April 28, 2010

Endangered Strangers: On Vacay. Holla!

Oh hai. Endangered Strangers are taking the week off. But we no leave you hanging. We hook you up wit dis:

Photograph by Gerd Ludwig, ripped from National Geographic

Pictures of the Wildlife Conservation Society's  top 10 "Rarest of the Rare" species over at National Geographic.

The ESPP elves have been working away in their lil workshops painting pictures of some of these guys. ESPP prints of the Vaquita, the White-headed langur, and the Cuban crocodile will be released in coming months. Seems likely that our resident centaur will paint the Przewalski's horse as well.

Although we think the Seychelles sheath-tailed bat, with only 37 individuals (and even less prints) remaining is pretty rare too.

But we just be tooting our own horn now.

April 23, 2010

Camera Trap Captures Image of Rare Spotted Leopard in Malaysia

Image credit: Johor Wildlife Dept.

NEW YORK, NY — Experts from Panthera, the world leader in the conservation of big cats, reported today that a rare spotted leopard had been photographed in Malaysia. The image of the unusually marked cat (previously, only black leopards were believed to exist in the area), was captured by a Panthera camera trap in Taman Negara Endau-Rompin National Park in the southern state of Johor. This research, in partnership with the Johor State Government is part of Tigers Forever, a collaborative project between Panthera and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) which aims to increase tiger numbers by 50% at key sites over a ten year period across tiger range. Panthera is testing unique new digital camera traps as a key component of Tigers Forever, as individual tigers can be identified by their unique stripe patterns resulting in population density estimates. The photographic ‘capture’ of the spotted leopard was an unexpected bonus during routine surveys for tigers in the park. 

The news marks a high point in an otherwise bleak outlook for the world’s tigers, lions, jaguars and snow leopards. While events commemorating 40 years of environmental progress continue to multiply, the iconic cats that have roamed the globe for years continue to dwindle. Widely viewed by scientists as “keystone species” whose existence indicates healthy ecosystems – big cats are plagued by a sharp loss of habitat due to deforestation and development, as well as relentless poaching for the illegal wildlife market and as a retaliatory measure for human-wildlife conflict.

In the Year of the Tiger, fewer than 3,000 wild tigers live in Asia today. Tigers occupy only seven percent of their historic range and they are being hunted by poachers to sell tiger parts on the lucrative wildlife black market. But Tigers Forever, with WCS, is working to protect and increase tiger numbers at key sites, one of which is the Hukaung Valley Tiger Sanctuary in Myanmar (Burma), the world’s largest tiger reserve which was established by Panthera’s President and CEO, Alan Rabinowitz.

April 21, 2010

Endangered Strangers: Rafflesia magnifica


"I am the corpse flower"
"Also known as the meat flower"

And also known as Rafflesia mira this flower is endemic to the rainforests of Mindanao Philippines. Confined to the mountain range of Mt.Candalaga the flower is threatened by a road infrastructure project. Development of banana plantations on the lower slope of the mountain may also pose a threat. Rafflesia magnifica is only known from a few individuals and is listed as critically endangered.

While Rafflesia magnifica has only been known to science since 2005. There are many different rafflesia species. Rafflesia arnoldii has the largest single flower of any flowering plant.

This family of parasitic plants has no stems, leaves or true roots. It spreads its root-like haustoria inside the tissue of the vines and thus, lives the life of a parasite.

The fragrance of Rafflesia is most often described as smelling of "rotting flesh."  This odor attracts flies and carrion beetles who, in turn, transport pollen from male to female flowers. Isn't nature great?

Rafelesia arnoldii

April 15, 2010

Meet the ESPP Artist: Christopher Reiger

Christopher Reiger is an inspiring fellow. He creates wondrous paintings and writes extensively on art, ecology, philosophy and theology. Reiger's writing appears on his blog, Hungry Hyaena, right here on the ESPP blog, and in various print and web publications. April marks the release of Reiger's Javan Rhinoceros, one of two ESPP prints he has created for the project. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of Reiger's ESPP print will support The International Rhino Foundation. Interested parties can purchase his print here. Our lively discussion with Christopher Reiger follows...
Christopher Reiger
Javan Rhinoceros for ESPP

Hello! We are rather excited about your Javan Rhino print. What piqued your artistic interest in the rhino? How was the experience of creating your print? I know that you did not have much photographic reference material to work with.

Although animals figure prominently in my artwork and I consider myself an enthusiastic amateur naturalist, I knew very little about the Javan Rhinoceros when I chose the species.  I did so because of their remarkably dramatic decline, uncertain future, and relative size.  There are many critically endangered animals struggling to hold on, but the Javan Rhino is one of the largest.

