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Galapagos Giant Tortoise Bounces Back from Extinction

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Galapagos were discovered by Europeans in 1535 and it took just half a millennium to virtually wipe out a species that had been walking the Earth for millions of years. Out of the more than quarter million roaming the islands in the sixteenth century, by the 1970s only a few thousand specimens of the ten surviving sub-species (referred to as races by tortoise experts) were living on the islands.

One race (Chelonoidis nigra porteri), found on the island of Espanola was down to just 14 individual animals. There was no time for anything other than drastic action. All individuals plus one from San Diego Zoo in California were collected and taken to Santa Cruz island. There a breeding and repatriation program began with the 12 females and 3 males representing the last best hope for their race. This interventionist approach has resulted in Espanola now being home to over a thousand giant tortoises.

Beneath the Surface

Saturday, 17 November 2012

This is a beautifully made piece of film by Sarosh Jacob. It captures life beneath the surface in a number of places throughout the world, starting with Bonaire and a mesmerizing school of fish. Next we go on to the Cayman Islands and its beautiful coral alongside the Kittiwake shipwreck. From there it is on to Socorro, Mexico and we get to see dolphins and whale sharks: next to Iceland and the Silfra Rift and lagoon. Finally we go to the Philippines, and witness clownfish anemone, schooling jacks, turtle and Palau to see the amazing sight that is Jellyfish Lake.

It is an almost bewildering array of animals and habitats. It is also for those of you who have emailed in specifically asking for more marine life and environments to be featured on Ark in Space. You’re quite right – over 70% of the planet is covered by water!

Man and Beast

Sunday, 11 November 2012

We have never had movie time on Ark in Space, but this is a brilliant point at which to start. Directed by Dante Ariola, it tells the story of Dr Alan Rabinowitz – who is one of the leading experts on big cats in the world. We are shown his childhood and his visit to the Bronx Zoo in his youth: yet Alan was different as a child.

He had a major stutter which meant that he found difficulty in expressing himself to people. Yet like many stutterers he discovered that when he spoke to animals, it disappeared.

In this beautifully made short film (which should really be made in to a full length movie)we follow his life through his formative years and in to adulthood where he overcomes his stutter and finally gets to study jaguars in the wild.  Today Dr Rabinowitz is CEO of Panthera, a nonprofit organization devoted to saving the world’s wild cat species.  He has devoted his lifetime to charting the world’s last wild spaces, with the aim of preserving wild territories and safeguarding homes, on a massive scale, for many of the world’s most threatened mammals.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Nature is never too far away, even if you live in a highly populated place like California. Point Reyes National Seashore is somewhere that offers the visitor vast tracts of wilderness and incredibly diverse wildlife.

It is particularly noted for being an Ule Elk reserve and the wintering grounds of the Elephant Seal.  This wonderful video by Matt Brass explores this sublime and peaceful stretch of US coastline.

Got Milk?

These fours little guys were in a cat shelter and didn’t know quite know what to expect when they received some human visitors. What they did know, of course, is how to look endearing!  It seems that the one with the red collar had already found a home.  Let’s hope that the rest of this cute quartet found somewhere to go too!

Image Credit Flickr User Old Skool Kora

The Burrowing Owl – The Smallest Species of Owl

Sunday, 26 August 2012

There are a number of things which separate the burrowing owl from other species. The first clue is in the name.  Another is that they are the smallest species of owl on the planet and more often or not they do not weight more than half a pound in weight and reach around ten inches in height. They also come out in the day time, unlike most other owls.

That is not a snake that the adult burrowing owl is feeding to its chick. It's a caterpillar - which goes to show just how small they are. They are also much more relaxed around humans than other species of owls.  They will happily colonize areas like airports and golf courses and have even been known to nest in larger gardens. As long as there are open areas and a good water supply they seem to be content to live near us.

Badlands National Park

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Badlands National Park, in southwest South Dakota, United States preserves 242,756 acres (98,240 ha) of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. Bizarre and beautiful formations jut out of the fractured prairie in various shades of pink, red and yellow. Bison and bighorn sheep are a few of the parks multiple inhabitants.

Sit back and take in this glorious landscape with its wildlife through this short film created by Matt Brass.  The music is The Temperature of the Air on the Bow of the Kaleetan" by Chris Zabriskie.

Fishing with Cormorants

Saturday, 14 July 2012

It is partnership between man and animal which has lasted over a millennia. A fisherman needs to catch enough fish to sell and feed himself and his family. Sometimes that means that he needs an assistant. Along the river ways of China that assistance has come from a member of the pelicaniformes order of birds – the bird we call the cormorant.

These are working animals in much the same way as dogs and horses on farms in the west with a specific role assigned to them. The major primary difference is that the cormorants are not born in to captivity. They are lured by bait and caught. The training process can then begin.

From the moment they are caught the cormorants are treated with the utmost care and attention. The fishermen keep in close contact with their birds in the first few weeks. At first they are kept in cages and the fishermen will regularly take the cormorants out, giving their heads a massage and stroking their bellies.

Puppy Mill Sing-Along

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Puppy Mills have been and continue to be a huge problem wherever there is a market for pet dogs. In other words, it is a global issue.  However, that does not mean that people in specific areas cannot help to raise awareness and as you will see this can easily translate to the trade in dogs anywhere.  This video was created for San Francisco SPCA to raise awareness of the cruelty of online puppy mills.

It raises the issue so well that there is little or no need to put the message home in writing. However, puppy farms are only a quick fix (to probably use an incorrect metaphor).  My grandmother used to have a saying and that is buy cheap buy twice. Dogs bought from puppy farms come with a host of problems, not least those caused by the experiences they have had in the first few weeks or months of their lives.  Many of these dogs need to be put down sooner rather than later causing great distress all round. If you are thinking of welcoming a dog in to your house, do it properly! Get down to a shelter!

