Jun 29
Photo of Sumatran orangutan with infant

Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)

Species: Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The name ‘orangutan’ means ‘person of the forest’.

The Sumatran orangutan lives almost exclusively in trees, only very rarely coming down to the ground. This large Asian ape is found in lowland tropical rainforests and swamps in northern Sumatra, and feeds mainly on fruit, although it will also eat leaves, termites, and even occasionally the meat of slow lorises. The Sumatran orangutan is distinguished from the Bornean orangutan by its narrower face, longer beard and lighter fur, and the two species also behave slightly differently. Adult male orangutans are larger than females, and may have large cheek pads on either side of the face. Orangutans are long-lived and breed very slowly, with females only producing an infant around once every eight years, giving them the longest inter-birth interval of any land mammal.

The main threat to the Sumatran orangutan is the loss of vast areas of forest due to illegal logging, mining and conversion to agriculture, particularly oil palm plantations. Forests have also been fragmented by roads, and forest loss and fragmentation make orangutans more vulnerable to being captured for the illegal pet trade. This species’ slow reproductive rate makes it very difficult for its populations to recover from any losses. The Sumatran orangutan is fully protected by law and is listed on Appendix I of CITES, which bans international trade in this species. However, the key to saving this charismatic primate lies in protecting its remaining forest habitat. A major stronghold for the Sumatran orangutan lies in the Leuser Ecosystem Conservation Area, and projects are also underway to rescue and rehabilitate orangutans that have been orphaned or confiscated, and, if possible, to return them to the wild.


Find out more about orangutan conservation at the Orangutan Foundation and Great Apes Survival Partnership.

You can also find out more about Sumatra and its wildlife on the ARKive Indian Ocean islands page.

See images and videos of the Sumatran orangutan on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jun 27

Fed up of the lack of sun? In need of a holiday? Let ARKive transport you off to the wonderful islands of the Indian Ocean with our new topic page.  From the coral reefs of the Maldives to the unique wildlife of Madagascar, the islands of the Indian Ocean boast a wide range of beautiful habitats and fascinating species.  To get you started, here is a taster of a few of the unusual endemic species which call the islands of the Indian Ocean home.

The Maldives is just one of the island nations featured on the Indian Ocean islands topic page

A hedgehog? A shrew?

Madagascar, made popular by the hit DreamWorks film of the same name, is the fourth biggest island in the world and boasts a wide range of endemic species. The ring-tailed lemur, the fossa and the aye-aye are among the more well-known species which inhabit this island, but there are also many other less well known but interesting critters. An example of such a species is the lowland streaked tenrec, an insectivore which looks like a cross between a shrew and a hedgehog. It is not just the appearance of tenrecs which is unusual – they are also the only mammal to communicate using a technique called stridulation. Stridulation is when animals communicate by rubbing two body parts together. In the case of the tenrec, it produces a high-pitched ultrasound by rubbing together specialised quills on its back.

Tenrecs only exist in Madagascar

A tree that bleeds?

The most distinctive plant on Socotra, an island located in the north-western Indian Ocean, is probably the dragon’s blood tree.  This species gets its name from the dark red resin it naturally exudes, known as ‘dragon’s blood’, a substance which has been highly prized since ancient times. This resin has been used to colour wool, decorate houses and pottery, and for many medicinal purposes.

The bizarre shape of the dragon’s blood tree helps it to survive in often arid conditions

From the brink of extinction

A bird from Mauritius which seemed to be following the same fate as the dodo was the Mauritius kestrel. However, a world-renowned conservation programme rescued it from the brink of extinction. Once widespread across Mauritius, by 1974 the population of this species only numbered six individuals, two of which were in captivity. An extremely successful reintroduction programme, supported by the Government of Mauritius, the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust International (now known as the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust), the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the Peregrine Fund, led to a spectacular recovery, with the bird being downgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Released Mauritius kestrel individuals show a greater tolerance for degraded habitats and open areas

Pollinating bat

Endemic to the islands of Anjouan and Moheli in the Comoros archipelago, Livingstone’s flying fox is one of the largest bats in existence, with an average wingspan of 1.4 m! This species does not use echolocation, but instead locates fruit with its well-developed vision and sense of smell. Due to the Livingstone’s flying fox’s diet of fruit and flowers, it plays an important role as a pollinator and seed dispersal agent.

