Apr 3

The Sumatran rhino has not been seen in the state of Kalimantan, Borneo, for more than two decades, but recent evidence has been found to suggest that this threatened species still occurs in the Indonesian state.

Sumatran rhino image

The Sumatran rhino is one of the most threatened mammals in the world

Encouraging evidence

Now considered to be one of the world’s most threatened mammals with just 200 to 275 individuals remaining in the wild, the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhino once roamed across the Himalayan foothills and east to southern China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Viet Nam and Peninsular Malaysia. However, this impressive range has since been dramatically decreased as a result of hunting and habitat destruction.

Also known as the ‘hairy rhino’ due to a covering of reddish-brown to black hair, the Sumatran rhino is known to survive in small populations on Borneo in the Malaysian state of Sabah, but this is the first time that scientists have been able to confirm the presence of this shy and elusive species in the state of Kalimantan for over 20 years.

While conservationists from WWF-Indonesia have yet to spot a rhino in Kalimantan, the discovery of footprints, mud wallows, tree markings and signs of rhino feeding all indicate that at least one Sumatran rhino persists in the area.

This is a very important finding to the world, and especially to Indonesia’s conservation work, as this serves as a new record on the presence of Sumatran rhinos in East Kalimantan and especially in West Kutai,” said Bambang Noviyanto, the director for biodiversity conservation at the Forestry Ministry.

Sumatran rhino image

The Sumatran rhino is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Numbers

In such small and fragmented populations, it has become difficult for populations of the Sumatran rhino to breed successfully, and cases have been reported in the past of single rhinos surviving alone in a small forest fragment. The rarer the species becomes, the more challenging it is for scientists to count and monitor the number of remaining individuals.

As yet, there is no information on whether the recent evidence has been left by just one rhino or a small group, but scientists believe it is unlikely that the group is large.

The Sumatran rhino is on the very brink of extinction. The fact that this discovery comes more than a decade after the last evidence of the species in Kalimantan, despite the opening up of previously remote areas during that period, suggests that this might be just one or a small number of individuals,” explained John Payne, a conservation scientist with the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA). “If so, they might not have been breeding. There may be inbreeding, or a skewed sex ratio, or simply old or otherwise infertile rhinos.”

Sumatran rhino image

WWF-Indonesia is working on determining how many rhinos may be living in Kalimantan

Breeding programmes

Along with other scientists at BORA, Payne is currently working to breed two Sumatran rhinos in large, semi-wild enclosures in Sabah, Malaysia, one of which was found living alone in a fragment of forest with no hope of finding a mate to breed with.

A similar breeding programme in Sumatra led to the first successful birth of a captive Sumatran rhino since 2001. Given that it was only the fourth captive Sumatran rhino birth in the last century, this was an impressive achievement, but Payne believes that more rhinos will need to be captured to increase genetic diversity within the population and ensure that the breeding programmes are successful in the long term.

I would hope that consideration might be given to capture to add to the global captive population of 10 individuals,” said Payne. “New genes are needed. Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), although a Malaysian NGO, would be happy to collaborate with WWF-Indonesia and the Indonesian authorities. Such collaboration would help in exchanging information and ideas, and help to better secure collaboration on this species between Indonesia and Malaysia.”

At present, WWF-Indonesia is focusing its efforts on determining how many rhinos are currently living in East Kalimantan, and the organisation is working with local communities to ensure that the area is protected.

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Sumatran rhino found in Kalimantan after unseen in region for 20 years.

View photos and videos of the Sumatran rhino on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Feb 14

A new species of owl, discovered in Indonesia as a result of its unique call, has been formally described by scientists in a paper published recently in the journal PLoS One.

Rinjani scops owl image

Rinjani scops owl on a branch

Double discovery

The first endemic bird species to be recorded on the Indonesian island of Lombok, the newly described Rinjani scops owl (Otus jolandae) was interestingly discovered by two separate research groups just days apart during independent expeditions in September 2003.

I was on Lombok to collect sound recordings of the local population of a species of nightjar. On the first night I arrived on Lombok, we heard the vocalisations of an owl that [I was] not familiar with,” said George Sangster, lead researcher from Stockholm University’s Department of Zoology.

