ARKive’s Project Would Be a First
Should the researchers at ARKive ever find themselves out of work, they will be celebrating their layoffs on behalf of Planet Earth. Because theirs is an extraordinary – and, if they think about it too hard, depressing – mission.
Funded by the nonprofit Wildscreen, ARKive aims to compile the world’s first centralized digital library of endangered species, pulling together photographs, film and audio clips to give present and future generations a “unique audio-visual record of life on Earth.”
“We are literally working to get images of every single endangered species on the planet, from mice to mushrooms,” explains Liana Vitali, ARKive’s science, education and outreach officer, who is manning an exhibit at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Miami.
The collection is being based on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s “Red List” of critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable species, which currently totals 19,000.
ARKive has so far checked off 14,000 species from the list, building a collection of some 90,000 images to date, and it’s adding between 150 and 200 more a month.
“But every year about 1,000 more are added to the list, so it’s a constant chase. It’s a terrible form of job security when you think about it,” says Vitali.
The initiative has dual bases in Bristol, England, and in Washington, D.C., and has more than 6,500 filmmakers and photographers as active
contributors, who include leading natural history broadcasters, scientists, photographers, commercial film and picture agencies, academic institutions and conservation organizations.
“Some places, or individuals,might have images in a dusty drawer they don’t even realize they had, pictures that could be really valuable towards recording these species’ existence – or, in the future, nonexistence,” said Vitali.
Leading conservation organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and the United Nations Environment Program, and institutions including the Smithsonian and Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, have contributed. The purpose is for ARKive’s online database to become an educational tool for the general public, and a resource for the media, scientists and conservationists, ensuring that even the rarest or most overlooked species are recorded before they disappear into extinction.
In documenting them, ARKive’s hope is also that it might also actually save some from extinction, by raising public awareness of the threats they face. Researchers insist on accuracy — “We can’t expect everyone out there to know their aasvogel from their bonobo,” the website quips — and have a “Most Wanted” list of elusive species that they are intent on getting right.
While images such as polar bears and elephants are prolific, pictures and footage of other species are less easy to track down; among them the
Mexican water mouse and Marley’s golden mole, a burrowing mammal native to South Africa.
“This is not a Mexican water mouse,” says the slogan on a photograph of a mouse with a sombrero superimposed on it, which forms part of ARKive’s display at the conference. “This is not a Jeweled Toad,” says the caption on another picture, showing a toad sporting a selection of fancy bling. A mole wearing a knitted Rasta hat is also depicted, with the wording: “This is not a Marley’s golden mole.”
Among ARKive’s triumphs: imagery of the purple frog, the sole surviving member of an ancient group of amphibians that evolved 130 million years ago, photographed in the Western Ghats of India and described as a “once-in-a-century find.”
British naturalist Sir David Attenborough is one of ARKive’s patrons.
“A vast treasury of wildlife images has been steadily accumulating over the past century, yet no one has known its full extent — or indeed its gaps — and no one has had a comprehensive way of gaining access to it,” he said in a statement.
“ARKive will put that right, and it will be an invaluable tool for all concerned with the well-being of the natural world.”