May 7

How do you prepare for a Skype interview with one of the world’s leading wildlife photographers – or photojournalists (a big difference as you’ll soon read) – Steve Winter, whose breathtaking images of big cats around the world have resulted in positive conservation gains for species?

At ARKive, it’s a no-brainer. You turn to your audience of incredibly passionate nature fans who are bursting at the seams with meaningful questions on all things wildlife imagery and conservation. A few weeks ago, we asked you to send us the one burning question you would ask if you were about to Skype with Steve Winter. He is currently in the throes of capturing emotive images of the illegal tiger trade in India. Working with author Sharon Guynup, Steve has chronicled everything from the tiger black market to tiger sanctuaries ill-equipped to handle today’s sophisticated poachers.

A tiger photographed inside Bandhavgarh.

A male tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park, India
(Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

We randomly selected five of your questions and each of them buzzed through my head in advance of the interview last week as I patiently waited for Steve’s Skype name to turn from translucent to green. It turned green, he called, and the interview was on…

“If you don’t tell the story, all the pretty pictures in the world won’t do a thing.”

Rafael asked, “How did you wind up on the wildlife and conservation photographer path?”

While Steve was very happy to answer this question, he was adamant about making one thing very clear from the beginning. “I don’t want the label ‘wildlife photographer’. I more consider myself a photojournalist with a conservation concentration. Being a photojournalist, you have to tell the story of the photography, the people, the environment and the animals. If you don’t tell the story, all the pretty pictures in the world won’t do a thing. All the incredible beautiful parts of the wild and species we work with doesn’t make a difference unless you tell the story.”

I had never heard this concept explained quite so elegantly before and I couldn’t help but completely agree with Steve.

Tourists at the Tiger Temple in Thailand view a “tiger enrichment” show. Young tigers entertain tourists daily, but adults rarely leave tiny, decrepit cages and are often beaten. There is documented proof of sales to tiger farms in Laos that illegally traffic tiger parts. (Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

Tourists at the Tiger Temple in Thailand view a ‘tiger enrichment’ show. Young tigers entertain tourists daily, but adult tigers rarely leave tiny, decrepit cages and are often beaten. There is documented proof of sales to tiger farms in Laos that illegally traffic tiger parts.
(Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

So, how did Steve end up sitting atop the back of an elephant in India taking pictures of one of the world’s most threatened big cats? He explains, “I got a job with Merck Pharmaceuticals photographing species in the Costa Rican rainforest and it changed my life 180 degrees. I didn’t know anything about being a wildlife photographer and I viewed what I was doing as photojournalism. I always wanted to be a National Geographic photographer but never thought in a million years I would be a wildlife photographer. I started as a photojournalist and having a concentration on the natural world happened in Costa Rica while working for Merck. It’s where it all began.”

“Camera traps are so worthwhile because you can put them places you can’t go.”

Sascha asked, “When is the best time of day to photograph a tiger?”

Just as Stefano Unterthiner answered in our last wildlife photographer interview, Steve said, “It’s the same as most wildlife photography – early morning and late evening but also whenever a tiger is moving. Tigers are cats so they sleep most of the time and they will be moving by the time you’re allowed to go find them in the tiger parks and up to the time you are forced to leave the tiger parks at dusk.”

Steve then went on to explain more about his technique in capturing powerful images of such an elusive species. “It’s one of the reasons camera traps are so worthwhile because you can put them places you can’t go. For a normal story, depending on the species, a camera trap will encompass 10 to 20% of the images, sometimes more for the rarer animals. They give you an opportunity to investigate and understand an animal’s movements and behavior. With that knowledge, which is given to you by scientists, researchers, and local people, you’re able to find locations similar to where you might set up a blind or hide. I use camera traps and a wide angle lens at a close-up, intimate location similar to where I would focus my long telephoto lens if I was using a standard camera. Using the camera trap, I center on a spot in the frame using an infrared beam to get the animal front and center. I know exactly where the animal is going to be.”