These unique, whistling vocalisations also caught the attention of Ben King, a researcher from the Ornithology Department of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, just a matter of days later. Coincidentally, King was on a separate expedition on Lombok, an island off the east coast of Bali, to study the same nightjar species as Sangster.

My experience was similar to George’s,” said King. “While I was tape-recording the nightjar, I heard a song that sounded like an owl, but unlike any I’d heard in years of field work in Indonesia.”

Rinjani scops owl habitat image

Rinjani scops owl habitat

Inquisitive owls

Initially, the researchers were uncertain as to whether or not the calls were being produced by a previously known species from Java and Bali, which perhaps had so far been overlooked on Lombok. However, this possibility was soon dismissed when the sound recordings of the mystery species were played back.

When we first heard them, the owls were very vocal, and either involved in a duet (of male and female) or a duel (between two males). Because we were not sure which species this was, we made recordings and played it back. Owls are territorial, so when their sound is played back in their territory, the owl usually comes to investigate the ‘intruder’,” explained Sangster.

Due to their inquisitive and territorial nature, the owls responded strongly to the recordings and approached the researchers, giving the scientists a clear view of the birds. Initially, the Rinjani scops owl, named for its volcano home Gunung (Mountain) Rinjani, was thought to be the Moluccan scops owl, as it had a very similar appearance in terms of plumage. However, the whistles it produced were markedly different from the raven-like croak of the Moluccan scops owl.

Confirming the discovery

To verify their new discovery, the researchers conducted detailed examinations of the whistling calls, as well as thorough checks of taxonomic literature. The plumage, body measurements and DNA of the Lombok birds were carefully compared against those of a variety of museum specimens, eventually confirming the Rinjani scops owl as a distinct species.

It was quite a coincidence that two of us identified this new bird species on different parts of the same island, within a few days of being on the island, especially considering that no-one had noticed anything special about these owls in the previous 100 years,” mused Sangster.

Rinjani scops owl image

Rinjani scops owl

Implications and future discoveries

The scientists are keen for future studies to be carried out to determine the exact distribution, elevational range and population density of this new owl species. While surprised at how common the Rinjani scops owl is, with the species being found at several locations and at seemingly high densities, the researchers are particularly interested in finding out whether it occurs throughout the lowland forests where much habitat destruction has occurred.

This latest discovery has highlighted the possibility that there could be further undiscovered bird species in Indonesia yet to be found and described.

In the past, ornithologists and birdwatchers have largely ignored the island because, unlike Java, Bali, Flores and other islands in the region, no bird species were unique to it,” said Sangster. “Our study underscores that, even after 150 years of scientific study, we still do not know all birds in the Indo-Malayan region. In fact, Indonesia is a treasure trove for taxonomists.”

Read more on this story at BBC Nature – A new owl species from Indonesia is formally described and Mongabay.com – Unique song reveals new owl species in Indonesia.

View photos and videos of owls on ARKive.

Explore species found in Indonesia on ARKive.

Find out more about newly discovered species on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Sep 16

Saturday was International Red Panda Day, a day designed to raise awareness about the plight of the red panda as well as a chance to raise funds to support the operation of a new community conservation centre in Nepal. For those of you unfamiliar with this curious and charismatic creature, fear not, as the ARKive team have rustled up their favourite red panda facts to give you the lowdown.

Quick Facts

  • The red panda is the original panda, having been discovered 48 years before the giant panda.
  • Red pandas are found in Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar and Nepal.
  • There are two subspecies of red panda; Ailurus fulgens styani and the smaller, lighter Ailurus fulgens fulgens.
  • Red pandas produce a number of vocalisations, the strangest of which is a ‘quack-snort’.

Is it a cat, is it a bear, is it a fox..?

Photo of red panda Photo of Northern raccoon

Actually, the red panda is thought to be most closely related to species in the racoon family. The classification of the red panda has caused continued controversy since it was first described in 1825. While its scientific name means ‘fire-coloured cat’, and it shares similarities with both bears and racoons, today it is placed with the racoons but in its own separate subfamily, the Ailurinae. Interestingly, the Chinese name for the red panda is “hunho”, which translates into English as “firefox”, hence the famous logo of Mozilla’s web browser.

