Tree of the Year 2015

September 1, 2015
 Species spotlight

South Africa celebrates Arbor week annually during the first week of September. This year the Tree of the Year is Combretum kraussi, the Forest Bushwillow or Bosvaderlandswilg (Afrikaans). The rare or uncommon Tree of the Year is Heteromorpha arborescens, the Parsley Tree or Wildepietersieliebos (Afrikaans). Remember to share your images of these and other trees on

World Pangolin Day

February 19, 2015
 Species spotlight

World Pangolin Day will be celebrated on 21 February and we are using this as an opportunity to raise awareness about these fascinating animals and make you aware of their plight. Pangolins are rarely seen and most people have never even heard of them. What do you know about them? In this post we share information snippets to help you get your facts straight about the most trafficked, and most threatened animal on Earth. Before we get started though, watch this short video for an introduction to … the pangolin! 1. Only mammal with scales The Pangolin, or scaly anteater, is a mammal with plate-like scales covering its skin – the only known mammal with this type of adaptation.  The scales are made of keratin, the same protein that makes up our own hair and nails. Numerous scientific studies1. have proven that keratinous body parts of other animals such as pangolin …

Whale of a Time: whale-watching infographic!

September 5, 2014
 Species spotlight

Every year, when it is winter in the southern hemisphere, whales migrate from Antarctica to the warmer waters to give birth to their young. South Africa offers some of the best whale watching opportunities in the world and we have designed an infographic to better equip you for your next whale watching expedition. Enjoy, let us know what you think of the whale infographic and remember to share your sightings on WhatSpecies!

Pangolins threatened with extinction

July 30, 2014
 Species spotlight

The very distinctive pangolin, or scaly anteater, is at risk of being eaten out of existence. The latest update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species shows that all eight species are now threatened with extinction. The pangolin is the only mammal with scales, which act as an armour against its natural predators. Unfortunately the scales offer no defence against poachers. It is believed that over the past decade more than one million pangolins have been poached – more than elephants or rhinoceros – making it the most illegally traded mammal in the world. In Asia, and more specifically China and Vietnam, pangolin meat is considered a luxury food, while pangolin scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine. “All eight pangolin species are now listed as threatened with extinction, largely because they are being illegally traded to China and Vietnam,” says Professor Jonathan Baillie, Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC …

New species of river dolphin identified in Brazil

January 24, 2014
 Species spotlight

A new species of river dolphin has been discovered in the Araguaia River basin of Brazil, the first new river dolphin to be described since 1918. The new species is called Inia araguaiaensis and the proposed common name is  “Araguaian boto” and “Boto-do-Araguaia”. Boto is the common regional and international name of species of Inia, and Araguaia refers to the geographic distribution of this species. Through DNA analysis, Tomas Hrbek of the Federal University of Amazonas in Manaus, Brazil, and colleagues found that Inia araguaiaensis differ from all other species in Brazil. The new species is also different in that it generally has a wider skull and fewer teeth. At a mitochondrial DNA level there is no evidence of the new species sharing lineages with other Inia species such as Inia boliviensis or Inia geoffrensis humboldtiana. It is speculated that the new species formed 2.08 million years ago, when the Araguaia-Tocantins basin was cut off from the rest of the Amazon …

Elusive elephant photographed in Knysna Forest

January 10, 2014
 Species spotlight

On 6 November 2013 an elephant triggered a camera trap in the Knysna Forest set-up for Leopard research by the Landmark Foundation. On the photographs the elephant’s tusks, trunk and legs are visible. Unfortunately no parts suitable for identification purposes, e.g. forehead shape, sex organs or ear-notch patterns, are visible in the photographs. Having recently visited Knysna I was wondering why camera traps are not deployed in researching the elephant population of the Knysna Forest. Very little is known about them – it is extremely difficult to study an animal that you cannot find. Some people even doubt their existence. The latest evidence should get rid of all doubt once and for all. The Knysna Forest elephants were hunted almost to extinction by the early 20th century. In 1970 the population was estimated to be a mere 11. Instinct lead the last remaining members of the once massive herds that roamed the …

Biggest animal discovery of century: New species of Tapir

December 24, 2013
 Species spotlight

In the open grasslands and forests of the western Amazon, a new species of tapir has been discovered. The mammal is one of the biggest animals on the South American continent, but remains one of the smallest living tapirs. Although new to scientists, the tapir is regularly hunted by the Karitiana tribe and has been known to them for a long time as the “little black tapir”.

“Asian Unicorn” Saola rediscovered

December 4, 2013
 Species spotlight

One of the rarest and most threatened mammals on earth, the Saola, has been photographed in the wild in Vietnam for the first time since 1999. This unusual species was photographed on 7 September in the Central Annamite mountains by a camera trap set by the WWF in co-operation with the Vietnamese Forest Protection Department. The Saola was only discovered in 1992, making it the first large mammal new to science in more than 50 years. Due to the animal’s elusive nature, scientists have been unable to make a precise population estimate. WWF estimates that at best, no more than a few hundred, and maybe only a few tens, survive in the remote, dense forests along the Vietnam-Laos border. The Saola is similar in appearance to an antelope, but are in fact family of cattle. It is called the Asian Unicorn because it is so rarely seen. It is recognized …

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