Jul 24

Since its inception in 1982 each Wildscreen Festival has utilised wildlife photographs or illustrations to provide each year with a unique and memorable visual identity.  As the 2018 Festival draws closer, we are incredibly excited to introduce the illustrations will become the face of this year’s Festival!  The 2018 Festival focusses on telling the story of biodiversity – the amazing diversity of life on Earth, from species to ecosystems.  We value the world’s more underappreciated and endangered species and habitats, and have therefore chosen five to showcase as the 2018 Festival Mascots!

First up, the wonderfully colourful, helmeted hornbill.  Tim Knight, from Fauna and Flora International, describes the surprising threat they face and the conservation efforts underway to save this charismatic yet critically endangered bird.

The helmeted hornbill.  Illustration by Lorna Leigh Harrington

The last laugh – How long before the helmeted hornbill falls silent?

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the maniacal cackle of a helmeted hornbill. I was standing beneath a massive fruiting fig tree in the middle of the Brunei rainforest – not exactly the heart of Borneo, but it was certainly wild enough for me – and craning my neck to catch a glimpse of the gibbons in the canopy. The ripening fruit was a magnet for all manner of other wildlife too, from wild pigs, diminutive mouse deer and tufted jungle king butterflies on the forest floor to pig-tailed macaques, barbets and, yes, hornbills in the treetops.

More often heard than seen, Brunei’s resident hornbill species are readily identifiable by their characteristic calls or, in the case of the wreathed hornbill, wingbeats reminiscent of the sound of a departing steam train. But it is the helmeted hornbill’s madcap laughter that stops you in your tracks. It starts innocuously enough with a few tentative ‘poops’, but these become increasingly urgent, rising in a crescendo towards a hysterical climax.

Back in England, a playback of this ridiculous call was the highlight of every rainforest talk that I inflicted on schoolchildren around the country, providing a suitably entertaining finale to a recording of the rainforest soundscape.

The helmeted hornbill’s physical appearance isn’t exactly conventional either, with its incongruously long central tail feathers and an impressively large casque – from which this bird derives its name. The latter feature in particular has made this species a prime target for illegal wildlife traders. Typically, hornbill casques are light and hollow, but the helmeted hornbill’s appendage is a solid, ivory-like block, making it ideal for carving into ornamental trinkets. Increasing demand for such products, combined with rapid deforestation, poses a grave threat to the survival of the species throughout most of its range.

The tiny nation of Brunei is an exception to the rule; as an oil-rich country, it can afford not to sell logging or oil palm concessions to the highest bidder, meaning that its magnificent rainforests remain virtually pristine. Strict firearms controls also ensure that poaching is minimal.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, however, the situation is far less rosy. Severe hunting pressure and widespread habitat loss have led to the helmeted hornbill being officially categorised as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. That’s one small step from extinction in the wild.

Female helmeted hornbill

As someone whose spirits were lifted by almost daily encounters with this awesome bird, I’m finding that eventuality difficult to contemplate. The good news is that helmeted hornbills are benefiting – directly and indirectly – from the work of Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and its partners in Southeast Asia.

In Sumatra’s Kerinci Seblat National Park, the anti-poaching and forest protection activities of FFI’s tiger teams are having a tangible impact on illegal wildlife trade and deforestation, disrupting the trafficking networks that deal not only in tigers and timber, but also in pangolin scales and helmeted hornbill ‘ivory’.

Closer collaboration between the park authorities and provincial police departments – and the consequent improvements in law enforcement that this brings – are helping FFI and its partners to reduce wildlife and forest crime in and around Sumatra’s largest protected area. Organised trade syndicates are fragmenting, black market prices for helmeted hornbill casques have fallen, and traders are less willing to fund hornbill hunting gangs. There is obviously a need for continued vigilance, but these are all encouraging signs.

Helmeted hornbill male with large stick insect to be delivered to female in nest.

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring island of Borneo, the Conservation Leadership Programme – in which FFI is a leading partner – is supporting a team of Malaysian conservationists who are addressing the shortage of suitable natural nest cavities for hornbills – the result of widespread logging of the largest trees. Nest boxes have been erected in the most promising locations and are being closely monitored for signs of activity.

Rhinoceros and wrinkled hornbills are among the species that have already been observed using or checking out these artificial nest sites. The team hopes that continual improvements in the design of the boxes will encourage more birds – including helmeted hornbills – to use them.

It’s well over 20 years since I last visited Borneo and encountered a helmeted hornbill calling in the wild, but the memory of that extraordinary sound is indelibly etched on my brain. Here’s hoping that this bird’s lunatic laughter continues to reverberate through Southeast Asia’s remaining rainforests long into the future.

 

To find out more about FFI’s work with the helmeted hornbill check out their website.

Feb 1

Species name: lappet-faced vulture

Nominated by: Pro Wildlife

IUCN Red List classification: Endangered

What is so special about your species?

In our society vultures are an omen of death. The myth that vultures circle dying animals waiting for their meal is deeply rooted and has badly damaged the image of those majestic animals. However, vultures fulfil an important function within our ecosystems and are highly specialised. For example, their strong stomach acid can kill deadly bacteria which allows them to safely digest carcasses infected with dangerous diseases such as anthrax and hog cholera bacteria.

