Jul 20

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!

Here, photographer Luke Massey discusses how the world’s most endangered wildcat, the Iberian Lynx, has captivated him for the past four years and the work being done to bring them back from the brink.

The Iberian lynx.  Illustration by Lorna Leigh Harrington

When you think of southern Spain, for most people the first thought is of the Costa del Sol, cheap G&T’s, crowded beaches and sunburnt tourists. Around two million people a year visit the Costa del Sol, and my guess is that very few of them know that only a couple of hours drive north you can be in the rolling hills of the Sierra de Andujar Natural Park. A landscape carpeted in aromatic rosemary, twisted holm oaks – their gnarled branches dripping with Old Man’s Beard and giant granite boulders that jut out from the hillsides. Overhead soar Spanish imperial eagles and black vultures, red deer graze the hillsides but these aren’t the animals that make this habitat famous, this Mediterranean forest is home to an almost mythical beast, one of the rarest cats in the world, the Iberian lynx.

Smoky black side burns frame a pair of striking green eyes that stare straight through you, and out from its ears curl a distinct pair of jet black tufts. A coat speckled with spots and smudges provide the perfect invisibility cloak – it is a ghost of the mountains, as quickly as one appears, it melts back into its surroundings.

I’ve been lucky enough to have countless encounters with this elusive feline. It’s become an annual pilgrimage of mine to head into the mountains to get a glimpse of, in my opinion, one of the most epic cats in existence.

Lynx crossing a dirt track | © Luke Massey

One of my most memorable wildlife encounters was with a pair of Iberian lynx. I’d been searching for the lynx for months. My camera trap had seen more lynx than me, I was beginning to lose hope. It was dawn and I’d headed to one of my favoured spots, it was coming to the end of a long dry summer so I thought going to the water may bring me success. I hiked up the hill to give a scan of the hillside and check a regular marking spot. On reaching the summit I was met by every naturalist’s dream, a moist steaming pile of lynx poo…

There must have been a lynx within metres of me, I scanned around, nothing, every promising boulder lay empty, no cat sunning itself, every patch of grass looked normal, and the big giveaway, the local magpie population, remained silent.

With my current streak of bad luck I assumed I was minutes too late and began to head back down to the water. As I passed a bush I heard a noise, I stopped and I heard it again – a very cat-like miaow. It sounded like it was right next to me – surely not. I glanced to my left, nothing. Then into the bush to my right and there staring straight back at me was an Iberian lynx.

Iberian lynx sitting on a rock | © Luke Massey

Minutes passed and the lynx remained unmoved, then another movement, there wasn’t just one lynx within the bush but two! I spent the next few hours slowly following the lynx as they moved from bush to bush, rock to rock and then lost them as they melted into the scrub. A memorable encounter that I didn’t want to end, and it didn’t.

As a wildlife photographer there are certain shots that you visualise, the perfect scene with your target species framed perfectly. Most of the time these fantasies result in disappointment, the wildlife doesn’t cooperate, the light goes and then the species appears or vice versa. But, just sometimes it works out.

Ever since I started my lynx obsession I’d visualised the shot, a lynx sprawled atop a moss covered boulder. I wanted to show the regality of these cats, but also just how well they blended into their surroundings. I returned that evening to the site of the morning encounter, it was deathly still, the only sound the wheezing of the local spotless starling flock and the odd splash from a fish jumping for flies in the river below. I wasn’t disappointed, I’d have endured a million evenings like that one if it meant I got an encounter like that morning’s once in a while.

Iberian lynx resting on a rock | © Luke Massey

But it seems it was one of those days when I should’ve bought a lottery ticket. Just when I thought it was too late, the ghost appeared. On the hillside above she sauntered, weaving her way between the rocks before leaping up and sitting down to groom. Just perfect.

In 2002 these cats were in dire straits, they numbered less than a hundred scattered between two isolated locations. Habitat destruction, persecution and a catastrophic decline in the lynx’s favoured prey, the rabbit, had led to almost the first feline extinction for 2000 years.

The EU and the Spanish government managed to leap into action in the nick of time. Cats were taken from the wild and zoos and placed into a number of specially built captive breeding centres. In the final strongholds rabbit populations were bolstered and habitats improved, whilst researchers searched for suitable areas to possibly reintroduce and relocate lynx too. It was touch and go.

Roll on almost two decades and the return of the Iberian lynx can perhaps be looked at as one of the most successful conservation projects of all time. Iberian lynx can now be found in both Spain and Portugal and at the last census there were almost 600 individuals living in the wild. Thanks to GPS tracking the astonishing journeys of the lynx can now be seen, with individuals covering thousands of kilometres as they journey around Spain looking for suitable habitat.

Iberian lynx resting after being released back into the wild wearing a radio-collar | © Luke Massey

The lynx is certainly not out of the woods yet, still overly reliant on rabbit populations and a very weak gene pool, disaster could yet befall it. And man poses perhaps the greatest risk, in 2017 31 lynx were killed on Spanish roads, almost 10% of the total population.