As you mention, there wasn't much photographic art scrap to use as source material.  In order to minimize stress for the critically endangered rhino, researchers study the species via fecal sampling and camera traps, and the animals are rarely encountered or observed. Moreover, as a general rule, the Javan Rhino is wary of humans and retreats into dense forests when they sense our presence. When humans do approach, the Javan Rhino often becomes aggressive and might attack, stabbing with the incisors of its lower jaw while thrusting upward with its head. Obviously, this makes the rhinos difficult to study or photograph, other than with the camera traps!

Because so little photographic documentation is available, this drawing marked the first time I've had to work from both images and written descriptions. It was a very curious process.

Your story reminds me of Albrecht Dürer's legendary rhinoceros woodcut.  Dürer had never seen a rhino, but in 1515 he created a drawing based on written description of the beast.  For three centuries artists had Dürer's print for reference and it was copied many times.  Dürer 's depiction was not quite accurate, although it was considered to be so, well into the late 18th century.
Albrecht Dürer 
The Rhinoceros

As a natural history and art aficionado do you have a favorite natural history illustrator/illustration?  Some of the original visual depictions of animals can be quite strange.

Yeah, the Dürer rhinoceros story is fantastic.  It's the art historian's version of the telephone game!

There are too many talented natural history artists and illustrators to list, and a great many more works produced by anonymous artists.  I'll just stick to one particularly formative, little known work.  My dad gave me Keith Brockie's Wildlife Sketchbook (1981) just a few years after the book's publication.  Initially, I was too young to fully appreciate it, but I grew into it with time.  The pages of Brockie's book include sensitively rendered drawings alongside sketches and field notes.  His style is graphic and illustrative, and many of his observations about behavior are engaging.  It's a stunning achievement, really, and it's too bad that it's out of print and that Brockie, from what I see online, has moved in other, less exciting directions.  In any case, Wildlife Sketchbook opened my eyes to the possibilities of a career spent depicting animals.  Essentially, that's what I think of myself today, still a kid happily drawing animals.  Life is good!  If Mr. Brockie should stumble upon this interview: thank you.

Page from Keith Brockie's Wildlife Sketchbook

Besides including elements of the natural world, your works often seem to contain elements of the spiritual or occult, alongside and even blending into references to science --- such as the graph in the Javan Rhino print. Can you tell us a bit more about how you developed this interesting co-mingling? It occurs to me that the two very different types of 'languages' blend seamlessly in your work.

My drawings include a lot of esoteric imagery; I'm very interested in mysticism and in the anthropology of myths and belief systems.  To my mind, metaphysical musings are intimately connected to our investment in natural history.  Moreover, I'm part of that unfortunately small group of people who believe that science and religion, or materialism and metaphysics, are both of value to our species.  A lot of my work is inspired by the give and take of that relationship, and by my personal investment in both spheres.

The 19th and 20th century economist and sociologist Max Weber famously bemoaned the secularizing of modern society and the increasing specialization of professions because he felt these processes led to a "disenchantment of the world."  Even though the development that began in the West with the European Enlightenment has reaped great rewards, Weber was right about the cost.  A world view drained of magic and mystery is a meager one.  Fortunately, I find magic and mystery abounding in natural history, evolutionary biology, astronomy, theoretical physics, theology, and philosophy.  All are legitimate "languages" of wonder.  If I can communicate some of that happy babble in my artwork and writing, I'm a happy, happy man!

Christopher Reiger 
"Without Maps or Manifest"

I just so happen to know that you have had some amazing animal encounters during your time on our planet. Care to share one with our readers?
Sure.  My father is a conservation writer and his assignments afforded us some exceptional travel opportunities when I was a child and teenager.  One of my most nerve-wracking moments occurred during a trip to Botswana, when I was 19.  My father and I were staying at Selby Camp, a very comfortable tent camp in the Okavango Delta that was named for the celebrated professional hunter Harry Selby.  The camp had only recently been constructed, and we were the first guests to be hosted.  As a result, area animals were not yet as wary of the camp as they may otherwise have been, and our wildlife encounters were fantastic, if sometimes unsettling.  Sitting around the campfire on our first evening in camp, lions coughed and spotted hyaenas whooped beyond the play of firelight while I gazed up at a broad, well-populated night sky.  It was magnificent.

