Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: European pond turtle

Nominated by: Polish Society for Nature Conservation “Salamandra”

Why do you love it?

The European pond turtle, also known as the mud turtle, is the only natural representative of turtles in Poland. Nowadays it is one of the rarest reptile species in the country and its secretive behaviour makes it very difficult to spot in the field. Consequently, it is not well-known species to the general public. Those who have been lucky enough to observe it in natural conditions agree that it is one of the most beautiful turtles in the world.

What are the threats to the European pond turtle? 

The biggest threat to this species is degradation of its habitat due to humans (e.g. draining of the wetlands or agricultural activities on nesting sites). In the past European pond turtles were collected in a great numbers for food, especially around the Christian Lent celebrations when aquatic animals are traditionally consumed. Such an exploitation caused the local extinctions of many populations. Currently; however, one of the main drivers of this species’ decline is the illegal collection of European pond turtles to supply the pet trade. Luckily the scale of this collection is much smaller, but is still unsustainable. Other important threats include invasive turtle species (eg. red-eared sliders) which have been released to the wild by humans and compete with the European pond turtle for resources, such as food and basking sites, and are vectors of dangerous pathogens.

What are you doing to save it?

The Polish Society for Nature Conservation “Salamandra” is running a project focussed on the biggest population of European pond turtles in the Wielkopolska region in Poland. A telemetry survey was carried out to find out the nesting and hibernation areas and, on the basis of the collected data, conservation recommendations were created and are currently being implemented. The main problem in the area is the protection of nesting sites, which are based mostly on agricultural lands and therefore cooperation with local farmers plays a crucial role in this project.

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Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: Palawan forest turtle

Nominated by: Katala Foundation

Why do you love it?

The Palawan forest turtle, also known as the Philippine pond turtle, is one of the rarest, most endangered, and least known turtles in the world. It is only found in five municipalities in Northern Palawan, Philippines and nowhere else in the world!

This species lives in small streams in lowland forests. The beautiful coloration of juveniles and the impressive bodies of adults are rarely seen because the species is extremely shy and nocturnal. At dusk they emerge from their dens and shelters to forage on aquatic invertebrates, plants and wild fruits that fall into the stream. The latter helps to regenerate the riverine habitat since most of the seeds germinate after passing through the digestive tract. Adults also feed on the invasive golden apple snail, an alien pest species, while juveniles take mosquito larvae. By doing so they help reduce agricultural pest species and invertebrate-borne diseases.

Though physically extremely tough, the species is susceptible to stress and has low fertility. They are not doing well in captivity and have never been successfully captive bred.

What are the threats to the Palawan forest turtle?

This species is facing a combination of threats. Being a lowland forest species, the species is more and more threatened by habitat destruction and conversion, mainly through slash-and-burn farming practices, timber cutting, agricultural encroachment, and quarrying. Like the other freshwater turtle species in the Philippines, S. leytensis is consumed locally as source of protein. Commercial exploitation for food and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) though is causing a more severe threat to the wild populations. Yet, the biggest threat to the Palawan Forest Turtle is its perceived rarity. Just months after its rediscovery was published in 2004, the species was available on the international pet markets of Europe, Japan, China and the USA. Since then prices remained high and are still at some $2,000 USD per individual.

In 2015, the species received the dubious honour of almost having been eradicated, when it was found in the largest ever made confiscation of a Critically Endangered freshwater turtle.

What are you doing to save it?

In 2007, KFI established quarantine, rescue and holding facilities at the Katala Institute for Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation in Narra, Palawan, where the only range assurance colony of Siebenrockiella leytensis is maintained.

In partnership with academic institutions and wildlife agencies on Palawan, Katala Foundation is leading public awareness campaigns that are designed to improve law enforcement against illegal wildlife trade. Likewise, KFI conducts scientific research on the management of Philippine freshwater turtles and their habitats, and educates and capacitates stakeholders on natural resource management and conservation, and restoration of the species’ habitats.

Distribution surveys and long-term studies on population trends, ecology, and life history of the Palawan forest turtle are also being undertaken by KFI since 2007.

KFI established the first protected area for a freshwater turtle in the Philippines in Dumarao, Roxas, Palawan in 2013. The expansion of the area into an adjacent lowland forest is currently being discussed.

