My East Africa, Madagascar & other wildlife photos More of my East Africa photos More of my Madagascar photos More of my other wildlife spotting photos

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Day At The Zoo... Or not?

Schaapmans' Wildlife Spotting is mainly about wildlife. Animals out in the wild. I have taken photos in zoos as well and are always aware that captivity is stressful for animals and most species will not particularly thrive in zoos, unfortunately.

Also, the conservation effort and goals many zoos have are effectively just marketing; they only want to display attractive animals, not animals that need the most conservation and can benefit the most from breeding programs. Animals have to be cuddly. If you are ugly and slimy: zoos will not take many steps to keep you from extinction. The efforts and money spent on conservation at zoos is marginal as well. Unfortunately.

The article below is a good read and think again when you visit a zoo. Not all zoos are as bad as the next one, so consider where you are going (if you are going). And remember that the worst of all are the Sea World and Delphinarias (like Dolfinarium in NL). The life expectancy and health of captive dolphins and killer whales is shockingly low...

The Huffington Post: 11 Things You Should Know Before Planning Your Next Trip To The Zoo

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Wildscreen Exchange and tagging photos. How to do it?

If you contribute photos to biodiversity and conservation projects like Encyclopedia Of Life and Wildscreen ARKive, people need to understand your photos. What is in it? What animals do we see? Where was the photo taken? For that purpose you tag your photos. And for automatic and easier processing, you add machine tags to your photos on Flickr.

That is precisely what I do. Actually, all photos on my site are filtered and displayed based on those tags.

With the new Wildscreen Exchange initiative, there will be a need for being able to automatically process the photos as well. But. There is no standard for the tagging of photos yet. So I've started a discussion on Flickr to see what the tagging standard should be.

How should you tag your photos? What do I use?

I've been contributing my wildlife photos to ARKive (now Wildscreen ARKive) and Encyclopedia Of Life groups for years.
I've used extensive tagging (machine tags) as a way to be able to determine what is in the photograph.

In the rules for Wildscreen Exchange I've only read that you should provide tags that sum up all context of the photo as good as possible. With thousands of photos it will be impossible to manually sort photos, so you need to be able to automate this. Hence: machine tags.

I suggest to read the ARKive discussion on tags
. It may be a good thing to also read this discussion in the Encyclopedia Of Life group.

Machine tags
A machine tag is just like a normal tag, but it follows a special format. Machine tags always have 3 parts:


It may sound more complicated than it is. For geo location data e.g. a machine tag is geo:city=Amsterdam. It defines a city within the geo namespace. For machine tags with values that contain a space, always put the tag between double quotes. E.g. "geo:city=New York".

Machine tags: taxonomy
The machine tags I think that should be available for all wildlife (species) is:
- "taxonomy:binomial=Genus species" Example for the common lion: "taxonomy:binomial=Panthera leo"
- "taxonomy:common=English common name" It can be useful to add common names as well, Example for the lion: "taxonomy:common=Lion"
-> note: the taxonomy:common= is a standard, but does not provide for different locales, e.g. en-GB or nl-NL. I provide common names in English and Dutch for all species, but they are now mixed up.

Other machine tags I use are within the taxonomy standard for each level of the taxonomy:
- taxonomy:kingdom=*
- taxonomy: phylum=*
- taxonomy:class=*
- taxonomy:order=*
- taxonomy:family=*
- taxonomy:genus=*
and all intermediate super, sub, infra, parv, etc. levels.
As well as:
- taxonomy:species= for the species identifier, e.g. for the lion taxonomy:species=leo.
- taxonomy:trinomial=, for subspecies e.g. for the Masai lion subspecies "taxonomy:trinomial=Panthera leo nubica".
- taxonomy:subspecies=, ith optional subspecies separately, e.g. taxonomy:subspecies=nubica.