That night, some hours after I'd fallen asleep, I was awakened by a screeching bird.  I lay quietly for a moment, but heard nothing more.  Still feeling alarmed, however, I turned on my flashlight and cast the beam toward the open door of the tent.  Mosquito netting hung over the opening, and the beam of the flashlight reflected off this netting, casting light around the tent's interior.  I leaned toward the door and stretched my arm out so that the flashlight was pressed against the netting, allowing the beam to illuminate beyond.  What I saw then frightened and humbled me.  My tent was surrounded by a pride of lions. Not eight feet from me, her broad chest squarely lit by my flashlight's beam, stood a lioness.  She stared into the light...which seemed, at the time, to be a stare less at the light than at me!  Just behind her, a fully maned male lounged on the ground where I had unpacked my bag that afternoon.  In the few, long seconds before I clicked off the flashlight, delaying only because I worried that the sound or the sudden darkness would inspire the pride to dine, I noticed more lions moving about on either side of the two cats directly in front of the tent door. I remained in the same position, arm outstretched, holding my breath, for what seemed like ten minutes. I was very frightened, certain that death was imminent.  I heard nothing.  No padding paws, no coughing, no twigs.  My father snored on alongside me.

The next morning, over breakfast, we were told that lions are often drawn to people who snore loudly.  That's definitely useful information should one be camping in Africa.  Heavy snorers do so at their own risk!

Christopher Reiger
"The Bird that Stands Against Time's Desolation"

Besides your lush, lovely paintings and your always thoughtful considerations on Hungry Hyaena, any projects you would like to mention?

At the moment, much of my creative energy is being given over to more mundane considerations, all of which are related to my upcoming move across the country, from New York City to San Francisco.  I am, however, working on the foreword to a book of poetry and prose by the very talented writer, musician, and multimedia artist Yusuf Misdaq, and I have a number of exciting painting ideas currently in the sketch stage.  And, as always, in-progress works are plentiful.  Some will find the cutting room floor, others will be part of future shows.  Information about current projects can be found on both Hungry Hyaena and my portfolio site.

ESPP Note:
Read more about Dürer's rhino here. 
Purchase Reiger's Javan Rhinoceros print here.

April 14, 2010

Endangered Strangers: Ili Pika

"Now you come and say, "Don Ili Pika, be cute and fluffy for me. Perhaps squeak a little, as you pikas do." But you don't ask with respect. You don't offer friendship. You don't even think to call me "Godpika." You come into my house on the day my daughter-pika is to be married and act like a typical hooman, all up in my base, changin' my climates."
Pikas are short-eared relatives of the rabbit, which mostly inhabit colder climes in Asia, N. America & E. Europe. The tend to live in rocky areas and gather flowers and other plants into little grassy hillocks to sustain themselves through the winter. They are well known by hikers and nature lovers for their charming high pitched call. Eeeeeeeep!

There are many species of pika, and sadly, many of them are currently in danger, due to climate change. While only four species, (our friend the Ili Pika, Hoffman's Pika, Kozlov's Pika and the Helan Shan Pika) are classified as endangered, it is likely that many more should be or soon will be. In fact, a recent suit was brought against the US government by several environmental groups, attempting to have the American Pika, listed under the US Endangered Species Act --- but sadly, since these creatures really need our help, the petition was denied.

The danger from climate change comes from the fact that many pikas live on what are termed 'sky islands.' Essentially, they live high up on the rocky sides of mountains, and due to the climactic differences between the mountains and valleys in between, are unable to travel between mountain tops. This becomes a problem as our world warms, and even tiny shifts matter for the pika. Due to their dense fur, pikas are extremely sensitive to overheating, and as the climate warms, they must move higher and higher up their mountain to survive.

...but eventually these beleaguered little guys will reach the top of their sky islands, and have nowhere left to go.

What you can do to help pikas:

- Do whatever you can to reduce your carbon footprint, as global warming is the main threat to the pika. Some really easy (and healthy!) options are walking, biking or taking public transportation instead of driving, and choosing the local options at your supermarket. Think twice the next time you go to jump in the car! :)

- Tell others! We can get the American Pika listed as an endangered species and protected if we all speak up!

April 12, 2010

Endangered animal sculptures created from...Legos?

"Did I remember to turn off the toaster oven?"

"Who turned up the .jpg compression?"

The Philadelphia Zoo recently opened an exhibit of endangered animals, with one puzzling oddity. As you peer into the enclosures, you may think that you need to up the screen resolution of your eyes, but no...these pixelated guys are made from zillions (that's right, I counted...) of Legos.

For all of you that are ignorant (me) of the long and illustrious history of Lego art, the guys who crafted these critters, Sean Kenney, is at the top of the game --- and the 34 animals he created for the zoo comes in as his biggest project yet, taking over a year to complete.

