Ten years, ten species, ten glimmers of hope
From saving the world’s most threatened species of sea turtle to bringing unusual amphibians back from the brink of extinction, no conservation challenge 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 highlighting the importance of biodiversity and educating and inspiring people to care about the natural world, 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 experts from 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 (Neamblysomus julianae), one of Africa’s oldest and most enigmatic mammals, to the Asian white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis), 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 demonstrates 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 (Dryococelus australis), a large, flightless invertebrate endemic to Australia. Once common on Lord Howe Island, this unusual insect was almost 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 reintroduced 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 (Nectophrynoides asperginis), 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 the effects 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.
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. By December 2012 an international team of experts – including scientists from the IUCN SSC Amphibian and Re-introduction Specialist Groups – had reintroduced 2,000 toads to Kihansi. This marks an incredible achievement – an amphibian classified as Extinct in the Wild has now 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’s SSC. “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.”
The Kemp’s ridley turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) is considered to be the most severely endangered marine turtle in the world, having declined dramatically in the 1950s and 1960s due primarily to the overexploitation of eggs and adult turtles. However, the population is now showing signs of recovery after a series of conservation efforts were put in place to protect the species, including a ban on international trade in the turtles and the introduction of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) fitted to shrimp nets to help prevent bycatch.
“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 – www.arkive.org/conservation-in-action.