- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

A virtual habitat for creatures great and small now exists in cyberspace, thanks to an organization created to “promote the conservation of nature and public appreciation of biodiversity through the power of wildlife imagery.”

Through a multimedia catalog of knowledge, the Wildscreen Trust gives zoologists, creature lovers and students a chance to learn through portraits of species at risk of extinction.

ARKive

Site address: www.arkive.org

Creator: The Wildscreen Trust, a charitable organization based in the United Kingdom, maintains the site and has, for the last 20 years, run the Wildscreen Festival, the world’s largest wildlife film competition.

Creator quotable: “ARKive is being developed as a new kind of Noah’s Ark,” says Harriet Nimmo, ARKive’s manager. “It is using 21st-century skills and technology to provide a safe haven, which this time, isn’t just for animals. What this ark will have onboard is the equally endangered, ultimately as vital, records of the very existence of key species. Images and recordings are one of the most emotive and powerful means of raising public awareness, igniting the very first spark of interest in natural history.”

Word from the Webwise: This incredibly robust vault of nature looks to ultimately capture every film, photograph, sound recording, fact and memory involved with the vastly diverse organisms on planet Earth.

Broken into two sections highlighting the world’s endangered and protected species — the Globally Endangered Chapter containing 250 entries and the British Chapter with 350 — the site boasts an average of 10 minutes of moving footage, six to 10 still photographs and audio to compile a complete profile of each animal’s characteristics, behavior and appearance.

As an example, visitors jumping into the British Chapter can choose from the databanks of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates, marine invertebrates, plants and algae, and fungi (including lichen) to aid their search for the beautiful and unusual.

I found 12 entries when I clicked on mammals, and chose to explore the greater horseshoe bat, Rhinolophus ferrumequinum. After reading short text bursts on topics including facts, status, description, range, habitat, biology, threats and conservation, I discovered the little fellow has a 15-inch wing span, is found in central and southern Europe and prefers managed farmland and pastures to do his insect hunting. The species has declined by more than 90 percent in the last 100 years, primarily due to habitat loss.

The entry presented seven credited color photographs in a medium or large format as well as five videos, averaging one minute each, of the bat hanging around, caring for its young, hunting, feeding and flying.

Ease of use: Taking into consideration that the site is only a few weeks old, I was thrilled by the number of data and resource links available. Visitors will need Windows 2000 or XP, Internet Explorer 6, and Windows Media Player 9 or Real Player to completely enjoy the visual and scientific smorgasbord. Visitors using a Macintosh, especially Internet Explorer 5.0 for the Mac, will experience some searching difficulties.

Don’t miss: Planet ARKive (www.planetarkive.org), a totally separate site (accessed through ARKive’s front page) for children 7 to 11 years old, features wildlife facts, games and activities in a wonderfully interactive and animated format. Additionally, teachers will appreciate the ARKive Education site (www.arkiveeducation.org) where anyone interested in exciting children about the natural world can find lesson plans, ideas for projects and outings, and a range of support materials.

Elements on the horizon: By the end of this year, Miss Nimmo believes the developers should have completed audio-visual profiles for 500 of the world’s most endangered plants and animals, and the long-term aim is to document all 11,000 species threatened with extinction.

The next stage of development will be to translate the site into languages other than English and offering an identification guide for CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to help customs officers around the world identify creatures being moved illegally.

Comprehension level: According to Miss Nimmo, the site is aimed at anyone with an interest in the natural world, from school children to scientists.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the science or technology fan? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@ washingtontimes.com).

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