enough to have a huge coastline which is as diverse as the species that inhabit it. Though less popular with tourists compared to a sandy beaches, rocky shores are rich in biodiversity and just as accessible. Rocky coasts are dynamic environments, always changing according to the weather and the tide.

http://www.arkive.org/eco-regions/rocky-shores-uk/image-H301

A snapshot of the large range of species of the rocky shore

One wave changes everything – species have to be able to adapt

The species that live there have to be able to cope with these ever changing conditions and vary dramatically with depending on what past of the rocky coast they are found in. In the permanently submerged areas (called the sublittoral zone) several species of fish and seaweeds can be found if you’re brave enough to go for a snorkel… you may even be lucky enough to see something a bit bigger.

A common octopus – not actually a common site in Britain

The common lobster can be found in shallows of rocky shores

If the sea is a bit too cold for you the UK’s rocky coasts have an abundance of rock pools to explore. What you will actually find in these pools depends on how close to the sea they are. Pools that are further away and more isolated from the sea are generally a harsher place for species to live. That said you’ll always find something – there are usually several anemones and smaller crustacens in most rock pools.

Rock pools provide habitats for numerous species

A common sight in many rock pools across the UK – the aptly named common prawn

Walking on the cliff tops in many parts of the UK will quickly introduce you to some breathtaking scenery, if you are lucky you may see a dolphin or a whale that has come in. Some of the UK’s best bird watching can be found on the cliffs high up above the sea puffins, gannets, petrels and a host of other birds attract budding ornithologists from across the world.

Sea cliff provide a habitat for numerous bird species

Britain’s most distinctive sea bird? Often seen on rocky cliffs in breeding season

To find out more about the rocky shore head over to our new rocky shore habitat page.

George Bradford, ARKive Media Researcher

Apr 15
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Spotlight on: Amphibian conservation

Photo of lemur leaf frog daytime colouration

The lemur leaf frog, listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN

Amphibians are a group of cold-blooded vertebrates which includes the frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and the lesser-known, worm-like caecilians. Most amphibians spend part of their life in water as aquatic larvae and part on land as terrestrial adults, but some species live permanently in water or permanently on land.

In all, there are over 6,000 amphibian species, and amphibians inhabit all continents except Antarctica, living in habitats ranging from rainforests to deserts. However, amphibians have undergone dramatic declines across the world and are currently facing an extinction crisis. Urgent conservation action is now needed to prevent many species from becoming extinct.

Amphibian crisis

Almost half of all amphibian species are thought to be declining, and a third are at risk of extinction, making this the most threatened group of animals on the planet. Around 165 species are thought to have gone extinct in recent times, and many more are likely to be lost in our lifetime.

Photo of male golden toad

The golden toad has not been seen since 1989, and is believed to be extinct

A staggering 500 species are facing threats that cannot be dealt with quickly enough to prevent their extinction, so are in desperate need of ex-situ conservation measures such as captive breeding.

Threats to amphibians

Amphibians face a variety of threats, including habitat loss, climate change, invasive species, and collection for food and the pet trade. With their thin, permeable skins, amphibians are also particularly sensitive to pollution.

However, one of the greatest threats to amphibians is the lethal fungal disease chytridiomycosis, which has contributed to the rapid disappearance of many amphibian species across the world. The spread of this deadly disease may be exacerbated by climate change.

Photo of scientist taking samples to check for chytridiomycosis in spiny green frog

Spiny green frog being tested for chytridiomycosis

Why conserve amphibians?

Amphibians play a key role in the food chain, both as predators and as prey for many other animals. They also help to control pests, benefitting human agriculture and reducing the spread of insect-borne diseases. As they are particularly sensitive to environmental changes, amphibians are also important indicators of the overall health of the environment.

In many cultures, amphibians are cherished as signs of life and good luck, and some amphibians are eaten as food. In addition, many amphibian species have substances in their skin that can have important medical uses.

Photo of emperor newt

The emperor newt is threatened by collection for the pet trade due to its attractive colouration

As well as benefitting humans and ecosystems, amphibians are a fascinating group of animals in their own right, with many intriguing physical and behavioural adaptations.

Amphibian conservation

A range of conservation measures are underway to try and combat the crisis facing amphibians. These include habitat protection, education and awareness campaigns, and captive breeding of threatened species. An action plan is also in place to coordinate global conservation efforts for amphibian species.

In 2010, the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) and Conservation International (CI) launched a global search for amphibian species which have been ‘lost’ to science. Named the ‘Search for Lost Frogs’, this has resulted in numerous expeditions and the rediscovery of some species previously feared extinct, including the Hula painted frog and the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad. However, many more species remain missing, underlining the desperate situation that many amphibians are facing.

Photo of Hula painted frog

The Hula painted frog was believed to be extinct, but was rediscovered by scientists in 2011

Efforts are underway to breed some amphibians in captivity until they can safely be released back into the wild. Unfortunately, the global zoo community is only able to manage around ten percent of threatened amphibian species at best, and more work still needs to be done to safeguard these vitally important but highly threatened species.

How you can help

You can find out more about amphibian conservation and how you can help at the following websites:

Think you’ve got what it takes to help save amphibians? Become a conservation professional and help save the Critically Endangered mountain chicken with Team WILD!

Photo of mountain chicken

One of the world’s largest frogs, the mountain chicken is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN

You can also find out more about amphibian conservation on ARKive’s amphibian conservation page.

View more photos and videos of amphibians on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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