The lynx’s comeback however should give a sign of hope. A lesson to not let a species reach such critical levels and in a world where we are losing species at an alarming rate. The good news story of the return of an almost extinct species should be heralded.

Iberian lynx portrait | © Luke Massey

Wildlife photographer and cameraman Luke Massey has been awarded in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition for the past two years, as well as winning the wildlife category of Travel Photographer of the Year and the title of Young Environmental Photographer of the Year in 2016. As a cameraman, Luke was part of Chris Packham’s Green Ribbon Award winning team in 2015.

Check out more of Luke’s great work on his website and Instagram.

Jul 18

The Wildscreen Festival is the world’s biggest global gathering of natural world storytellers.  It convenes over 850 filmmakers, photographers, broadcasters, technologists and conservationists from over 40 countries for one week in Bristol, UK, to celebrate and nurture the wildlife film and TV genre.

Since its inception in 1982, each Festival has utilised wildlife photographs or illustrations to provide its unique and memorable visual identity. As the 2018 Festival draws closer, we are thrilled to introduce Lorna Leigh Harrington, whose illustrations will become the face of this year’s Festival.  We have commissioned Lorna to create five illustrations of species that highlight the diversity of life on Earth, focusing on the more underappreciated or endangered species from different habitats.  The species are: the Iberian lynx, helmeted hornbill, Muller’s mushroomtounge salamander, Queen Alexandra’s butterfly and sea urchins, all of which will have their time in the spotlight throughout the Festival and will be showcased in this blog series.

We spoke to Lorna about her passion for the natural world and how it inspires her work.

Lorna Leigh Harrington | © Lucy Baker

Wildscreen are extremely excited that your illustrations will become the visual identity of the 2018 Wildscreen Festival.  Firstly, and most importantly: what is your favourite animal & why?!

My favourite animal would have to be an elephant. I’ve loved them since I was a kid. It amazes me that they can express emotions such as joy, love and grief. They are beautiful and intelligent.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you started in this creative industry

I’ve always had a real passion for art and design, and have always doodled. I find drawing really cathartic. I started working within the industry shortly after graduating university, taking up a few intern roles in London for a couple of magazines and a fashion website. After this I worked as a freelance illustrator and designer for a few years which took me from sunny Bognor Regis to Bristol city life. I have been lucky enough to work for some really great clients over print, web, app design and fashion.

Drawing the Iberian lynx | © Lorna Leigh Harrington

What was it about this particular project that made you want to get involved?

I think that Wildscreen is such a fantastic way to celebrate Natural history film makers, and is a great way to get people excited about conservation and learning about new species. I’ve learnt a lot about the species chosen for Wildscreen’s branding!

When you decide to create a new piece of work, what is your process? 

I work for Aardman Animations by day as a Graphic Designer, so I’m constantly in a creative environment which provides a great hub of inspiration. I get inspired by the world around me, whether it be from a song I’ve heard on the radio, a poem or even a road sign! Usually I will get an idea during the day and will make a note of it and begin work of an evening, and tend to not sleep until they have been executed on paper.

Working on the helmeted hornbill | © Lorna Leigh Harrington

What techniques/mediums do you use to create your illustrations?

I tend to sketch an outline in pencil and then go over it with a black ballpoint pen, adding in detail. A sketch never feels complete to me until I have added some strong black lines. I then scan the image into photoshop where I colour and add textures and layers.

The natural world features heavily in your work, what is it about nature and wildlife that inspires you?

I’ve always had a fascination with the world around us, and particularly the animals that inhabit it with us. As a kid I had a lot of pets, so I put this interest down to that. I think that species can be so diverse in shape and colour that the possible outcomes of a piece of work are never ending.

What is your favourite subject to draw?

Aside from animals and plants, I also love drawing faces, and experimenting with shading. I have recently got into painting large portraits on canvases with acrylic. I like to mix up my style from time to time.

The five Wildscreen species, clockwise from left: helmeted hornbil, Iberian lynx, Queen Alexandra’s birdwing, Muller’s mushroomtounge salamander, sea urchins.

To see more of Lorna’s work, check out her website and Instagram.

May 21

It’s our birthday!

Arkive is 15 years old!

We’re thrilled to be able to celebrate and share the incredible diversity of life on Earth. However our planet is currently under a crisis, our planet’s ecosystems are under threat like never before, and the world is watching as more and more species fall victim to habitat loss or wildlife crime. It’s easy to get lost in the science, but it does not lessen the urgency needed in combating these extinctions.

Here, as a stark reminder, we see 15 species which have become extinct, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, over the 15 years Arkive has been running.

