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

Feb 5

A census of Bengal tigers is to be undertaken by forest and nature officials from Nepal and India, in the first joint survey of its kind involving these two countries.

Bengal tiger image

Bengal tiger

Joint survey

Bengal tigers once roamed Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Bhutan in numbers reaching the tens of thousands, but as a result of widespread deforestation, habitat loss and the decline of prey species, the population of this majestic animal currently stands at just over 3,000 individuals.

The governments of India and Nepal have launched a joint survey, the first of its kind, in an attempt to identify the exact number of Bengal tigers residing within the Terai Arc region. An area shared by both countries, the Terai Arc region extends over 950 kilometres across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand in India, and into southern Nepal, and is home to more than a dozen wildlife preserves and forests.

According to WWF, one of the organisations assisting in the survey, the region has the distinction of housing one of the world’s densest concentrations of tigers, with an estimated 500 tigers thought to be living within its reserves and forests. The survey aims to determine exact figures for the region, while simultaneously assessing the availability of prey species.

Image of Bengal tiger cubs

Bengal tiger cubs swimming

Cat Cam

A key part of the survey involves the installation of hundreds of remote motion-sensitive cameras, known as camera traps, along wild paths known to be frequented by tigers. Any tigers that come within range of the camera will be photographed, enabling scientists to identify individual cats by their unique markings.

The same tiger trapped by a camera here on the Nepali side could cross over into India, but that tiger will be trapped by another camera there,” said Megh Bahadur Pandey, the Director General of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

This method of individually identifying tigers means that no tiger will be counted twice, thus making the population estimate far more accurate.

Bengal tiger image

Female Bengal tiger with juveniles

Ambitious plan

The Terai Arc survey forms an essential part of an ambitious plan set during 2012, the Year of the Tiger, to double the wild tiger population by 2022.

The results will show whether we are succeeding or failing towards that goal,” explained Anil Manandhar, the country representative of the WWF Nepal programme.

While the joint results may take up to four months to be compiled, it is hoped that the data gathered during the survey will assist in the development of effective tiger conservation strategies, and go some way towards saving one of the most charismatic species on the planet.

Read more on this story at BBC News – India and Nepal begin Royal Bengal tiger census.

View photos and videos of tigers on ARKive.

Explore species found in Nepal and India on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

 

Nov 22

Switzerland-based Save Our Species (SOS), a flagship species conservation initiative, has announced that it has secured US $2.5 million to fund 25 vital new projects.

Dugong image

The enigmatic dugong is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Vital funding

A whole host of threatened species – from dolphins and dugongs to rhinos and river turtles – will benefit from this second round of conservation projects supported by the SOS initiative. A global coalition initiated by IUCN, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the World Bank, SOS has secured a large amount of funding to enable the implementation of a wide variety of conservation projects, focusing on both charismatic and lesser-known species.

With more funding available from a broader range of sponsors and donors, we can be much more efficient in addressing the current biodiversity crisis. That is why we are ramping up our efforts in promoting SOS to individuals and companies alike with the possibility to make online donations while also engaging with several progressive industry leaders,” said Dr Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director of IUCN’s Global Species Programme and SOS Director.

White-bellied heron image

The Critically Endangered white-bellied heron is the second largest heron species in the world

Positive impact

Since its launch in 2010, SOS has not only had a positive impact on wildlife, but also on local communities. It has so far supported projects targeting more than 150 species listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and the newly secured funding will go some way to conserving many more. However, SOS staff warn that much remains to be done.

The latest injection of US $2.5 million doubles the number of active SOS projects, but much more needs to be done in the field of species conservation,” said Dr Vié. Every year we receive more project proposals than we can possibly fund and the selection process is extremely challenging.

Urgent response

In response to the current biodiversity crisis, with one in three amphibians and one in four mammals at risk of extinction, SOS has adopted a species-focused approach to conservation. Through channelling capital into conservation projects which are deemed to be engaging as well as technically sound, well designed and cost effective, SOS aims to halt biodiversity loss and boost the resources available for conservation.

Siamese crocodile image

The Siamese crocodile is classified as Critically Endangered

Select species

The new SOS projects will be implemented by NGOs across the Americas, Africa and Asia, starting immediately. Among the latest list of SOS-funded ventures are the implementation of measures in Mexico to protect the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise species, a dugong conservation project in Mozambique, and a project to ensure the future survival of the Critically Endangered Siamese crocodile in Cambodia.

Through focusing on the protection of a target species, some of the proposed conservation measures will actually benefit several others in the process. For instance, a project aiming to enhance protection of the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhino is set to contribute towards the conservation of several other threatened charismatic species, including the Sumatran elephant and the Sumatran tiger.

Long-beaked echidna image

The Critically Endangered western long-beaked echidna is one of many enigmatic species set to benefit from the latest SOS funding

Halting biodiversity loss

The welcome news from SOS comes just a few weeks after the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Hyderabad, where 193 countries discussed ways of honouring their engagement to preserve nature and the services it provides. A recent report in Science calculated the cost of improving the status of threatened species up until 2020, quoting a figure of US $4 billion annually, and while this may seem like a monumental payout, this equates to just 1% of the value of ecosystems being lost each year.

We invite everyone who is interested and passionate about protecting the world’s animals and plants to join us and help answer the SOS call from the wild, so that we can do more for the amazing diversity of life on our planet on which our own lives depend so dearly,” said IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre.

 

Read more on this story at IUCN.org – Answering the SOS call from the wild: dolphins, rhinos, tigers and others to benefit from more funding.

Learn more about endangered species on ARKive.

Find out more about SOS – Save Our Species.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

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