Many vulture species are threatened with extinction which has the potential to destabilize entire ecosystems, as vultures play an important role in disposing of dead animals.

What are the threats to this species in the wild?

Habitat loss and degradation, and toxins are the main threats faced by vultures.  African species, such as the lappet-faced vulture, have become victims of the cattle drug ‘diclofenac’ and poisons used to kill predators such as jackals and hyenas.  Vultures are also deliberately poisoned by poachers as their circling behaviours act as an alarm for authorities and expose the poachers’ illegal activities.

Vultures only produce a few offspring during their lifetime, resulting in a slow recovery from dramatic population crashes.

What can people do to help your species?

Worldwide banning of the chemicals that kill vultures indirect would help them to recover themselves. By combating illegal poaching in Africa, the cause for systematic poisoning of vultures can be tackled. Pro Wildlife supports local organisations to stop the illegal hunting of animals and to maintain the balance of the ecosystem.

VOTE NOW!

 

Feb 1

Species name: red-footed booby

Nominated by: Chagos Conservation Trust


IUCN Red List classification: Least Concern

What is so special about your species?

With a funny name comes some funny feet, but no one can deny that the red footed booby is one of the most beautiful seabirds found in the Chagos Archipelago and certainly stands out in a crowd!  With their bright red feet they are ready for Valentine’s Day every day.  These colourful birds spend much of their time on the islands of the archipelago with regular visits to the ocean to feed.  Having an aerodynamic body and closeable nostrils means they can dive into the water to catch squid and small fish with ease.

What are the threats to this species in the wild?

In the Chagos Archipelago invasive black rats are one of the biggest threats to red footed boobies. These seabirds nest on the ground providing easy access for these introduced predators to prey on eggs and chicks. Out at sea, overfishing threatens the food supplies for red footed boobies.

What can people do to help your species?

Always choose sustainably sourced seafood to ensure that there is enough available for the other species that depend on seafood for their survival. You can also support the Chagos Conservation Trust in its efforts to eradicate invasive black rats from the islands of the Chagos Archipelago.

 

VOTE NOW!

 

 

Sep 29

Thirteen ocean creatures have surfaced all around Bristol’s BS5 postcode, snapped by some of the world’s very best wildlife photographers. To prove how turtle-y awesome they all are, we’ve created blogs on all of the featured species sharing ten epic facts about them! Sail your way around the exhibition by downloading your very own map and guide.

1) Northern gannets are the largest gannet subspecies, and also the largest seabird in Britain.

2) Scotland is home to over 40% of the world’s northern gannet breeding population.

3) If you’re lucky enough to see gannets travelling out to sea you’ll notice that they do so in large groups, sometimes up to 1,000 birds strong – a seabird squadron!

4) Seabirds have to be light enough to soar in the sky for long stretches of time and buoyant enough to float when they rest on the ocean’s surface. Some seabirds are so light and buoyant that they actually have trouble getting under the water at all!

5) Gannets are champions among the divers and can plummet into the ocean from as high as 40m, diving as deep as 35m.

6) When these seabirds hit the surface of the water they can be travelling as fast as 96km/h!

7) Air sacs between the sternum (chest bone) and chest muscles help to cushion the impact of fast diving.

8) They have nostrils that open inside, not outside, their bill to prevent water rushing up their nose when they dive.

9) Gannets don’t take off with their catch, they quickly swallow their fish before resurfacing, often whole. Greedy guts!

10) During the breeding season, gannets increase blood flow to their feet, helping them to incubate their eggs. The feet act like little hot plates to keep the eggs nice and toasty.

Sep 29

Thirteen ocean creatures have surfaced all around Bristol’s BS5 postcode, snapped by some of the world’s very best wildlife photographers. To prove how turtle-y awesome they all are, we’ve created blogs on all of the featured species sharing ten epic facts about them! Sail your way around the exhibition by downloading your very own map and guide.

1) Sorry if this ruins many of the Christmas cards that you see from now on, but no penguins live at the North Pole.

2) Penguins swallow pebbles and stones as well as their food. Scientists believe that the stones may help grind up and digest their food.

3) Penguins can drink seawater, despite its heavy salt content.

4) The characteristic black and white plumage of penguins serves as camouflage while swimming. The black plumage on their back is hard to see from above, while the white plumage on their front looks like the sun reflecting off the surface of the water when seen from below, making them masters of disguise.

5) The fastest species is the gentoo penguin, which can reach swimming speeds up to 35km/h! To put that in to perspective, Michael Phelps swims at about 9.6km/h.

6) Little penguins are the smallest penguin subspecies, averaging around 33cm in height.

7) Unlike most birds which lose and replace a few feathers at a time, penguins moult all at once, in what is called a ‘catastrophic moult’, during which time they remain on land.

8) Because many male penguins incubate eggs, pudgy males – with enough fat storage to survive weeks without eating – are most desirable. Bring on the Dad bod!

9) Penguins can dive to depths of over 250m, although the deepest dive ever recorded was by a female emperor penguin who dived to 535m!

10) Climate change is likely to affect the numbers of krill, and thus affect the penguin numbers as well. Since the 1970s, krill density in some areas has decreased by 80%. When the bottom of the food chain is wiped out, it is seriously bad news for everyone else.

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