Category Archives: Updates

Wildlife in the City – Gembira Loka Zoo

Hi everyone,

    Sometimes, biodiversity assessments are done with other thoughts than conservation in mind. I have worked in various places throughout Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia with highly threatened targets in my mind but for this particular assessment, I had no threatened animal species to work with, no conservation program to create, no threats to worry about… This assessment was about fun and education !

Every tree of a garden is Southeast Asia can be home for extraordinary species such as this stunning Common flying dragon (Draco volans) found on a tree right in the middle of the busiest path of the zoo !

When you take time to look closely, some otherwise overlooked critters can appear extraordinarily colorful such as this moth from the Choreutidae family (Saptha beryllitis)

    Gembira Loka Zoo was the last big zoological garden on Java that I had to visit. It was difficult to find any information online until I got to meet my friend Vanda who works in the conservation department of the zoo. Finally, 17 years after my first stay on Java, I was able to set foot for the first time in Yogyakarta area and visit Gembira Loka Zoo on two occasions, last November. Together with Vanda’s brother who is a gifted wildlife photographer, we decided to scout the zoo, not for the collection of captive animals but for the numerous wild animal species that inhabit this green oasis, in the middle of a very large city.

The impressive Giant golden orbweaver (Trichonephila pilipes) is regularly found in urban parks and zoos around Southeast Asia, from Taiwan to Indonesia.

    A biodiversity assessment focusing on birds had already been done in the past so we chose to focus on other species, particularly reptiles and invertebrates. A single day of walking around the zoo provided us with very interesting results and unexpectedly good photos of animals that are known to be tricky to observe.

Finding this juvenile flying dragon was quite a challenge, you can see how well it can camouflage against the branch. I am still unsure about the identification of this specimen, maybe a Red-bearded flying dragon (Draco haematopogon)

    My favorite part of the survey still remains, to this day, when we came across two displaying pairs of Common flying dragons (Draco volans). Draco lizards can be tricky to see when not moving as their camouflage allows them to perfectly blend in with their surroundings (especially tree bark). Thanks to my zoologist friends, I have learnt which trees are more likely to be chosen by Draco lizards and where to look to find them. These tips have been put to good use and it didn’t take us long to locate these guys. Little did I know that I had just got a free ticket for a wonderful territorial and mating display show that would last nearly a full hour !

Two photos showing a displaying male Common flying dragon (Draco volans), advertising to a nearby female.

    Amongst other reptiles, we spotted a huge tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) on a palm tree, another flying dragon species that could be a young Red-bearded flying dragon (Draco haematopogon) but without any certainty, and three species of house geckoes found on trees and around buildings, namely the Common house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus), the Garnot’s house gecko (Hemidactylus garnotii) and the Flat-tailed house gecko (Hemidactylus platyurus). Our last reptile find has been a really beautiful pair of Balinese snake-eyed skinks (Cryptoblepharus balinensis balinensis), a species originating from Bali and introduced in eastern and central Java. The zoo is also home to at least two species of sun skinks (genus Eutropis) but we haven’t seen any during the day this time.

One of the Balinese snake-eyed skink (Cryptoblepharus balinensis balinensis) we saw against a big tree trunk.

As common as it might be in the wild, this was the very first Garnot’s house gecko (Hemidactylus garnotii) I ever photographed !

    The presence of many old trees in the zoo is likely responsible for so many wild species to feel at home on the grounds of Gembira Loka Zoo. While walking around and browsing, we also saw a few interesting spiders, from the very common invasive Garden orb-weaver (Argiope appensa) to the rarer and more local Modest orb-weaver (Argiope modesta) and the always impressive Giant golden orbweaver (Trichonephila pilipes). A few species were much trickier to identify such as a representant of the genus Neoscona, possibly the Pointillist neoscona (Neoscona punctigera) and what could be a nice color variation of a Black-striped orchard spider (Leucauge celebesiana). Most of the jumping spiders we saw were way too fast to be photographed but we were treated by a Six-spotted jumping spider (Bavia sexpunctata) who was really curious.

The Garden orb-weaver (Argiope appensa) is one of the most commonly seen “big” spider species on Java.

This Six-spotted jumping spider (Bavia sexpunctata) was a great model to photograph !
I am so grateful !

    To continue our survey, here is a list of the insects we could identify and photograph during these two visits.