Mirchani Tigress cubs at the Patpara Nala waterhole and fence traps.

A camera trap captures 14-month-old sibling cubs cooling off in a watering hole. Bandhavgarh National Park, India.
(Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

Camera traps were the tool of choice used to capture the incredible, iconic Hollywood cougar image which, Steve shared, took 15 months of trials and preparation to achieve!

“There are just so many moments out in the wilderness that transcends anything in your life.”

Claudie asked, “For you, personally, what is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen in a tiger?”

Steve didn’t hesitate a moment before answering, “Everything.” He then continued to say two of the most profound statements of the entire interview, in my opinion.  “There are just so many moments out in the wilderness that transcends anything in your life. It brings you closer to the whole universe, not just the animal.” He went on to tell the story behind the cover image for his new book, Tigers Forever, a pictorial and factual tribute to the tigers of India and Southeast Asia, the life they live, and the threats they encounter every single day. “The cover picture of my book, Tigers Forever, marked a moment in nature for me. I waited 24 days for the image, much of it on top of an elephant and the other part in a jeep. Just the fact that everything came together…it really was a moment, just 10 seconds! I got five frames and one of them was the moment.”

Tigers Forever cover photo

A wary three-month-old cub briefly investigates our intrusion before ducking behind his mother. This tigress gave birth in the same remote cave where she was born.
(Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

He then described the transcendental experience of seeing a tiger in the wild. “You look into a tiger’s eye and it’s primeval. It takes you back to caveman times in your brain because it’s an absolutely amazing animal to me. I don’t like to have favorites because they are all special and have their own uniqueness to them. You become close to any species you work on for months or even years.”

“Just like an old western movie on horses, branches try to knock you off the back of a running elephant.”

Azhurel asked, “What’s your scariest encounter?”

Luckily, Steve shared that he hasn’t encountered any scary moments while working on tigers in India. However, he did recall a very scary moment while on assignment in Kaziranga National Park, India.

“I was on an elephant photographing rhinos but we were attacked by a rhino. The elephant tried to defend himself and was bit by the rhino. The elephant turned 180 degrees away and ran towards the forest. In the commotion, we lost the gun.” The rhino continued to chase the elephant, with Steve on top, for at least 300 yards into the forest and the only way the rhino relented was after repeated jabs with a long bamboo pole that Steve’s camera was attached to.  “Just like an old western movie on horses, branches try to knock you off the back of a running elephant!”

“It’s vital that we help when we can to bring the public to the story.”

Bernie asked, “In your words, how does wildlife photography support species protection and conservation?”

And in Steve’s own words, he answered, “How can you work on something without wanting your pictures to make a difference, support education, and give people a reason to care?  As a wildlife photojournalist, you don’t want the conversation to end on the pages of National Geographic magazine. You want the conversation to begin. Telling the story is important but in the end you want it to go further. Fundraisers and giving images to scientists and organizations you work with helps. It’s vital that we help when we can to bring the public to the story. That’s what protects the species.”

A male tiger crosses open grasslands in early morning. Bandhavgarh National Park, India.

A male tiger crosses open grasslands in early morning. Bandhavgarh National Park, India.(Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

“In India, it’s difficult and I’m doing what I can there. Our book, Tigers Forever, shares the story with the public and our 10 years of efforts there. The book isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning.”

So, why not start your own journey now! Have a look at the ARKive tiger page with nearly 200 images and film clips as well as a full biological fact-file. Or, learn how the kids of India are doing their part to make a difference for tigers. Finally, you can pick up your own copy of Tigers Forever with 10% of the proceeds donated to Panthera, the world’s largest big cat conservation organization.

Liana Vitali, Education & Outreach Manager, Wildscreen USA

Mar 5

Heightened conservation measures in Nepal have once again resulted in a year of zero poaching in the country.

