Museum specimens and records in historic literature and archives represent the only available information for many rare, extinct, and endangered species. In order to properly evaluate, study, and protect endangered populations, scientists require access to these records and specimens. The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is an open access digital library committed to providing free, global access to books and archives about the world’s plants and animals. With over 46 million pages spanning the past five centuries of recorded knowledge about Earth’s biodiversity, BHL includes a wealth of knowledge about endangered species and supports the work of scientists and conservationists around the globe.
I've worked with the Biodiversity Heritage Library in various roles since 2008, and what I love most about my job is that I feel like I'm making a true difference to the work of those committed to describing, understanding, and protecting our precious biodiversity. Historic literature and archival field books provide information such as species data, ecosystem profiles, distribution maps, inter-dependency observations, geological and climatic records, and an historical perspective on species abundance, habitat alteration, and human exploration, culture and discovery. This information has a multitude of applications in modern-day science. It is used to populate species databases and datasets that inform present-day research. It not only allows scientists to study biodiversity, but also to save it by enabling new species identification and facilitating the development of holistic conservation methods that integrate all of the factors necessary for a species’ wellbeing into its overall protection strategy.
My work on the Biodiversity Heritage Library is helping scientists obtain free, open access to information that is critical to the conservation of not only endangered species, but life on our planet as a whole. As BHL's Outreach and Communication Manager, I spend most of my time sharing the awesome resources in our library via social media and working to ensure that as many people as possible know about the incredible free resources available at their fingertips. One thing I love to do in our social posts is highlight various species and books found in our collection, and to honor Endangered Species Day, I've selected a few of my favorite endangered species and shared information and beautiful illustrations from BHL below.
Species One: Arakan Forest Turtle (Heosemys depressa)
In 2009, scientists saw one of the rarest turtles in the world for the first time in the wild. Believed extinct since 1908 until conservationists re-discovered it in a Chinese food market in 1994, the Arakan Forest Turtle (Heosemys depressa) was known to science by only a few museum and captive specimens until the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) team discovered five turtles in an elephant wildlife sanctuary in Myanmar in Southeast Asia. Listed as critically-endangered by the IUCN, the WCS team believes the elephant sanctuary holds promise as a focus for future conservation efforts for the turtle.
Species Two: The kākāpō (Strigops habroptilus)
The kākāpō has many impressive distinctions. It is the world’s heaviest parrot. It is also the world’s only flightless parrot. It is found only in New Zealand, and, with a lifespan of up to about 120 years, it may be one of the world’s longest-living birds. Today, the total known population is less than 150 individuals. Human development and introduced predators decimated the kākāpō population, particularly in the 19th century. Today, the Kākāpō Recovery Plan, implemented in the 1980s, monitors and protects the remaining population on three islands – Codfish Island (Whenua Hou), Little Barrier Island (Hauturu) and Anchor Island.
Species Three: Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus)
The Javan rhinoceros is probably the rarest large mammal in the world, with no more than 50 individuals left in the wild and none in captivity. The second-largest animal in Indonesia after the Asian elephant, adults are reported to weigh anywhere from 900-2,300 kg. Of three known subspecies, including the Indonesian Sunda rhinoceros, Vietnamese Sunda rhinoceros, and the Indian Sunda rhinoceros, only one – the Indonesian subspecies – still remains. While the Indian subspecies is believed to have gone extinct before 1925, the last remaining Vietnamese Sunda rhinoceros was killed by a poacher in 2010. Poaching, habitat loss, and lack of genetic diversity are the greatest threats to this species. Learn more about the rhinoceros and current conservation efforts from WWF.
Guest post by Grace Costantino, Outreach and Communication Manager, Biodiversity Heritage Library