From saving the world’s most threatened species of sea turtle to bringing unusual amphibians back from the brink of extinction, no conservation conundrum is a lost cause if knowledge, dedication and strong partnerships are put into play. This is the message being championed by ARKive to celebrate its tenth anniversary this year.
Through its unparalleled collection of wildlife imagery, ARKive – an initiative of wildlife charity Wildscreen – has become a platform to inform, and a place to encourage conversation for conservation. To mark a decade spent educating, enthusing and inspiring people to care about the natural world and highlighting the importance of biodiversity, ARKive is flying the flag for conservation by featuring ten species which are set to improve in status over the next ten years should positive action continue.
ARKive’s chosen species, which were selected in consultation with species experts of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC), represent a variety of taxonomic groups, and reflect the fascinating array of organisms with which we share our planet. From Juliana’s golden mole, one of Africa’s oldest and most enigmatic mammals, to the Asian white-backed vulture, a bird which has suffered a 99.9% population decline in just over a decade, this selection of species aims to raise awareness of the myriad threats faced by wildlife, and demonstrate how targeted conservation action can truly make a difference.
“ARKive is working with the world’s leading wildlife filmmakers, photographers, conservationists and scientists to promote a greater appreciation of our natural world and the need for its conservation,” said Wildscreen CEO, Richard Edwards. “In this our tenth year, we wanted to celebrate not only the great diversity of life on Earth, but also the vital conservation work that is being carried out around the world, and highlight that by working together to raise awareness, share knowledge and take positive action conservation can and does work.”
One particularly impressive conservation story is that of the Lord Howe Island stick insect, a large, flightless invertebrate endemic to Australia. Once common on Lord Howe Island, this unusual insect was driven to extinction following the accidental introduction of rats to the island, only surviving in an area of 180 square metres on a large rock to the southeast of its original habitat. Without detailed scientific knowledge of the reasons behind its decline, this fascinating species might, by now, have been added to the ever-increasing list of extinct species. However, thanks to scientific exploration and understanding, and with the invaluable application of appropriate conservation measures, it is believed that the Lord Howe Island stick insect could be re-introduced to its native habitat in the next few years.
Another species on the road to recovery as a result of targeted conservation action is the Kihansi spray toad, a rare dwarf amphibian found only in a two-hectare area of habitat in eastern Tanzania’s Kihansi River Gorge. In addition to catastrophic population declines due to a devastating amphibian fungal disease, the Kihansi spray toad has suffered at the hands of habitat loss. The construction of a dam on the Kihansi River in 2000 caused the diminutive toad’s wetland habitat – which relied on being moistened by waterfall spray – to dry out, leading to the amphibian’s dramatic decline and its listing as Extinct in the Wild on the IUCN Red List.
By working in partnership, zoos and conservation organisations were able to set up successful captive breeding programmes for the Kihansi spray toad, boosting an initial captive population of 499 individuals to an incredible 6,000. Conservationists also took the unusual step of setting up an artificial sprinkler system, which by 2010 had restored the Kihansi spray toad’s habitat, and by December 2012 an international team of experts – including scientists from the IUCN SSC Amphibian and Re-introduction Specialist Groups – had re-introduced 2,000 toads to Kihansi. This incredible achievement marks the first time that an amphibian classified as Extinct in the Wild has been returned to its native habitat.
“The state of the natural world is increasingly worrying, with many species teetering on the brink of extinction,” said Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN Species Survival Commission. “However, conservation does work and we should be greatly encouraged by success stories such as the re-introduction of the Kihansi spray toad. Many other admirable conservation achievements also show that the situation can be reversed thanks to the dedication and determination of experts and scientists worldwide. With continued effort and support, there is much we can achieve.”
Another case in point is that of the Kemp’s ridley turtle, a marine reptile which once numbered in the tens of thousands, but which declined dramatically in the 1950s and 1960s primarily due to the overexploitation of eggs and adult turtles. Thanks to the outstanding efforts of turtle biologists, a wealth of information on the Kemp’s ridley turtle’s biology, distribution and potential threats has been collected in recent years, which has contributed greatly to a special recovery plan for the species.
“Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity have made a commitment, through the Aichi Targets, not only to prevent the extinction of threatened species but also to improve their conservation status – ARKive’s tenth anniversary campaign is a perfect opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of conservation and show that it really does work,” said Dr Jane Smart, Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group. “Along with our extensive network of scientific experts, we look forward to working even more closely with ARKive, an IUCN Red List Partner, to strive towards achieving the important goals the world has set.”
While the work of conservationists and scientific experts is a vital component in the fight against species extinctions, ARKive is also keen to highlight the role that members of the general public can play in the future survival of Earth’s incredible biodiversity. By learning more about the natural world around them and understanding its importance, it is hoped that people will be inspired to take action in their daily lives to safeguard our invaluable species and ecosystems. From recycling and limiting plastic usage to making wiser seafood choices and supporting some of the many hundreds of organisations and scientists who devote their lives to conservation, we can all strive towards building a healthier planet.
Find out more about the ten species on the road to recovery on ARKive’s Conservation in Action page.