The Livingstone’s flying fox is one of the most threatened bat species

Minute marvel

From one of the largest to one of the smallest, the Gardiner’s tree frog is one of the tiniest frogs in the world, growing to a maximum length of only 11 mm. Endemic to the Seychelles, the nocturnal Gardiner’s tree frog forages for small invertebrates at night. Unlike most frogs, which lay their eggs in water, this frog lays its eggs in small clumps on moist ground. The young then hatch from these eggs as fully formed froglets, not tadpoles.

The Seychelles has the highest number of endemic amphibians in the world

If you want to find out more about the different islands these species inhabit, or if you just fancy a quick trip to paradise, don’t forget to check out our Indian Ocean islands page.

The Seychelles are composed of 115 islands

Jemma Pealing, ARKive Researcher

Jun 25

There are over 175,000 islands on Earth, from tropical paradises in the warm blue waters of the Caribbean Sea to isolated rocks in the freezing Southern Ocean. Islands are well known for their high levels of biodiversity as well as being home to unique and unusual species, many of which are endemic to a single location and are found nowhere else on Earth. This species richness was the inspiration behind our new islands feature page, which aims to highlight the importance of islands and the conservation work being done to protect them.

Polynesia photo

Formed from continental fragments or the exposed peaks of oceanic volcanoes, islands vary greatly in size, climate and landscape. Islands and their surrounding waters account for around a sixth of the world’s total area, and estimates suggest that they support 20 percent of all species of birds, reptiles and plants, as well as 50 percent of the world’s marine biodiversity.

Hawaii photo

Species such as the lemurs of Madagascar and the solenodons of Cuba and Hispaniola are unlike species found anywhere else in the world. Madagascar alone has over 8,000 endemic species, and in Hawaii over 90 percent of the species are endemic.







Having evolved in isolation over thousands of years, island species are not only very different from their mainland ancestors, they are also very vulnerable to the impact of invasive species. They often lack the adaptations necessary to avoid predation or cope with competition for resources, and over the past 400 years, around half of all animal extinctions have occurred on islands. Fortunately, many conservation organisations work tirelessly to protect island species and habitats, with some standout success stories.

Codfish Island photo

Check out our islands page today to find out more about island biodiversity, island species and island conservation.

Claire Lamb, ARKive Researcher

Jun 22
Photo of leaf-scaled sea snake

Leaf-scaled sea snake (Aipysurus foliosquama)

Species: Leaf-scaled sea snake (Aipysurus foliosquama)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The leaf-scaled sea snake is able to remain underwater for up to two hours before resurfacing for air.

Named for the characteristic leaf-like shape of its scales, the leaf-scaled sea snake is a relatively small snake which spends its entire life at sea. Like other sea snakes, it shows a number of adaptations to its aquatic lifestyle, including a flattened, paddle-like tail for swimming, valves in the nostrils which prevent water entering the lung, and a gland under the tongue which excretes excess salt from the body. The leaf-scaled sea snake lives in shallow waters and gives birth to live young. It feeds on small coral reef fish, which it immobilises with its venom.

The leaf-scaled sea snake has one of the most restricted ranges of any sea snake, occurring in just two reefs in the Timor Sea, and occasionally being seen off the northwest coast of Australia. This species was once one of the most commonly seen sea snakes in its range, but has not been recorded in surveys since 2001. The exact reasons for this are unclear, but could be to do with rising sea temperatures and the degradation of its reef habitat, which in turn reduces prey availability. All sea snakes are legally protected in Australia, and measures are underway to monitor and reduce any impacts of fisheries on sea snake species. One of the reefs the leaf-scaled sea snake inhabits is a nature reserve, but unfortunately none of the habitat management plans for this area specifically target this rare marine reptile.


Find out more about sea snakes at IUCN – Sea snakes.

See images of the leaf-scaled sea snake on ARKive.

Find out more about other sea snake species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jun 18

Manta ray photoWhile the oceans of our planet cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, we still know so little about what goes on beneath the waves.  There are vast areas, great depths and even hundreds or perhaps thousands of species that we still barely understand.  Manta rays can certainly be classed as one such species that we know little about and that is why in January 2012, The Manta Trust came into being; a UK registered charity aiming to improve our understanding of these animals and promote their long-term conservation.

What is the Manta Trust?

Manta Trust LogoThe Manta Trust is a growing group of scientists, photographers, film-makers, conservations and advocacy experts who have joined forces to co-ordinate global research and conservation efforts for both manta rays and their close cousin’s, the mobula rays.