Geo tags
The location of the photos is also important; it can help identify your species and it can also help with identifying regional differences and even (new) subspecies. Geotags can be provided in 2 ways:
1. Geolocation in your photo (in the metadata; automatically by GPS or with your photo editing tool) or manually added with the Maps tool on Flickr.
2. Explicit machine tags for geo location.

Ad 2: for geo location there are a few standard tags: that define all your geological properties. The following are quite standard:
- geo:lon=* (for longitude, e.g. geo:lon=-122.257704)
- geo:lat=* (for latitude, e.g. geo:lat=37.8721)
- geo:alt=* (for altitude in meters, e.g. geo:alt=1432.56)
- geo:country=* (e.g. geo:country=DE for Germany; always use the 2-letter ISO standard, see )
- geo:city=* (e.g. "geo:city=New York")
- geo:river=*
- geo:lake=*
- geo:state=*
- geo:county=*
- geo:bay=*
- geo:ocean=*
And there are many more you can think of. All a bit less standard and useful to me. I only use the 2 letter ISO standard for the country, to avoid any confusion in spelling. E.g. The Netherlands can be: geo:country=Netherlands, geo:country=Holland geo:country=Nederland, "geo:country=The Netherlands". So geo:country=NL avoids confusion.

Machine tags: collected / found in the wild?
Other machine tags I use is a (semi) standard for whether the species in the photo is captive or wild. Useful information, especially if you use geodata in photos to determine range.

Related to manner of collection:
- collectingevent:CollectingMethod="UV light trap"
- collectingevent:ValidDistributionFlag=true (false for specimens in zoos, aquaria, botanical gardens)
That last bears comment. Flagging whether the location of the photo indicates a valid part of the species range is important. There will, of course, be many photos from zoos and botanical gardens, and while it is useful to include the locality (probably), it is also useful to indicate whether that locality is representative of the species range. See also this Encyclopedia Of Life discussion on Flickr

Machine tags: biology
Related to biology of organism. Can be useful, but I use it as additional tags in some cases.
- biological:sex=female (other values: male, hermaphrodite)
- biological:lifestage=adult (other values: juvenile, nymph, ...)
- biological:length="11mm"

Machine tags: IUCN Red List category
Find the Red List status of a species. This list is used by ARKive in this way.
- status:IUCN=Extinct or status:IUCN=EX
- status:IUCN="Extinct in the wild" or status:IUCN=EW
- status:IUCN="Critically endangered" or status:IUCN=CR
- status:IUCN=Endangered or status:IUCN=EN
- status:IUCN=Vulnerable or status:IUCN=VU
- status:IUCN="Near threatened" or status:IUCN=NT
- status:IUCN="Least concern" or status:IUCN=LC
- status:IUCN="Data deficient" or status:IUCN=DD
- status:IUCN="Not evaluated" or status:IUCN=NE

Wildscreen Exchange - The new conservation initiative with photos

Attention all Flickr users! Wildscreen - formerly known as ARKive where Schaapmans contributes his photos - is developing an exciting new initiative, the Wildscreen Exchange, and we are looking for contributions. Are you interested in donating images to empower conservation organisations and support their campaigns, education and storytelling? Head on over to the new Wildscreen Exchange Flickr group to find out more.

And what is this Wildscreen Exchange?
Launching Autumn 2014, Wildscreen Exchange will be a unique global hub for all conservation communications. It will empower conservation organisations with free and affordable premium digital media to enable the most inspiring and impactful campaigning, educating and storytelling.
Powered by over 30 years worth of industry relationships, Exchange will position Wildscreen as an honest broker between content creators and conservation organisations, unlocking an unparalleled collection of digital media, providing a toolkit to empower and drive conservation communications with their audiences and amplifying the impact that powerful and emotive imagery can have on raising environmental awareness amongst the mass population.
Of course Schaapmans was one of the early adopters ;-) The 4th member in the group and contributed over 400 photos already (about 95% of all photos). Basically I dumped all photos that are already shared with Encyclopedia Of Life and Wildscreen ARKive to this group. A good initiative: spreading images further than just an organisation or 2. All non-profit organisations that have an interest in biodiversity and nature conservation can now take advantage of this soon huge photo archive.

