Aug 15

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 and conservationist Robin Moore recounts his expedition to search for the lost salamanders of northern Guatemala, including the incredibly striking Muller’s Mushroomtounge Salamander.

Muller’s mushroomtongue salamander. Illustration by Lorna Leigh Harrington

In July 2014 I was lucky to join an expedition to the cloud forests of northern Guatemala in search of lost salamanders. Among our team were Paul Elias and Jeremy Jackson, who had discovered and described many of our target species some 38 years previously, and Carlos Vasquez, a young Guatemalan biologist who had rediscovered two of these salamanders over three decades later.

Elias first ventured to Guatemala in 1974, when he made discoveries so remarkable that he was compelled to return. He writes of that first visit, “I was 18 years old and had a chance to visit Guatemala, and so I went to eminent herpetologist Dave Wake to ask what would be of use to him. He gave me a one-page photocopy of a map of Guatemala and circled the Cuchumatanes.” The Cuchumatanes mountains were, according to Wake, a final frontier for exploration in Central America.

After being dropped off by his parents at a road rising sharply up to a karst plateau, Elias hitchhiked as far as he could away from civilization and into uncharted territory, sleeping nights on a dirt floor among “bugs, predatory spiders, scorpions and centipedes that had gathered”. He found a couple of hundred salamanders in three weeks. “I had no guide to the species in Guatemala so I had no idea if I had anything of value or not,” he says.

A colourful bus wends its way through cloud forest in northern Guatemala en route to the Cuchumatanes mountains | © Robin Moore

His hard work and discomfort paid off. When Elias returned to Berkeley he left some of his specimens to soak in water before preserving them. It was here that Wake happened upon them, and he was astonished. Elias recalls, “both, which would later be named, the Long-limbed Salamander and Finca Chiblac Salamander were in that collection and turned out to be significant missing links in the Neotropical lungless salamander radiation. Word traveled to me by rumor in the next day or two and I suddenly discovered that I had found something extraordinary”.

Elias launched further expeditions to the Cuchumatanes the following two summers, bringing Jeremy Jackson with him to help. Rain-soaked weeks spent crashing through cloud forest and lifting rotting logs resulted in the discovery of Jackson’s Climbing Salamander, named by Elias in honor of his friend. They called the salamander the “golden wonder” because of its brilliant colouration. But over months of fieldwork only two individuals of the species were ever found, and neither Elias or Jackson could have predicted that, a quarter of a century later, none of the three salamanders that they had discovered would have been seen again.

In 2009, during an expedition led by local biologist Carlos Vasquez in collaboration with the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley, the Finca Chiblac Salamander was rediscovered, 32 years after it was last seen. The following year the Long-Limbed Salamander also re-appeared. The still-missing Jackson’s salamander, however, climbed its way into the top ten “Most Wanted” amphibians in the world in 2010.

A Long-limbed Salamander on a mossy trunk in the Cuchumatanes mountains | © Robin Moore

As I sit with Elias and Jackson in a rural village near Laguna Maxbal in the remote Cuchumatanes mountains in July 2014, Elias pours over his original field notes — every page photo copied and bound, noting how things have changed in the 38 years since they last set foot here. It is day 5 of our expedition, and we have yet to find a salamander – and spirits are beginning to dampen. Expectation is heavy in the air, as is the bitter prospect of disappointment. As a heavy afternoon downpour subsides, we don our headlamps and head into the forest and to an area with large buttressed trees. As soon as light has drained from the forest the Long-limbed Salamanders emerge from among the tangle of roots to scale the trees — our best chance of seeing them is soon after they have emerged and before they climb out of sight.

We quickly strike gold. Jackson describes the moment: “When I spied that oh so familiar pose of a Long-limbed Salamander basking in the rain with feet splayed and spine bent with that beautiful long tail hanging down, I was thrilled. It really brought back much of what it had been like in ‘76; going out night after night in the rain. Finding this salamander is as rewarding as it was years ago.”

The next day we found our first Finca Chiblac Salamander under a rotting log. Elias shared Jackson’s excitement at seeing the salamanders again, telling me after the expedition, “I was really moved to see both the Long-limbed Salamander and Finca Chiblac Salamander alive and happy in their forest. The Long-limbed Salamander in particular is just an extraordinary animal; its high speed agility, and its goofy polka dots make it something almost unlike a salamander. I never thought I would see one alive again. The fact of these two missing links living in that primeval forest on the ancient karst uplands makes one think that the Cucuchumatanes were the old cradle of the great salamander radiation of Central America.”

A Finca Chiblac Salamander | © Robin Moore

Our search continued for Jackson’s Climbing Salamander and other species including the beautiful Muller’s Mushroomtongue Salamander. We spent our days with our backs arched sifting through leaf litter, and under the cloak of darkness illuminated leaves and mossy trunks in the forest with our headlamps, willing salamanders to appear before us.

The golden wonder eluded us, as did Mullers Mushroomtongue Salamander, but on our final day before leaving the remote reaches of the Cuchumatanes we were treated to a surprise. Locals from a small town proudly presented us with a salamander that they found close by – a beautiful Müller’s Mushroom-tongue Salamander, an uncommon chocolate brown animal with a splash of yellow running down its back. It looked as if it had walked under a leaky tin of royal yellow paint, and was undoubtedly one of the most striking salamanders I had laid eyes on.

A striking Mullers Mushroomtongue Salamander brought to us by locals on the final day of our expedition | © Robin Moore

The 11-day expedition helped to shine the spotlight on the incredible value of the forests of the Cuchumatanes, but it also uncovered impending threats to this remote area. Some core forest habitat was slated for coffee cultivation by international investors within the year. A global consortium of conservation groups rapidly formed and responded. Global Wildlife Conservation partnered with the Amphibian Survival AllianceRainforest TrustWorld Land Trust and International Conservation Fund of Canada to quickly raise the support needed to create a sanctuary for the salamanders of the Cuchumatanes – a 2,000 acre parcel of land to be managed by local group FUNDAECO in collaboration with local communities. Elias said of the outcome, “to see this reserve take shape under the imaginative genius of Carlos Vasquez and partners, and to be able to help that happen in a small way, is the culmination of a forty year dream for me.”

Vasquez didn’t give up on his quest to find the golden wonder. He launched multiple expeditions, and brought photos of the beautiful animal to show reserve guards, urging them to keep an eye out. In October of last year, as I emerged from a quest to find and photograph the Javan Rhino in Indonesia, I received incredible news. As one of the reserve guards sat down to eat his lunch on the edges of the reserve, a yellow and black salamander on a nearby tree caught his eye. He had just rediscovered, after four decades, the Jackson’s Climbing Salamander.

Global Wildlife Conservation leveraged the attention garnered by the rediscovery to raise support to expand the salamander reserve, and are now working on protecting more tracts of valuable forest habitat in northern Guatemala, home to unique salamanders among other wonders. The future for the golden wonder, Mullers Mushroomtongue Salamander, and other threatened species that call these cloud forests home is starting to look brighter.

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.

About

RSS feedArkive.org is the place for films, photos and facts about endangered species. Subscribe to our blog today to keep up to date!

Email updates

Sign up to receive a regular email digest of Arkive blog posts.
Preferred frequency:

Archives

Arkive twitter

Twitter: ARKive