After Nepal making a commitment to protect the future of its magnificent and highly endangered species, it has once again succeeded and between February 2013 and February 2014, no rhino, tigers or elephants were poached in the country. Nepal has a history of success in the prevention of poaching, and another poaching-free year occurred in 2011. Worldwide, Nepal has been praised for this outstanding accomplishment, with Yolanda Kakabadse, President of WWF International, saying, “We congratulate Nepal on reducing poaching to zero within its borders. This achievement serves as a model for WWF’s goal for drastically reducing wildlife crime worldwide – with a combination of brave policy making, determined implementation and robust enforcement.”

Indian rhinoceros

Caption: The Vulnerable Indian rhinoceros is found in scattered populations across Nepal and India

The Nepalese government led the conservation efforts, which included strengthening the protection of wildlife and increasing the enforcement of anti-poaching laws. A wide range of organisations have contributed towards Nepal’s zero poaching success, from small conservation charities, park authorities and local communities to the army and police. “The success of achieving zero poaching throughout the year is a huge achievement and a result of prioritising a national need to curb wildlife crimes in the country”, said Megh Bahadur Pandey, Director General of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. Anti-poaching measures also encouraged the co-operation of boundary officials on the borders between Nepal, India and China, which helped to prevent the trafficking of animal parts into and out of the country. The collaboration between the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police has resulted in the enforcement of wildlife laws throughout the country, both at a local and national scale.

Caption: The Endangered Bengal tiger is a target species for poachers

The work of nine different organisations that have contributed to this great achievement will be honoured by the WWF’s Leaders for a Living Planet Award, whose past winners have included Dr Thomas Lovejoy for his work on forest fragmentation and highlighting conservation as a global priority and Dr Trudy Ecofrey for her work on restoring wildlife on the Great Plains of the United States. Notable organisations that have had outstanding contributions to the cause include Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park, the Nepal Army and Police, Buffer zone management committees of Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park, and the National Trust for Nature Conservation. Anil Manandhar, Country Representative of WWF Nepal, said, “It is a matter of great pride to mark the first World Wildlife Day with the announcement of a year of zero poaching in Nepal. We are committed to work with the government, conservation partners and the local communities to redouble efforts to sustain this success.”

Asian elephant image

Caption: The wild population of the Endangered Indian elephant has severely declined due to poaching

Read more about Nepal’s year of zero poaching.

Find out more about the Asian elephant on ARKive.

Find out more about the Indian rhinoceros on ARKive.

Find out more about the tiger on ARKive.

Discover more species from Nepal on ARKive.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer.

Jul 1

The Sumatran tiger, a Critically Endangered tiger subspecies, may be even rarer than previously thought, according to a new study.

Photo of Sumatran tigress

Found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the Sumatran tiger may number fewer than 400 wild individuals and is perilously close to extinction. In a new study, published in the journal Oryx, researchers from Virginia Tech and WWF used camera traps to estimate tiger density in previously unsurveyed habitats on Sumatra.

Worryingly, they found that tiger density may only be half what has been estimated in the past, and in some areas it could be as low as one tiger per 40 square kilometres.

Tigers under threat

The main reason for the low density of tigers on Sumatra appears to be human activity, particularly large-scale conversion of forest for oil palm, pulp and paper plantations.

We believe the low detection of tigers in the study area of central Sumatra was a result of the high level of human activity – farming, hunting, trapping, and gathering of forest products,” said Sunarto, the lead author of the study. “We found a low population of tigers in these areas, even when there was an abundance of prey animals.”

Photo of a male Sumatran tiger

Sumatra lost around 36% of its forest cover between 1990 and 2010, but the results of the study show that tigers fare badly even in areas where the forest is apparently intact.

According to Sunarto, “Tigers are not only threatened by habitat loss from deforestation and poaching; they are also very sensitive to human disturbance. They cannot survive in areas without adequate understorey, but they are also threatened in seemingly suitable forests when there is too much human activity.”