The Water Vole - Back from the Brink

Thursday, 7 June 2012

It was not so long ago that naturalists were predicting that the Water Vole would be extinct in the United Kingdom within a few years. Predation by the North American Mink, loss of habitat and pollution seemed to be the main culprits.

The much loved small mammal, immortalized in fiction as Ratty (left) in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, seemed destined for the history books.  It was given protected status as late as 2008 - a legislative moved considered by many to be too little too late.

Yet just a few years after their dire predictions it seems that the water vole is back from the brink, testimony to the help it has received from conservationists.

Thriving colonies of over two thousand now exist in several places in the UK. Less than ten years ago, surveys of the same places revealed only a scattering of water voles, less than twenty in each location.  If those numbers have made you raise an eyebrow you may not know just how fecund a water vole can be. Left to her own devices a female can produce up to thirty young in a season with up to eight baby voles per litter. So, what did the environmentalists do to aid such a dramatic come back for this semi-aquatic rodent?

Hey! When is it Time for MY Dinner?

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

You know the old saying, water, water everywhere? That may as well be the case both literally and metaphorically for this monkey at Omaha zoo.  While the carp – which I must say look very well fed – get to enjoy their dinner, this poor little guy has to do without. Of course he will get his own later but there is just a look of resignation on his face that I had to share with you! It just speaks volumes.

Both Images Courtesy of Flickr User Templarion

The Largest Pigeon in the World – The Victoria Crowned Pigeon

Monday, 4 June 2012

Due to the demise of the Dodo, the mantle of the world’s largest pigeon was passed on to the Victoria Crowned. If you associate pigeons with the types that we see in our cities and towns – altogether a pretty unimpressive lot – then you are in for a surprise.

The first reaction to this bird is usually exclamatory. What? You mean that is actually a pigeon? Put simply, this bird is a stunner – and if you are used to English vernacular you may well associate those words with scantily clad ladies on the third page of some tabloid newspapers. This bird has made the news recently, however, in as much as several breeding programs throughout the world have met with success and have managed to breed these beauties.

Depending on your taste, this picture will probably produce one of two responses – ‘ew’ or ‘aw’. This baby Victoria Crowned Pigeon was born two years ago in Saitama Children’s Zoo in Japan. This adds to the chick that was hatched in London Zoo in September 2009. There has also been a birth in San Diego zoo. A much lauded breeding program may very well save this massively endangered species from extinction – and who could possibly want it to go the way of its cousin, the Dodo? However, one reaction, with apologies to the character Shug from the Color Purple movie is ‘you sure is ugly’.

The Remarkable Giraffe Weevil of Madagascar

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Three guesses how the giraffe weevil gets its name. Unsurprisingly, this extraordinary looking Madagascan creature gets the name from its stupendously long neck.  It is three times longer in the male than the female of the species (Trachelophorus giraffa). As such it is sexually dimorphic – the male’s neck is used for aggressive combat.

When it comes to mating, it is certainly the male of the species which is more deadly.  The giraffe weevil has evolved its extended neck to fight for the right to a nearby female (which will patiently await the outcome of the fight and even occasionally act as a kind of referee before procreating with the winner). They show no aggression towards other species, neither hunting nor eating other animals. It is rare for males to kill each other in this struggle.

The Extraordinary Pink Katydid

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Flamingos aside, you do not get to see the color pink in the animal kingdom a great deal.  A notable exception is the pink katydid.  Yet this is by no means a separate species – this coloring affects around one in 500.  You may have already guessed that the condition is something similar to albinism.

Known as erythrism, the condition causes a curious reddish pigmentation. It can affect the body of an insect as well as its skin, and it is so rare that it was not noticed by western scientists until 1887. The reason for this oversight was perhaps due to the inclination of the insect to remain perfectly still during daylight hours.

A Sea Slug Symphony

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The nudibranch is a soft bodied marine gastropod mollusk – but many people simply refer to them, perhaps somewhat unfairly, as sea slugs.  You can see why they gained this nick name (even though it is often taxonomically inaccurate too!) but compared to the land bound version they are an explosion of color and grace.  Here are just a few of the 3,000 species.

This beautiful creature is found in the Western Pacific. A rich pinkinsh purple color, they have a white border on their mantle. They would be startling enough without, but their rhinophore clubs are an orange-yellow color that is a startling juxtaposition with the rest of their bodies. This exquisite creature is formally known as Hypselodoris apolegma.

Hummingbirds in Flight

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Nothing can quite prepare you for the exquisite sight of a hummingbird on the wing. Nature has truly spoiled us with this astonishing spectacle. Take a look as ten different species take flight in their search for food and marvel at the aerodynamics of one of the world's truly astonishing species.

Image Credit Flickr User Ingrid Taylor
This beautiful specimen is known as an Anna’s Hummingbird and was named after Anna Messina, the Duchess of Rivoli. It is found along the Pacific Coast from British Columbia to Arizona. Males perform remarkable display dives during the courtship season. The male, when his territory is threatened, rises up around a hundred feet before diving on to his rival. The dive is so fast it produces an “explosive squeak” as the wind rushes through the tail feathers.

The Mwanza Flat-headed Rock Agama - The Spider-Man Lookalike Lizard

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The lizard that looks an awful lot like a certain superhero is in huge demand in pet shops. Take a look and find out why.

Fans of Peter Parker’s erstwhile alter ego Spider-Man who also happen to be animal lovers have discovered their ideal pet.

Looking strangely like the comic and movie hero, step forward the Mwanza flat-headed rock agama. Yet if you suddenly want to run out and buy one, you need to consider the facts first of all.

Amung Feedjit