Spread the news. Spread the photos. Spread the awareness. Spread the knowledge.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Is the Great Blue Turaco a bit cuckoo?

On my trip through Uganda I've only encountered one Turaco. Just one. But it happened to be one of the most beautiful Turacos: the Great Blue Turaco. In the morning we went to Kibale National Park in Uganda for watching the chimpanzees, in the afternoon to the neighbouring Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary. A great place for birding and seeing lots of wildlife, especially monkeys. And between the trees and the vast fields of papyrus there was this Great Blue Turaco in a tree.

Great Blue Turaco - Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, Uganda

The Great Blue Turaco is a beautiful and colourful bird. Admired for its feathers by generations of Africans and African royalty. This Turaco is also the largest Turaco out there. And the largest bird withing the order of Cuculiformes. But there is the catch. The Turacos are - according to some scientists - no longer within the order of Cuculiformes.

Bird taxonomy can be tricky. You might even go cuckoo over it, since there is not always consensus of where in the tree of evolution a certain bird or bird family belongs.

The Cuculiformes, briefly 'Cuckoos and allies', is an order that traditionally comprises 3 families: Musophagidae - Turacos and allies, Cuculidae - Cuckoos, Coucals, Roadrunners and Anis, Opisthocomidae - Hoatzin (or Opisthocomiformes). The Hoatzin is an amazing animal, unfortunately I have never seen it in the wild (well I haven't been to the Amazon basin to be fair). And if the debate about Musophagidae below might be complicated or up for controversy, that is peanuts compared to the controversy of the Hoatzin and its ancestry. Apparently it is the taxonomically most enigmatic bird that exists.

According to the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy the Turaco family (Musophagidae) does not belong with the Cuculiformes. Instead, they are too distinct and should be granted their own order: Musophagiformes. Encyclopedia Of Life uses several schemes of taxonomic ordering (there are several systems out there and not every organisation has concensus with all the other organisations) and most of them - especially the recently reviewed ones - now go for placing turaco's and allies in their own order. Yet, the IUCN Red List for Threatened Species chooses to keep them within Cuculiformes. Literally a bit cuckoo and confusing.

I chose to position Musophagidae within their own order: Musophagiformes. Just for the reference, I keep the family of Musophagidae within the Cuculiformes. With a dashed line and it will link to the page below the new order of Musophagiformes.

And for the record: the blue bird in my 'jungle bar' at the top of this website is inspired by the Great Blue Turaco. Especially its colours. So you know. The monkeys are just generic monkeys that on purpose look like no actual species.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The call of the Indri

Day 3 of our trip through Madagascar. 27 July 2008. Analamazaotra National Park, better known as Périnet. Early after sunrise we hear the trumpet-slash-foghorn-like call of the indri indri coming out of the damp forests. And this is not the noisy forest you might expect. It is not like the Amazone jungle you see in documentaries. You do not hear all the birds, insects and frogs. Especially not in the morning. It is quite quiet. You just hear the call from the indri indri every now and then as it travels for a mile through the woods.

Other people can whistle on their fingers, I can play a loud trumpet on my hands. When we were still at the resort at the hill- huts where I appreciated the extra blankets - we could hear their call coming from the jungle at the opposite hill, across the water. I trumpeted on my hands. And they responded by answering my loud trumpet noise!

Indri Indri - Analamazaotra National Park, Madagascar

It is a rainforest for sure. Not that tropical; it is montane rainforest. It is chilly. The rain is pouring down, sometimes only a drizzle. We have to walk through thickets and undergrowth away from the paths to follow our guides, orienting at the morning calls of the indri indri. Along steep muddy hills. You have to be early. In the morning they forage and jump from tree to tree at the lower levels. In the afternoon they sit high up into the trees and you can't find them.