Orange gull (Cepora iudith iudith)
Great mormon (Papilio memnon memnon)
Tailed jay (Graphium agamemnon agamemnon)
Javan rose (Pachliopta adamas adamas)
Choreutidae moth (Saptha beryllitis)
Common red flash (Rapala iarbus dekaiarchus)
Chocolate pansy (Junonia iphita horsfieldi)
Autumn leaf (Doleschallia bisaltide bisaltide)

At last, a specimen of Autumn leaf (Doleschallia bisaltide bisaltide) sitting still for a few seconds, allowing me to take this only one photo !

Javanese grasshopper (Valanga nigricornis)
Short-horned grasshopper (Oxya japonica japonica)

A very large specimen of Javanese grasshopper (Valanga nigricornis)

Damselflies and Dragonflies
Red percher (Neurothemis ramburii)
Blue marsh hawk (Orthetrum glaucum)
Green marsh hawk (Orthetrum sabina sabina)
Globe skimmer (Pantala flavescens)

A really good looking Red percher (Neurothemis ramburii)

Female Blue marsh hawk (Orthetrum glaucum)

Potter wasp (Rhynchium haemorrhoidale)

Potter wasps (Rhynchium haemorrhoidale) building their nest

and many more that we either could not identify (a big black species of ant and a large dark beetle) or couldn’t approach at all for a decent photo.

    Last but not least, we also spotted some of the birds recorded in the existing survey, including the local endemic subspecies of the very widespread Collared kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris palmeri).

This subspecies of the Collared kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris palmeri) only occurs on Java and Bali.

Until next time,

Pierre de Chabannes
Founder, ACEE


A first glimpse at Mt Kitanglad’s endemic birds

Hi everyone,

    Mindanao has always been an island of mystery for me until I was finally able to spend enough time there and realize how much I love the place ! Until recently, I have to admit I knew very little about Mindanao’s fauna and, like most, my knowledge was limited to the Mindanao water monitor, the Mindanao bleeding heart, the Mindanao rufous hornbill, Mindanao tarictic and a couple of other wider-ranging species. Little did I know that Mindanao is home to an amazing array of endemic birds but also reptiles, amphibians, insects and mammals are really well represented and mostly understudied. Young scientists like Kier Michael Pitogo are doing amazing work rediscovering species in remote areas and we can expect a lot more from Mindanao in the future ! I am surely looking to take part actively in the field work here !

The Olive-capped flowerpecker (Dicaeum nigrilore nigrilore) is one of the many species endemic to the mountains of Mindanao. Lots still needs to be done to study the biodiversity of these remote areas.

    By Christmas 2019, thanks to Sonny and Marco Dizon from Davao Crocodile Park, thanks to my friend Ana Borja and thanks to our guide Benjamin Torregosa Maputi Jr, I had my first opportunity to leave Davao City area and discover more of Mindanao. I got fascinated by the Apo myna and its amazing colors, crest … so I decided to make it my number one target for this birding trip to Mt Kitanglad.

The sign indicating the entrance to the protected area around Mt Kitanglad.

    Located in the northern half of Mindanao, in the province of Bukidnon, Mt Kitanglad is the fourth highest mountain in the Philippines with an altitude of 2899 meters. Mt Kitanglad is well known for being home to one of the last primary rainforests in the country and the diversity of animals occurring there is said to be truly amazing.

Mt Kitanglad viewed from the forest path.

    But accessing Mt Kitanglad’s birding areas is far from easy. The ride from Davao City takes a good 4 to 5 hours and, once we secured the access by asking permission to the local community’s chief, we still had to climb a very bumpy dirt and rock road through agrigultural fields. Our driver did wonders but finally had to stop as the road was getting too dangerous to drive on so we ended up walking all the way to the forest… or at least what is left of it.

The road to Mt Kitanglad protected area is rough to navigate and goes through logged forests, converted into agricultural land.

    The high-altitude forests are still there and look quite healthy but the lower we get, the more deforestation happens for agriculture. The local tribes and communities are aware of the importance of healthy forest and the good it brings (eco-tourism is getting big in Philippines) so what is left of the lower slopes’ forest is being protected at this time. These forests are home to the mighty Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) and we were very lucky to even see this king of the skies taking off and flying above us as we were about to drive back to Davao. I took no photos as my camera gear was in the car already but seeing the eagle in person was enough of a blessing to leave all of us in awe.

Large tracts of forests have been cleared for agriculture on the lower slopes of Mt Kitanglad. In other areas of Mindanao (especially near Bislig, in the east), this is much worse with industrial palm oil plantations.