Manta ray photoThese rays are among the most charismatic creatures that inhabit our oceans. With the largest brain of all fish, their intelligence and curiosity is often compared to that of a large mammal, making encounters with them a truly unforgettable experience.

However, despite their popularity with divers and snorkelers many aspects of these creature’s lives remain a mystery, with only snippets of their life history currently understood. More worryingly, in recent years a targeted fishery for these animals has developed, causing devastating declines in global manta ray populations.

The Manta Trust brings together a number of research projects from around the globe. By conducting long-term, robust studies into manta populations in these varying locations, we aim to build the solid foundations upon which governments, NGOs and conservationists can make informed and effective decisions to ensure the long term survival of these animals and their habitat. By coupling this research with educational programmes and raising awareness, we hope to be able to make a lasting difference to the future of our oceans.

What are manta rays?

Manta and mobula rays are cartilaginous elasmobranch fishes. Like other rays this means they are a close relative of the shark. However, unlike most rays which spend at least a portion of their lives hugging the seabed, mobulids live pelagic existences – meaning they spend their time swimming in open water.

They’re also completely harmless to humans, feeding on zooplankton, the often microscopic animals which live in the water column and are the base of many ocean food chains.  This food source means that these amazing rays are at the mercy of the oceans, often migrating thousands of kilometres to track down their next meal!

Manta ray photo

Manta rays are also the largest rays in the world.  There are two species of manta, the reef mantas and the larger oceanic mantas that grow to over 7m diameter from wingtip to wingtip.

We believe manta rays to be incredibly long lived, probably living to at least 50 years old or possibly longer! This characteristic, coupled with the fact that they mature late, reproduce infrequently and give birth usually to a single pup at a time, make them very vulnerable to exploitation by fisheries.

Are there any threats to mantas?

Gill plate photoUnfortunately yes, manta and mobula rays are fished for their gill plates, the intricate apparatus which helps them to both breathe underwater and to strain their microscopic planktonic food from the water.

This fishery is quite a recent development, with the gill plates being sold in Asian markets where they are prepared as a tonic to treat a variety of ailments.

Due to the vulnerable nature of these animals this has the potential to have catastrophic implications for their fragile populations.  In fact populations in some areas have already seen declines of up to 86% due to fisheries.

Where does the Manta Trust work?

One of the main aims of the Manta Trust is to unite and co-ordinate work being undertaken with these rays in all corners of the globe.  So far we are working in 17 countries!  By co-ordinating our research in this way the hope is that we can share in each other’s successes (and failures), learning what works and what doesn’t, ultimately achieving global successes for these species.

What does the Manta Trust want to achieve?

Our vision is “A sustainable future for the oceans where manta rays thrive in healthy, diverse marine ecosystems.”  We’d like to achieve this by conducting robust scientific research whilst educating and raising awareness of the issues which face these animals.

We know that good conservation requires a holistic approach. Therefore the Manta Trust researchers and volunteers work closely with tourists, local communities, businesses and governments to ensure the preservation of these amazing animals through a combination of good science, education, community based initiatives and government legislation. As the scope of the Trust’s work continues to grow our goal is to keep expanding these efforts globally.

In March 2013, the Manta Trust was part of a consortium of NGOs behind the successful listing of both species of manta ray on Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).  This listing means trade in manta ray parts between the 178 signatory nations will be closely controlled and restricted when this legislation comes into force in September 2014.

Manta Trust photo

This is a huge victory, however much still needs to be achieved for these animals until this legislation comes into force, especially to aid those in the involved fishing industry to transition to more sustainable futures.

How can you help The Manta Trust?

Manta ray photoOne of the best ways you can help is to swim with mantas! By showing governments that manta-based tourism is important and that it provides a sustainable long term industry in which people can earn a living whilst co-existing with these animals, we will be taking positive steps towards long-term solutions for these rays.

If you’ve been lucky enough to swim with mantas why not send us your pictures?  Each manta is uniquely identifiable by the pattern of spots on their ventral (belly) surface.  We are collating manta images from around the world as part of our global IDtheManta database.

You can learn more about it here.  By collecting this information on a global scale we hope to learn more about these amazing and mysterious animals.

We also accept volunteers! Check out our Volunteer page on The Manta Trust website and follow us on Facebook to see the latest opportunities as they are announced. In fact following our work on our blog, website, Facebook and Twitter pages and sharing what we do with your friends is also an amazing way to spread the manta message!


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