Together with numerous helpers, KFI managed to rescue most of the 4,000 individuals that had been confiscated during what became known as the Palawan Forest Turtle Crisis in 2015. In total, 3,385 individuals were released back to the wild within the indigenous range of the species and KFI continues to monitor these sites today.

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Apr 22

Happy Earth Day Everyone!

The theme for Earth Day this year is, “It’s Our Turn To Lead”. Our friends at Earth Day Network are urging people to learn more about the topic of climate change which generally refers to man-made changes to the environment that have contributed to the steady rise in the earth’s temperature, rising sea levels, ice melting at the poles, and extreme weather events.

Not only does climate change affect the weather but it also impacts the well-being of several species around the world. We’re supporting Earth Day this year by showing five wild faces that have been affected by climate change.

As Arkive patron Sylvia Earle has said, “With knowing comes caring, and with caring comes hope”.  Let’s learn about the following five species and spread a little hope for their survival on Earth.

Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus

Female-koala-with-joey

This wonderful marsupial is one of the most iconic Australian animals. Rising carbon dioxide levels cause plants to grow faster which lowers protein levels. Nutritionally poor eucalyptus leaves might cause the koala to migrate exposing them to predation. They are also particularly vulnerable to bush fires and drought due to their lack of mobility and dependence on trees.

Dlinza pinwheel (Trachycystis clifdeni)

Dlinza-pinwheel

The Dlinza pinwheel  is one of the most visually striking snails with its translucent shell and beautiful whorls. This snail is known from only the Dlinza forest and due to its limited habitat is quite vulnerable to extreme weather conditions.

Golden toad (Incilius periglenes)

Male-golden-toad

The magnificently colored macaroni yellow golden toad was last seen in 1989 and is unfortunately believed to be extinct. Climate change is one of the contributing factors that led to the decline of golden toad populations.

Quiver tree (Aloe dichotoma)

Quiver-trees

The quiver tree has been named the national tree of Namibia. This tree is an important nesting site for large numbers of sociable weavers. Changing climates are causing quiver trees to slowly shift their distribution toward higher latitudes and altitudes.

Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)

Leatherback-turtle-swimming

The magical leatherback turtle is the largest turtle in the world and lacks the typical bony plates on its carapace. Its shell is flexible and covered in a thin layer of leathery skin. Changing ocean currents due to climate change might affect the migrations of juvenile leatherbacks as well as cause them to lose some of their prey.

The Earth Day Network is capturing more than a billion “Acts of Green” as part of the annual Earth Day celebration. By clicking on the link below, you can log your time spent reading this blog as an “Act of Green” and take part in this historic event.

Log reading this blog as an “Act of Green” for Earth Day today!

William Lazaro, Arkive Social Media Intern, Wildscreen USA 

Jan 1

As we say goodbye to 2014, we say hello to 2015 and what’s more traditional than ringing in the New Year with some beautiful babies! We’ve set ourselves to the difficult task of identifying some of the cutest and most interesting wildlife babies to get us off to a fresh start on January 1.

After a look at this list, we bet you’ll be looking forward to a happy (and maybe even cuddly) new year!

Bundles of joy

Ten day old brown bears

At ten days old, these brown bears hardly resemble the large furry adults they will one day become. Brown bears usually have litters of one to four cubs with cubs reaching maturity at four to six years of age.

Hey everyone look right

Group of ostrich chicks

These fluffy  and speckled ostrich chicks look very different from the black and white adults they all aspire to become. While ostriches lay some of the largest eggs among birds, they also hold the distinct honor of being the fastest running bird at an astonishing 43 mph.

Cute as a button

Harp seal pup

The angelic harp seal pup is distinguished by its white and pristine fur that differentiates it from the silvery-grey color of the adult. The pups white fur becomes whiter during their first two weeks, but they molt soon after and develop the silvery-grey of adults.

I present, the (tiny) emperor

Emperor newt tadpole

This tiny tadpole is actually the dignified emperor newt, which develops orange and black coloration when it reaches adulthood. Females usually lay between 80 and 240 eggs with eggs hatching after 15 to 40 days.

What’s up?

Southern cassowary chick

The small chick of the Southern cassowary looks nothing like the imposing adult that has a helmet of tough skin on its head. Eggs are incubated for around 50 days and may require parental care for up to 16 months.

