Arkive of animals

ARKive – Images of Life on Earth

ARKive is a global initiative that aims to “promote the conservation of the world’s endangered species through wildlife imagery” by identifying and collecting films, photographs and recordings of the world’s wildlife in a central digital archive[1].

The project was initiated by Wildscreen, a UK registered educational charity based in Bristol. The technical platform was developed by Hewlett-Packard as part of the HP Labs Digital Media Systems research project. ARKive is supported by leading conservation organisations such as BirdLife International, Conservation International, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), as well as leading academic and research institutions such as the Natural History Museum, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the Smithsonian Institution[1].

Two ARKive layers for Google Earth showing threatened and endangered species in the Gulf of Mexico[6] were created by Google Earth Outreach. The first of these was launched in April 2008 by Wildscreen patron Sir David Attenborough.

History of ARKive

Sir David Attenborough and ARKive
The project was officially launched on 20 May 2003 by its patron, British science broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, a long-time colleague and friend of the project’s main initiator, the late Christopher Parsons, former head of the BBC’s Natural History Unit. Parsons did not live to see the project come to fruition, having died of cancer in November 2002 at the age of 70.

Parsons identified the need for a central archive of wildlife film and photography after discovering that many of these archives were housed in scattered, unindexed collections, often with limited or no public access and sometimes in a state that could lead to loss or destruction. He believes that archives can be a powerful force in raising environmental awareness by bringing scholarly names to life. He also believes that their preservation is an important educational resource and conservation tool, not least because the scale of extinction and habitat destruction can mean that images and sounds are the only legacy of some species’ existence.

His vision of a permanent and accessible archive of audiovisual wildlife material almost immediately gained the support of many of the world’s major broadcasters, including the BBC,[8] Granada,[8] international government broadcasters,[8] National Geographic magazine, leading film and photographic libraries, international conservation organisations and academic institutions such as Cornell University.

The first feasibility study on ARKive was done in the late 1980s by conservationist John Burton,[14] but at the time the cost of the technology needed was prohibitive, and the project could not begin until more than a decade later, after technology had kept pace with Christopher Parson’s vision (and costs had come down).

After receiving £2 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 1997 and the New Opportunities Fund in 2000, construction of ARKive began in the UK as part of the millennium celebrations. This used advanced computer storage and retrieval technology invented by Hewlett-Packard for the project, with an initial capacity of up to 74 terabytes of data, using redundant hardware and multiple copies of storage media in different locations. The media was digitised to the highest possible quality, not compressed and encoded according to open standards.

By the time the project started, the project team had researched, recorded, copied, described and reviewed image, sound and event records of 1,000 animals, plants and fungi, many of which are endangered. Each month, more multimedia profiles are added, starting with the UK’s flora and fauna and Red List species – those most at risk of extinction according to WUC surveys. By January 2006, the database had grown to 2,000 species, 15,000 photos and over 50 hours of video footage. By 2010, more than 5,500 donors had provided 70,000 videos and photos of more than 12,000 species.