After some climbing around - and spotting other lemures - and a scouting guide ahead we find them. A whole family group of indris. This is what I came here for. The number 1 animal on my wishlist for Madagascar.

Magnificent creatures. The biggest lemures out there. Mix a fluffy koala with a panda and a black and white colobus monkey and you have an indri.

It was quite hard to shoot good pictures. A lot of scattering light in the drizzle; you have to shoot up to the trees against the light, which causes a white haze. And my camera equipment - Canon EOS 350D with a non-image stabalized 70-300mm zoom lens - was not that great yet. But I managed to get some nice shots! They are beautiful. With amazingly powerful legs, jumping 8 meters between trees easily. Chewing their morning leaves.

Have a look at my species page for the Indri for more background info and more photos.

Biological Classification
Non-tarsier prosimiansHalfapen
Indris, Sifakas &Woolly Lemurs
Species:Indri indri

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Identifying Animals in the Field: Collection of Wildlife Books

Trying to identify wildlife you encounter can be hard. Especially if your knowledge about certain animal groups is still limited. For instance: I'm not a real birder (vogelaar).
So what do you do?

You make sure you can identify those animals. Preferrably on the spot, when you still can see and remember more details than weeks or even years later with only a photo as reference. That's why I always use field guides. And if there are no compact field guides available, I get a good reference guide.

I always bring them along. So my daypack for a hike or safari will consist of a bunch of photographic equipment and one or more field guides to help me ID those critters. I do not travel light ;-) But it saved my pursuit of getting an ID many times. Just write down what animal you saw when and where (and in what order). And in the future you will be able to identify what animal was in that picture. Even though you can't make up much of an animal out of a small dark blob on your picture.

Quite handy. Below you'll find a list of the field and reference guides for wildlife I use. This list is also in the left column of my blog. The region nobody ever takes a look at.
I still have a bunch of books on my wishlist for e.g. marine animals, insects and other arthropods of several regions of our planet. But I should be able to manage for now.

Bradt - East African Wildlife
The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals
Helm Field Guides - Birds of East Africa
Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar
Mammals of Madagascar: A Complete Guide
Madagascar Wildlife: A Visitor's Guide
Rode Zee Riffengids (Red Sea Reef Guide)
Field Guide to the Birds of the Atlantic Islands (Helm Field Guides)
Handboek Vogels van Nederland (Reference Guide to Birds in The Netherlands)
Veldgids Europese Zoogdieren (Field Guide to European Mammals)
Veldgids Amphibieën en Reptielen (Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles in West- and Central-Europe)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

African Buffalos at Sunset - Lake Nakuru (Kenya)

Sometimes it is just fun to add a beautiful picture. Not because it is best to identify all characteristics of an animal. No, just because the whole look and feel is lovely.

African Buffalos at sunset - Lake Nakuru (Kenya)

These photos were taken on Day 6 of my trip through East Africa, on 6 September 2009 at Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya. We had a long day with in the morning a walking excursion to Crescent Island (where the movie Out Of Afica was shot) in Lake Naivasha, in the afternoon driving around Lake Nakuru. These were the last shots made that day. One more time we drove by the shores with the flamingoes in the back. A great sight, before we headed off to our camping spot.

African Buffalos at sunset - Lake Nakuru (Kenya)

The pictures almost look like a HDR image, but it was just shot with low light in the sunset. Still love these shots.

Biological Classification
Even-toed UngulatesEvenhoevigen
Ruminants, Whales and HipposHerkauwers, Walvissen en Nijlpaarden
Bovids: Antelopes, Gazelles, Buffalos, Sheep, CattleHolhoornigen: Antilopen, Gazelles, Buffels, Schapen, Runderen
Cattle, Buffalos, Spiral-horned AntelopesRunderen
African BuffalosAfrikaanse Buffels
Species:Syncerus caffer
African Buffalo or Cape BuffaloAfrikaanse Buffel of Kafferbuffel