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Thursday, June 19, 2014


About once a month, I try to put out a Species Fact Profile, highlighting zoo animals that the lay person might not be super familiar with.  I actually started making these profiles years before I started the blog; they served as a helpful way for me to research and organize information about the animals that I take care of at work.  Once I write a profile, I usually don't even look at it again; just the act of researching it and writing it usually commits the information to memory, but it's good to know I have it written down somewhere if I need it.

And where does the information for these profiles come from?  A variety of sources.

I have a pretty decent reference library of my own, but such books are expensive, so it's hard to build it up too quickly.  Besides, there are a lot of animals for which there really is nothing written about in book form.  There are lots of scholarly books about lions and cheetahs, but I don't think the pygmy hippopotamus has ever gotten one (at least not one that I've seen).  Therefore, I do most of my research online.

Arkive rocks!  But don't take it from me... ask David Attenborough!

Luckily, in recent years, a new online resource has emerged for folks interested in wildlife.  It's called Arkive (like an "archive"... but an "ark"... cause there were animals on the Ark... get it?).  Arkive is a free online encyclopedia of life of earth, the result of a collaborative effort between WWF, IUCN, and several interested researchers from around the world (yours truly has written an entry or two for them).  It's still (and always will be) a work in progress, as new data is accumulated about new species, but it's done a wonderful job of trying to establish a uniform collection of knowledge about the species we share our planet with.  Information is arranged under simple headings like "Description", "Biology", and "Conservation." Links to online references are conveniently attached at the end of each entry.

One of the most popular features of Arkive is the library of images and video clips.  Much like Joel Sartore's "Photo Ark", it provides a wonderful visual record of species (in their natural habitat, whereas Mr. Sartore works with captive specimens).  Included among these are many species we are likely to loose in the near future, if we don't take action now.

Arkive has its limitations.  It's free, so don't complain too much when some species don't have entries yet (including some which really surprised me).  It's also not super detailed for many species, providing more of a summary than in-depth exploration.  It also ignores a category of information that I find especially intriguing - man's relationship with wildlife.  Sure, it tells you how we're killing off animals and destroying their habitats, but it doesn't tell you about the roles that these species have played in our culture and history, which is something I always enjoy exploring.

There are no perfect resources, of course... but Arkive does come pretty close to being the best for many species, especially those about which little has been written.  Hopefully, it will continue to expand and develop into a resource that covers every (known) species on earth!

Visit the Arkive online!

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