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.

Apr 24

Arkive’s Week in Review — Wildlife News

ICYMI: Arkive has compiled some of the biggest and most interesting headlines from this week.

Article originally published on Friday, Apr 17, 2015

Your name here: auctioning the naming rights to new species to fund conservation

Titan-beetle-climbing-branch

Titan beetle climbing branch

Ecologist, Mary Lowman was on a mission to save Ethiopia’s church forests so she needed an innovative way to fundraise. Thus began the process of auctioning off new species’ naming rights which includes several different new species of beetle.

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Article originally published on Saturday, Apr 18, 2015

Approving a hunt is a misguided solution to bear problem

American-black-bear-cinnamon-morph-female-with-cinnamon-and-black-cubs

American black bear and cinnamon morph black bears

On Wednesday (Apr 15), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a plan to legalize bear hunts in Florida, specifically targeting the black bear. The rationale is that their population has rebounded and that there has been an increase in human-bear encounters.

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Article originally published on Sunday, Apr 19, 2015

Sea lion pup taken from Dockweiler Beach parking lot, witness says

Young-California-sea-lion

Young California sea lion

A witness  saw four people harassing two sea lion pups; the pups were not injured. The suspects then took one of the pups and put it in their car and drove away. The whereabouts of the pup are unknown at this time.

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Article originally published on Monday, Apr 20, 2015

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are mysteriously vanishing

Kemps-ridley-turtle-hatchlings

Kemp’s ridley turtle hatchlings

In 2010, nest numbers for Kemp’s ridley turtle fell by 35 percent at primary nesting beaches with slight increases in 2011 and 2012. 1n 2014, however the nest total was the lowest in eight years. While the BP oil spill may be a factor, other researchers suggest that colder water temperatures might have affected their populations

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Article originally published on Tuesday, Apr 21, 2015

Judge recognizes two chimpanzees as legal persons: a first

Eastern-chimpanzee-subordinate-pant-in-response-to-dominant-grunt

Eastern chimpanzee

Hercules and Leo, the chimpanzees have been determined to be people in New York courts. Both chimpanzees were being used for biomedical experiments. Now, they will spend the rest of their lives at an animal sanctuary.

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Article originally published on Wednesday Apr 22, 2015

Elephant contraception? How a vaccine is replacing sharpshooters

African-elephant-family

African elephant family

Elephants used to be killed by the hundreds in South Africa to keep their numbers below a certain threshold. At Greater Makalali, however, the vaccine PZP has cut the rate of increase of the population by half, its success has led to its adoption in other South African wildlife reserves.

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Article originally published on Thursday, Apr 23, 2015

Could Bees Be Addicted to Pesticides?

Honey-bee-asleep-during-cold-weather

Honey bee asleep during cold weather

It appears that bees prefer to eat pesticide –contaminated plants. Neonicotinoids may act like drugs to make “foods” containing these substances more rewarding. Previous research has shown that neonicotinoids scramble the memory and navigation function in bees.

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Enjoy your weekend!

William Lazaro, Arkive Social Media Intern, Wildscreen USA 

Feb 20

Arkive’s Week in Review — Wildlife News  ICYMI: Arkive has compiled some of the biggest and most interesting headlines from this week.

Article originally published on Friday, Feb 13, 2015

Male black widows smell hungry cannibal females

Black-widow-female-showing-distinctive-red-egg-timer-shaped-markings-on-abdomen

Female black widow

Female black widows only eat courting males about 2% of the time. However, just in case, males can smell how peckish a female is just from the pheromones in her silk.

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  Article originally published on Saturday, Feb 14, 2015

 Wildlife: Southwest wolf populations tops 100 for first time in modern era

Mexican-wolf-portrait

Mexican wolf portrait

The Mexican wolf population in New Mexico and Arizona has grown by 31% to  109 individuals total.

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  Article originally published on Sunday, Feb 15, 2015

 Increasing number of stranded sea lion pups being rescued this year

Female-California-sea-lion-on-rock

Female sea lion

So far 185 sea lion pups have been rescued in 2015 in the San Diego area. Stranded pups are nursed back to health and once healthy released into the wild.

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   Article originally published on Monday, Feb 16, 2015

 Cold-blooded animals grow bigger in the warm on land, but smaller in warm water

Velvet-swimming-crab

Velvet swimming crab

Arthropods like crabs and insects, grow larger on land in warmer climates. Moreover, researchers hypothesize that reduced oxygen availability in water causes aquatic animals to reduce their body size more.

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Golden-ringed-dragonfly

Golden-ringed dragonfly

 Article originally published on Tuesday, Feb 17, 2015

 42 pangolins rescued…then sold to restaurant

Sunda-pangolin-side-view

Sunda pangolin

On Feb. 1, local Vietnamese police seized 42 live Sunda pangolins from poachers. Police handed them over to forest rangers who in turn ended up selling them to restaurants for a reported $56 a kilo.

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  Article originally published on Wednesday, Feb 18, 2015

Grizzly bears are waking up too early

Brown-bear-walking-Alaskan-population

Brown bear walking

Grizzly bears are emerging from their dens a month early according to Yellowstone Park officials. The warmer weather appears to be the reason for the grizzlies’ altered schedule.

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  Article originally published on Thursday, Feb 19, 2015

Great white sharks are late bloomers

Great-white-shark-swimming-anterior-view

Great white shark swimming

Male great white sharks take 26 years to reach sexual maturity. This differs significantly from the previous estimate that suggested that males reached maturity between 4 and 10 years of age.

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 Enjoy your weekend!

William Lazaro, Arkive Social Media Intern, Wildscreen USA 

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