The species are each accompanied by information about why the animals are endangered and very importantly, how you can help. It's about time that zoos started presenting this kind of message, and let's hope that for these 35 species at least, it's not too late.

"Pixel-monkeys will groom you while you sleep. Also, we will style your hair in a faux-hawk.

Meep. Zorb."

Photos via the Courier Post)

April 9, 2010

ESPP Awakens from Hibernation with Two New Prints!

Generally, we release our new prints "into the wild" one at a time, but to celebrate our return, we've doubled up!

You can take a peek at -- and get your paws on -- our two new prints before they're gone on the ESPP website.

The Javan Rhino print by NYC based artist, writer, and ESPP blog contributor Christopher Reiger supports the excellent work of The International Rhino Foundation. Only 49 of these elusive creatures remain on Earth, so this print is a small edition of only 49.

The Hawaiian Monk Seal print by ESPP founder Jenny Kendler supports the Hawaiian Monk Seal Response Team of Oahu. HMSRTO volunteers hit the beach every day to protect the rare seals, as well as running a hot-line for seal-spottings.

100% of the proceeds from ESPP print sales go directly to these organizations, working to conserve species on the front lines. As you know, our prints are limited editions based on the populations of the species depicted. Earlier editions are already running low, so be sure not to miss out!

Keep you binoculars out to spot upcoming prints by Barnaby Whitfield, Aaron Johnson, Matthew Hilshorst, Alison Wheeler, Christopher Reiger, and founder Molly Schafer. Wondering which fascinating and rare species these artists have chosen to support? Continue to check the the blog, ESPP site and Facebook fan page to find out, as we release our newest prints!

April 7, 2010

Endangered Strangers: The Seychelles Wolf Snake

Yep that's me!
I'm the Seychelles wolf snake.
I'm the snake you want to name your band after.
Just imagine the t-shirts...snake bodies with growling wolf heads...
maybe bloodshot eyes...fangs dripping saliva...

The Seychelles wolf snake is named after it's teeth. Long backwards-curving teeth invoking the wolf (dude "Invoking the Wolf" is totally the title of our first album). Seychelles wolf-snakes exhibit two color phases- yellow and dark (dude Dark Phase = title of our second album!).

Seychelles wolf snakes are active during the day and prey upon geckos, skinks and small birds. They can be found only in the Seychelles Islands, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean.

Seychelles wolf snakes are at risk of extinction due to habitat degradation and invasive species of both the animal and plant variety. The cinnamon plant Cinnamomum verum was introduced to the island in 1772. Today, veritable forests of Cinnamomum verum exist and the plant continues to invade and degrade the archipelago's natural forests.

Image: © Henrik Bringsøe

April 1, 2010

Madagascar Heeds Global Outcry and Bans Rainforest Timber Exports!!!

Madagascar's transitional government has reinstated the ban on exportation of rosewood taken illegally from the island's national parks. The decree, issued last week, prohibits all exports of rosewood and precious timber for two to five years. The sale and export of this old growth, endangered, rosewood would profit poachers and encourage further illegal logging on an island with deforestation already visible from outer space.

Last week's decree is seen as an important first step against the ongoing environmental crime and crisis in Madagascar. What will happen with the country's nearly 15,000 metric tons of illegally harvested rosewood is uncertain. No word yet if illegal loggers and traders will be prosecuted. The current government, which seized power during a political coup 1 year ago, has neglected to enforce conservation laws leading to organized environmental crime syndicates, illegal poaching of flora and fauna, and the temporary closure of a national park due to the looting. Tens of thousands of hectares are reported to have been affected during this short time.

ESPP's Indri Lemur print

The island of Madagascar is a biodiversity hot spot; 80% of the species that occur on the island live nowhere else on earth, and a great deal of these species are vulnerable to extinction. 90% of the island’s natural ecology has already been destroyed by logging, mining, and slash and burn agriculture. The IUCN Red List currently includes 472 species at risk in Madagascar, among them are some of the most threatened species on the planet.

ESPP has been following the environmental devastation in Madagascar. We have written articles and even got the Endangered Strangers on board. To date ESPP has produced three prints supporting species in Madagascar: the Indri lemur, the Madagascar fish-eagle, and the Golden-crowned sifaka lemur. 100 % of the proceeds of the sales from these prints will go to support conservation efforts for these species.Prints can be purchased on the ESPP website.

Click our Madagascar tag for related stories. And remember, public outcry has forced the hand of the transitional government on this issue, proof we can all make a difference!