Jul 31

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 that will become the face of this year’s Festival!

The 2018 Festival focuses 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!

Flying the flag for the insects is Queen Alexandra’s birdwing and we’ve been speaking to Dr Mark Collins, Chairman of the Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust, about conserving this legendary butterfly.

Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly. Illustration by Lorna Leigh Harrington

Firstly, tell us a bit about the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing – we’ve heard it can get pretty big!

It’s the biggest butterfly in the world with females reaching a wingspan of up to 30cm! They fly high in the forest canopy of Papua New Guinea, so high in fact that the first specimen, discovered by Albert Stewart Meek in 1906, had to be shot down with pepper-shot and the rather ragged specimen, stored in the Natural History Museum, still bears the scars! The males are rather smaller at 20cm wingspan but make up for it with their amazing iridescent blue and green colours, contrasting with the predominantly brown and cream females.

This butterfly has a very grand name, who is it named after?

Albert Meek was a professional collector who worked for the second Baron Rothschild (he famously put together the collection in Tring, now part of the Natural History Museum). When Walter Rothschild described the species in 1907 he recognised its beauty and rarity and named it in honour of Alexandra of Denmark, the wife and Queen Consort of King Edward VII. A memorial to this statuesque and remarkable lady may be seen in London’s Marlborough Road, opposite St James’s Palace.

Male Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly | © Francois Gilson

How endangered is this species and what threats does it face?

This is one of the most endangered species of butterflies in the world and it faces a very uncertain future indeed. Confined to four sub-populations in secondary forest fragments scattered across only a few thousand square kilometres in Northern Province of Papua New Guinea, and with fewer than 10 females per square kilometre, it is a very difficult species to find. Much of its former habitat in the Popondetta region has been lost to deforestation, agriculture and oil palm plantations. Its stronghold is probably now the Managalas Plateau, a remote and rarely visited area of highland forest.

Ever since its discovery, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing has been highly sought after by collectors and it was declared totally protected from all trade by CITES in the late 1980s. Some poaching and smuggling is believed still to go on, but not enough to threaten the species in the wild, where habitat loss is the real issue.

What conservation projects are the SBBT working on to protect this species?

In 2017 the Trust voluntarily advised on the establishment of a new three-year project, now financed by the Sime Darby Foundation of Malaysia and operated entirely by New Britain Palm Oil Ltd (NBPOL), which has plantations at Higaturu in the Popondetta region.  NBPOL is in the process of setting up a breeding facility there within its secure residential and operations compound. Security is an issue because the butterfly can be so valuable in the wrong hands. The project is now in the process of building its advisory and management infrastructure with local and national government, local NGOs and community organisations. The Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust is not directly advising the project at present but may do so once it becomes more fully operational.

In a parallel initiative, SBBT has proposed to the Animals Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that birdwings in general could benefit from a “Periodic Review” of the current CITES listings of birdwings. There are differing opinions on the value of these listings. Dating back to the 1980s, it has been argued that the blanket regulations have a tendency to suppress a range of scientific and educational activities for the many quite common birdwing species while at the same time driving the international trade in the more endangered species underground. One problem is that identifying the various species is a job for experts and rare and valuable species being internationally traded could be unscrupulously labelled as common ones.

Female Queen Alexandra’s birdwing feeding on hibiscus flower | © Francois Gilson

Why was it important for the SBBT to work in partnership with New Britain Palm Oil Limited (NBPOL) when the palm oil industry is so often involved in controversial conservation stories?

The political, economic and scientific circumstances in the region that Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing inhabits are complicated and it has proved difficult to adopt traditional approaches to conservation, for example by setting up secure reserves and parks in suitable areas. The Wildlife Management Areas system in PNG requires the support of local people and communities who own the land under traditional rights of tenure and they have been challenging to establish and protect for the long term.

Companies such as NBPOL have for many years been able to obtain land for oil palm production but within their vast monoculture estates there does remain a residual complex of riverine and topographically dissected habitats that are difficult to access but have potential for conservation of butterfly communities. NBPOL has its own charitable Foundation and is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which requires its members to act as responsible stewards of threatened species on their properties. In reports on the Higaturu palm oil estates published by RSPO in 2016, NBPOL identified some high conservation value sites on its estates that might be suitable for protection and used for the butterfly’s safety and reintroduction. In May this year, the Rainforest Alliance awarded NBPOL its Sustainable Pathfinder Award, stating that “NBPOL’s diligence in adopting the FPIC (Free, Prior and Informed Consent) in its oil palm development and climate change adaptation as well as mitigation measures to improve farmers’ livelihoods in PNG are some of the works that entitled the company for the award.”

NBPOL is now in the process of building and equipping a new laboratory, flight cages and some foodplant nurseries to try to breed Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, with a view to releasing it into areas that it once inhabited and that can be enriched with additional foodplants. An entomologist, Dr Darren Bito, has been employed to run the project and he is gaining some hands-on experience at the Kuranda Butterfly Sanctuary in Cairns, which has a breeding facility for the Cairns Birdwing, Ornithoptera euphorion. Hopefully he will also visit the Queensland Wildlife Preservation Society in Brisbane, where a ground-breaking project on the Richmond Birdwing (Ornithoptera richmondia) has much to offer the PNG project.

Have there been any conservation breakthroughs since the start of this project?

Clearly it is early days for this project and at this point NBPOL is still building the laboratories and accommodation that it needs. There remain some fundamental questions that need to be answered as the breeding program gets into full swing. For example, we don’t know how much genetic variation there is between the four sub-populations. If they are fairly distinct they may have different ecological requirements, even in terms of their specific foodplants, which is clearly vital information for breeding success. Also, before any releases can be contemplated, surveys of existing populations need to be consolidated in order to establish a baseline against which future success can be measured. NBPOL’s recently-recruited CEO James Graham is charged with ensuring that the Queen Alexandra’s Butterfly project goes from strength to strength.

Queen Alexandra’s birdwing feeding | © Francois Gilson

To find out more about SBBT’s work with the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing, check out their website.

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.

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.

Apr 19

Yesterday Google introduced a brand-new version of Google Earth—on the web and Android. Joining up with some of the world’s leading storytellers, scientists and non-profits and after two years in the making, planet earth has been brought to life with Voyager, a showcase of interactive guided tours.

Wildscreen is thrilled to announce that it too is part of the journey, sharing stories of hundreds of endangered animals both on land and in our oceans, through a new breathtaking Arkive layer.

Arkive layer on Google Earth

Through Voyager, Arkive – the world’s leading online encyclopaedia about the natural world – is brought to life. Each placemark contains an amazing photo of the species, along with key information about its biology, where it is found and what threats it faces.

Lucie Muir, Wildscreen CEO said: “At Wildscreen we believe that visual storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we have to share the beauty, but most importantly, the fragility of our natural world. Through our partnership with Google Earth we are now able to share the stories of hundreds of species with millions of people around the world, immersing them in nature and inspiring them to do something to help.

Not only can explorers discover hundreds of weird and wonderful species and where they live but they can also dive in deeper by continuing their journey on the Arkive website itself. Arkive (www.arkive.org) is packed full with over 16,000 in-depth species fact files, illustrated with over 100,000 of the best wildlife films and photos, contributed by more than 7,500 of the world’s leading filmmakers, photographers and scientists. There’s also curriculum-linked education resources, activities and topic pages exploring some of the key conservation issues facing the world’s wild things and wild places.

Go explore the wild here.

 

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