Dexterous Digits

Red panda photo

Like the giant panda, red pandas posses a modified wrist bone that acts as a sixth digit or thumb which is used for grabbing bamboo. While technically classified as a carnivore, red pandas actually feed almost exclusively on bamboo, although roots, fruit, eggs and small animals are sometimes eaten too. They have semi-retractable claws, which allow them to be efficient climbers and when not foraging, pandas are usually found in the trees.

Cute Cubs

Red panda cub photo

Red pandas are ready to breed at around 18 months old. After a relatively long gestation period for their body size (roughly 135 days) red pandas usually give birth to two young in a hollow tree. The young, known as cubs, are born blind and helpless, opening their eyes after 18 days.

A species under threat

Red panda photo

Sadly, red pandas are a species under threat, currently classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The most serious threat they face is habitat loss, as throughout their range forests have been cleared for timber extraction, agriculture and development. Their lustrous coats also make them a target for hunters, and hats made from their pelts were traditionally given to newlyweds in Yunnan as they were thought to symbolise a happy marriage. In China the species is thought to have undergone a decline of around 40 percent over the last 50 years.

How can you help?

If you would like to get involved International Red Panda Day you can download an activity pack here. Kids can get involved in a whole host of fun red panda themed activities as well as becoming a “Red Panda Ranger”, a special title given to children that help spread the word about red pandas.

Make sure you check out the red panda species profile on ARKive for lots more information, images and videos.

You can also find out more about red pandas and their conservation by visiting the Red Panda Network.

Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher

Sep 6

Today marks the start of the IUCN World Conservation Congress the world’s largest and most important conservation event. Held in Jeju, Republic of Korea from 6 to 15 September 2012, over 9,000 representatives from governments, NGOs, business, UN agencies and social organizations will come together to discuss solutions for the world’s most pressing environment and development issues.

Held every four years, the World Conservation Congress aims to improve how we manage our natural environment for human, social and economic development. Wildscreen, the charity behind ARKive is being represented at the summit by Richard Edwards, Chief Executive of Wildscreen.

In honor of this globally significant environmental event, and as an IUCN Red List partner, the ARKive team thought we should highlight some of the unique species found within the Republic of Korea.

Bronzed Barbarian

Bronze whaler photo

The bronze whaler is a formidable shark species, displaying power and speed as it moves through the water looking for prey. This finned powerhouse earned its name from both its metallic sheen, and its tendency to surround harpooned whale carcasses. It typically feeds on schools of bony fish such as sardines, mullets and soles, although it has been known to take squid, cuttlefish and sawfish too.

Fancy Flyer

Bekko tombo photo

With its dramatic wing markings and abdominal patterns, the bekko tombo is a stunning dragonfly with a feisty temperament; males often exhibit fierce competition over females. This Korean native was once abundant, but its populations have dwindled due to introduced predators and urban expansion, with the filling in of ponds leading to extensive habitat loss. It is sadly now considered to be Critically Endangered.

Admirable Avian

White-naped crane photo

The wetlands and waterways of the Republic of Korea provide important habitat for a number of migratory birds, including the the Vulnerable white-naped crane. This elegant bird can be easily identified by the large ring of bare red skin around each eye and the white stripe running from the crown to the nape of the neck. Like other crane species, the white-naped crane is often seen ‘dancing’, a spectacular display involving flapping the wings, tossing grass and sticks, jumping, running and bowing.

Sea Skipper

Spinetail mobula photo

The spinetail mobula is an impressively large ray with a ‘wingspan’ of up to 210 centimetres. This agile acrobat of the sea also has a long tail resembling a whip, which has a sting at the tip. They are often seen leaping out of the water as a means of communication or play. Unfortunately, this ray is commonly caught as bycatch by the fishing industry throughout its range.