Two is better than one

Kemp’s ridley turtle hatchlings

The critically endangered Kemp’s ridley turtle is one of the smallest marine turtles with adults weighing less than 100 pounds. Hatchlings are grey-black all over compared to the grey-olive adults. About 90 eggs are lain per clutch, with two to three clutches lain a year.

What’s black and yellow all over?

Corroboree frog froglets

The corroboree frog is a small frog whose defining characteristics are the lack of webbed toes and their visually stunning black and yellow coloration. Females lay around 26 eggs with tadpoles remaining in their protective egg for up to 7 months.

Just hanging out

Amur leopard cub

This is one extreme feline, since the Amur leopard resides in the frigid landscapes of the Russian Far East. These wonderful big cats have a thick fur that can grow up 7cm during winter and are among one of the rarest leopard subspecies.

Look into my eyes

dwarf crocodile photo

Infant dwarf crocodile

The pint-sized dwarf crocodile are the smallest of the bunch with adults rarely reaching 5 feet in length. Females usually lay 10 eggs per clutch and take 100 days to incubate! Young crocodiles are about 28 cm when they hatch.

Did we capture you favorite babies from the animal kingdom? If not, feel free to share your favorite Arkive baby pictures in the comments below!

Happy New Year from the Arkive Team to you!

William Lazaro, Arkive Social Media Intern, Wildscreen USA

Apr 25

A study has highlighted how two rare species of Chelonian are being threatened by hunting in India.

Two endemic species of the Western Ghats in India, the Travancore tortoise and the Cochin forest cane turtle are being threatened with extinction due to poaching from indigenous and non-indigenous people. The Chelonians (turtles and tortoises) are the second most imperilled vertebrate group in the world and the two species highlighted in the study are no exception, with the Travancore tortoise classified as Vulnerable (VU) by the IUCN Red List and the Cochin forest cane turtle classified as Endangered (EN). Cochin cane turtles inhabit evergreen forest habitats, and unlike many other turtles, do not require the presence of water. This turtle species is so rare that no scientists saw the species for 70 years between 1912 and 1982. The Travancore tortoise is an omnivore, and can be found in evergreen, moist deciduous, and bamboo forests. This tortoise species is known to produce chorus calls at night, but the purpose of the call is unknown.

The Cochin forest cane turtle

A study published in The Asian Journal of Conservation Biology in 2013 investigated the illegal hunting and consumption of these rare animals, and found that many individuals are caught by non-local forestry workers, including those who work as part of fire management initiatives. However, there was also evidence that Chelonian experts were harvesting these rare species and some individuals even used trained dogs while hunting. The study indicated that 77 percent of the 104 people that were interviewed had consumed the Travancore tortoise and 22 percent had consumed the Cochin forest cane turtle. Chelonian meat was reportedly on sale in local establishments. Although it was found that the primary reason for harvesting wild individuals was for consumption, there was also some evidence that the two species were taken due to superstitions and for medicinal purposes.

The Travancore tortoise

The authors of the report, said, “Wildlife hunting in India is illegal and punishable via the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) 1972, which includes most of the susceptible species … However, hunting continues to be widespread in several regions of India even though it is disregarded or refuted”. The interviews indicated that all 104 respondents knew the illegality of consuming the two species, but problems with pressing charges and corruption are thought to mitigate the risks.

Cochin forest cane turtle on leaf litter

The authors of the study suggest that a limit on the number of dogs allowed at each indigenous settlement may help to reduce the risk of Chelonian hunting, and that the forest department must make a concerted effort to properly supervise forest staff and educate them about the plight of Chelonians. The authors also highlighted the past success of poster campaigns introduced by the Kerala State Forest Department, which aimed to challenge similar local use of animals. Threatened Chelonians, including the Indian star tortoise, were targeted by the previous campaign, and the authors suggest that this kind of promotion could be repeated for the Travancore tortoise and the Cochin forest cane turtle.

Read the original article at Asian Journal of Conservation Biology – Hunting of endemic and threatened forest dwelling chelonians in the Western Ghats, India

Find out more about the Travancore tortoise at Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises – Indotestudo travancorica

View photos of the Travancore tortoise and the Cochin forest cane turtle on ARKive

Find out more about the wildlife of the Western Ghats on ARKive

Read more about this story at Mongabay – Chelonians for dinner: hunting threatens at-risk turtles and tortoises in India

Read more about turtle and freshwater tortoise conservation at the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group

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