Alaotra grebe

Declared extinct in 2010

Baiji – Yangtze river dolphin

Presumed extinct since 2006

West African black rhino

Southwestern black rhinoceros male charging

Diceros bicornis longipes, the Western black rhino, a subspecies of the black rhino Diceros bicornis, was declared extinct in 2011

Golden toad

Male golden toad

Declared extinct in 2007

Hawaiian crow

Hawaiian crow perched on branch

Declared extinct in the wild in 2004

Madeiran large white

Female Madeiran large white

Presumed extinct since 2007

Po’ouli (Black-faced honeycreeper)

Po'ouli in tree

Presumed extinct since 2004

Eastern cougar

Side view of a Patagonian puma

Puma concolor couguar, the Eastern cougar, a subspecies of Puma concolor was declared extinct in 2018, it’s cousin the Western cougar may now be expanding it’s range

Rabbs’ fringed-limbed treefrog

Captive Rabb's fringe-limbed treefrog

Declared extinct in 2016, the species has not been observed in the wild since 2007

Spix’s macaw

Spix's macaw

Presumed extinct in the wild since 2000

St Helena redwood

St Helena redwood with immature and pollinated flowers

Extinct in the wild since 2003

Pinta Island tortoise

Volcan Alcedo tortoise in habitat

Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island tortoise died in 2012

Bramble cay melomys

Declared extinct in 2016

Japanese river otter

Close-up of common otter head among seaweed

Lutra lutra whiteleyi a subspecies of the common otter, Lutra lutra as seen above, and was declared extinct in 2012

Pyrenean ibex

Male Pyrenean ibex standing on rock

Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica is a subspecies of the Iberian ibex Capra pyrenaica, was declared extinct in 2000, but was one of the first species to be briefly made de-extinct in 2003

Feb 15

The race to become crowned as the World’s Most Unloved Species was hotly contested, once again, this year with 19 nominated species in the running.  After 12 days of fierce competition, impassioned pitches and over 4,500 votes, the top 10 was announced on Valentine’s Day.

But slithering into first place… it’s the Galapagos racer!

Often demonised, the Galapagos racer shot to fame during the BBC’s 2016 series Planet Earth II.  They are one of a few endemic snakes found in the Galapagos and can grow to a maximum of 125 centimetres.  However, little is known about the Galapagos racer and there is even confusion over the number of species or subspecies of racer snakes found in the Galapagos.  The Galapagos racer is already locally extinct on Floreana Island and are threatened following the introduction of cats and pigs onto neighbouring islands which forage for their eggs.

All the nominated species are worthy winners, and were chosen as they are often overshadowed and overlooked by the more cute, handsome and (supposedly) interesting members of the natural world.  But which species pulled at the public’s heartstrings the most and made it into the top 10?  Here’s a quick rundown:

Wombling into second place, it’s the bare-nosed wombat.  Also known as the ‘common wombat’ this furry marsupial may no longer be as ‘common’ as its namesake suggests, as the population battles an increasing number of fatal road strikes and the deadly skin condition mange.

Flying into third, and in the highest place a bird has had in this contest, it’s the lappet-faced vulture.  Definitely not noted for their cuddly nature, these birds have been known to take on jackals to defend a carcass!

In fourth place we dive underneath the waves with the first shark to enter the top 10!  The shortfin mako is a speed machine, capable of reaching 35 kilometres an hour and even having the power to launch itself clear out of the water.

At number five we have the Asian elephant.  Despite having had a close relationship with man over the centuries these giants are facing a number of threats including poaching and habitat loss, and are often overlooked by their larger African relatives.

Hopping into the top 10 at number six is the common toad.  Firmly rooted in English folklore and culture this gardener’s friend is another species with an unfortunate name as populations have taken a dramatic downturn declining by 68% over the last 30 years.

The ‘lucky number seven’ spot is taken by the red squirrel.  However this iconic species is not so lucky, facing habitat fragmentations, disease and competition with the grey squirrel, introduced into the UK in the 1870s.

Coming up in eighth place is the aye-aye.  Not known for its dashing good looks, this primate has been considered an omen of bad luck resulting in persecution by the Malagasy people!

Looking fine at nine is the Copan brook frog.  The second amphibian in the top 10, this tiny frog could be easily hidden if it wasn’t for its bright, lime green colouration.

And last but by no means least, it’s the blue shark.  This sleek apex predator is instantly recognisable as it moves gracefully through the water however it is one of the most heavily fished sharks in the world, with an estimated 15-20 million caught every year.

To find out more about these species and the work being done to research and conserve them, visit the results page here.

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) Seals are believed to have evolved from land-based bear or otter-like ancestors, who then decided life was better under the sea, down where it’s wetter..

2) Seals mainly live in the water and only come ashore to mate, give birth, moult or escape from predators such as orca, whales and sharks.

3) Seals have more blood in their body than other animals, which helps them to dive for much longer than many other oxygen-breathing mammals.

4) Elephant seals can hold their breath for two hours – a record in the animal world! The longest ever held by a human is just 22 minutes.

5) Weddell seals can dive to over 600m!

6) Seals have whiskers that help them detect the vibration of their prey underwater.

7) As they can spend many months at sea at a time, seals have the ability to sleep underwater.

8) Male seals don’t eat anything during mating season, which can last up to three months! That’s some serious beach-body dieting.

9) A female seal’s milk contains up to 50% fat, and pups can put on 2kgs a DAY. That should make you feel a little better about your festive calorie splurges!

10) While orcas, sharks and polar bears are natural predators of seals, the biggest threat to seal populations is people.

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