Tusky trekker

Chinese water deer photo

The Latin name of the Chinese water deer, Hydropotes inermis, literally means ‘unarmed water-drinker’, which refers to the species’ lack of antlers and its affinity for marsh-like habitats.  As its name suggests, the Chinese water deer is an adept swimmer, and may swim between islets in search of food and shelter. While they do not bare antlers, the male Chinese water deer has enlarged upper canine teeth, or tusks, which measure up to eight centimetres in length.

Get involved

Keep up to date with the latest news from the IUCN World Conservation Congress with the ARKive blog as we will be keeping you posted on all the big stories over the coming days. 

You can also find out the latest news from the official IUCN Congress twitter hub.

Maggie Graham, Program Assistant, Wildscreen USA

Jul 25
© Neloy Bandyopadhyay

© Neloy Bandyopadhyay

Last year, ARKive ran a blog about the devastating effects of the cattle drug diclofenac on vulture populations in India. The Indian vulture, slender-billed vulture and Asian white-backed vulture have all suffered dramatic population crashes of between 97 and 99.9% as a result of ingesting the drug and are all now classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Neloy Bandyopadhyay, one of ARKive’s media donors, decided something had to be done to raise awareness of the plight of these important birds and the effects the drug is having on their populations, and so he made a film called ‘The Last Hope’.  Here he tells us a bit more about himself and his increasingly important work.

Q: We thought your film was very inspiring and informative. Can you tell us more about what you do and why you decided to make a film about this conservation issue?

By trade I am an Information Security Consultant, but I am also a naturalist, wildlife photographer and filmmaker. I try to use my films and photographs as instruments to raise interest and awareness, and encourage the conservation of nature and wildlife, which are at the mercy of civilisation. I was the director, editor and cameraman for my film ‘The Last Hope’, a documentary on the Asian vulture crisis, which has gained nationwide interest since its release.

The idea of a short film on Asian vultures came to me while I was taking some still images of the Indian vulture. I wanted to broadcast a message about the importance of vultures in ecosystems, and decided a short film would be a more effective way to communicate the message to an audience than some still photographs. It was a self-funded film and I tried to portray the importance of these scavenging birds and highlight the effort required to save them with very limited funds and infrastructure.

Neloy's photograph depicts the Egyptian vulture, a species that is also threatened by the effects of diclofenac in India

Neloy's photograph depicts the Egyptian vulture, a species that is also threatened by the effects of diclofenac in India

Q: Can you tell us more about the film?

‘The Last Hope’ is a short film about the relentless struggle of vulture conservationists in India and the subcontinent. Conservationists are fighting a tough battle to save this great scavenger bird from the brink of extinction. The film was made to raise awareness of the importance of vultures in nature and the effects that the cattle drug diclofenac has on vulture populations.

Over the last few decades, Asian vultures have faced a catastrophic decline in numbers. Five species of Gyps vulture have experienced more than a 90% decline in numbers, which is one of the fastest recorded declines in the animal kingdom. When this was noticed by scientists, it was almost too late and the birds were on the edge of extinction.

It was the Bombay Natural History Society who first observed the decline of the Gyps vultures. More research revealed that the veterinary drug diclofenac, which was used on injured or diseased cattle for pain relief before death, was the reason for the vulture population’s decline. The vultures would feed on the cattle carcasses and ingest the drug, which poisoned them.

The situation was alarming; however, scientists around the world didn’t waste any time in attempting to save the species. The government of India and, later, the governments of Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh also provided support by banning the killer drug in 2006.

My film showcases the battle being fought by scientists, conservationists and governments to save these fantastic birds. It is a message to the public to inform them of the important role that vultures play within ecosystems, and that diclofenac needs to be completely phased out, as it is still illegally sold in some pharmacies.

 

 

Q: Why do you think ARKive is important?

I think that awareness is the key to conservation. ARKive is one of the best organisations working towards educating people about conservation issues. With a large audience from all over the world, ARKive is a fantastic platform for showcasing endangered species and promoting conservation, and it has been doing it successfully for years. 

The issue of the Asian vulture crisis is still unknown to many in the world. However, I hope that more people will come to know about the killer side of diclofenac through reading this blog on ARKive and watching my film.

Find out more about Neloy’s work on his website.

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