Tiger conservation

The findings of the study highlight the importance of protecting large areas of remaining forest and reducing the levels of illegal human activity. Opportunities still exist to protect some of the region’s forests, but without urgent action they could soon be converted to plantations.

Photo of Sumatran tiger at river

It will also be important to find ways to improve tiger habitat while also supporting local people, for example through agroforestry activities or selective logging. As the rapid conversion of forests to oil palm plantations is driven by high global demand, the international community also needs to take responsibility for protecting Sumatra’s forests and its tigers.

Although the results of the study are worrying news for the Sumatran tiger, the team found a potentially stable tiger population in the region’s Tesso Nilo National Park, showing that legal protection can be effective in reducing human impacts and allowing the tiger population to recover.

 

Read more on this story at Mongabay and Science Daily.

View more photos and videos of tigers on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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 10

The Amur leopard, considered to be one of the world’s most threatened big cats, is showing signs of a population recovery, according to the results of a new survey.

Amur leopard image

The charismatic Amur leopard is one of the world’s rarest cats

Positive signs

A majestic species, the Amur leopard sports the heaviest coat of any leopard, an attribute which enables this highly threatened cat to survive the long, harsh winters which envelop its pine forest habitat in the Russian Far East.

At its lowest point, it is thought that the Amur leopard population may have fallen to just 25 individuals, sparking grave concern that this incredible big cat could soon become extinct. However, results from a new survey indicate that the population may have risen to as many as 50 individuals, representing about a 50% increase from the last survey conducted in 2007.

While we cannot help but be gladdened by this fact, it is no reason to let down our guard. 50 is still a critically small number for long term persistence of [the] population,” said WWF-Russia in a news release.

Amur leopard image

The Amur leopard population may have increased by about 50% in the last six years

Camera traps and conservation

During the latest survey, researchers counted Amur leopard tracks along snowy trails to determine an estimated population size. Tracks from 23 individuals were counted, and this number was then extrapolated to estimate a minimum of 43-45 adult leopards and 4-5 cubs surviving in the wild.

The results of the survey also revealed that, as the population grows, Amur leopards are shifting and expanding their range. While most Amur leopards are known to be found in Russia, recent camera trap photos have shown that a few individuals now occur on the Chinese side of the border, and in addition sightings have been reported from North Korea.

With the promising news comes an urgent need to scale up conservation actions aimed at protecting the charismatic feline. “The Far Eastern leopard, the rarest cat on the Earth, is stepping back from the brink,” said Yury Darman, Director of the Amur branch of WWF-Russia. “We started the recovery programme in 2001 and now can be proud of almost 50 leopards in the wild. The most crucial role is played by the establishment of large unified protected areas with huge state support, which cover 360 thousand hectares of leopard habitat in Russia. It is necessary now to accelerate the creation of a Sino-Russian trans-boundary reserve that would unify six adjacent protected areas encompassing 6,000 square kilometres.”

Tiger image

Siberian tigers may be posing a threat to the Amur leopard

New rising threat

The Amur leopard has long been at risk from a variety of threats, from habitat loss and inbreeding to poaching. Poachers not only target the leopards directly, but also the prey base on which the cats depend, including deer and boar. Yet a new rising threat to the Amur leopard is becoming evident: the Siberian tiger.

The Siberian or Amur tiger is also undergoing a population increase in the region. While the recovery of the populations of both the Amur leopard and the Siberian tiger is welcome news, it has resulted in clashes between the two powerful predators. As the world’s largest cat, weighing up to six times the weight of the Amur leopard, the Siberian tiger is a lethal opponent for the smaller species. In the last few years, WWF-Russia has reported that three Amur leopards have been killed by tigers, and the organisation is calling for more research to be conducted on the relationship between these two big cats.

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Amur leopard population rises to 50 animals, but at risk from tigers, poachers.

View photos and videos of the Amur leopard on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, 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