    When I entered the forest, on the slopes of Mt Kitanglad, I was amazed at how cool the atmosphere is, even if we were not that high. The forest is humid but the humidity was far less intense that what I had experienced in places like Raja Sikatuna in Bohol or Mt Kinabalu forests in Borneo. Most of the trees aren’t that big but look very healthy, with lots of epiphytes, lichen, moss… A beautiful sight for us !

The trees of Mt Kitanglad protected areas were covered with all kinds of mosses, lichens and more !

    I did manage to see the coveted Apo myna (Basilornis mirandus) but never from close. Mt Kitanglad is known to be the best site to watch this species and get really good photos but I guess that was the unlucky part of our trip. We will have more chance with the species next time ! On the other hand, seeing the Philippine eagle fly was extraordinarily lucky so who could complain !

The Apo myna (Basilornis mirandus) is one of Southeast Asia’s most distinctive starling species. It is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.

    On the other hand, I got to see an unexpected large number of passerines and that made me re-name my quest from “Apo myna trip” to “Flowerpecker galore” ! We spotted and photographed no less than four species, including two who treated us with really good views ! The pygmy flowerpecker (Dicaeum pygmaeum davao) and the Buzzing flowerpecker (Dicaeum hypoleucum pontifex) remained more hidden than the other two (see photos below) but we could still get relatively good views of them and the food items they prefer.

The fire-breasted flowerpecker (Dicaeum ignipectus apo) is the most colorful of all local flowerpecker species. It is widespread in montane forests from Negros to Mindanao.

    While looking for birds, our guide Benjamin got my attention on very large pyramidal clumps of small yellow berry-like flowers, telling me that many passerines from the area are feeding on these. It didn’t take long for the first flowerpeckers to appear, quickly followed by the local endemic Mindanao white-eye (Heleia goodfellowi goodfellowi) and by another endemic white-eye : the Mindanao mountain white-eye (Zosterops montanus vulcani).

These big clumps of yellowish flowers are an important food source for local passerines.

    The cinnamon ibon, one of the highly prized local endemics, remained hidden but we managed to see another very colorful local endemic, the Black-and-cinnamon fantail (Rhipidura nigrocinnamomea nigrocinnamomea). I was used to seeing black and white colors on fantails and had no idea some of them where that colorful ! This single individual, after playing hide and seek for a while, gave us a 10 seconds window for getting really nice open photos. No way I could be thankful enough for such a treat !

The Black-and-cinnamon fantail (Rhipidura nigrocinnamomea nigrocinnamomea) was one of the biggest surprises of the day.

    The last two birds we saw before leaving (and before the mighty Philippine eagle came out of the forest) were a couple of Philippine hanging-parrots which I couldn’t photograph and a beautiful specimen of Philippine green-pigeon (Treron axillaris canescens) who stayed in the open long enough for me to get a record shot.

A single Philippine green-pigeon (Treron axillaris canescens) sitting on the top of a lonely tree at the edge of the forest.

    Strangely enough, we didn’t see any reptile or amphibian at all during our little survey but we managed to photograph a couple of local endemic butterfly subspecies. Of course, the Scarlet mormon (Papilio deiphobus rumanzovia) and Philippine birdwing (Troides rhadamantus rhadamantus) were common as it is in most forests of the southern half of Philippines but other much less common species showed up such as the Schaus’s crow (Euploea blossomae hilongensis), the Boisduval’s evening brown (Melanitis boisduvalia) and the Dannatt’s tiger (Parantica dannatti malinagensis).

A pair of Dannatt’s tiger (Parantica dannatti malinagensis) near the main path.

Schaus’s crow (Euploea blossomae hilongensis), a species I had never heard of before.

    This expedition is only the first of many to come in the area in order to document many more endemic species and have a better understanding of the biodiversity around the Kitanglad range and Mt Kitanglad in particular.

Three Mindanao white-eye (Heleia goodfellowi goodfellowi) feeding on flowers.

There are still lots of research that needs to be done on Mindanao fauna. So far, this Boisduval’s evening brown (Melanitis boisduvalia) couldn’t be assigned to a subspecies.

Until next time,

Pierre de Chabannes
Founder, ACEE


A morning of endemic wildlife photography on Gunung Gede

Hi everyone,

    While going around west-Java in November 2022, I managed to free up one morning to climb to Cibeureum waterfalls, on the slopes of Gunung Gede in order to document the endemic species of the area. The Gede-Pangrango Natural Park is a UNESCO protected UNESCO site and one of the very few places on Java where natural habitats are fully protected and intact. More than half of the endemic species of animals found in Java occur in the area, including many highly endangered mammals (such as the Javan leopard, Javan gibbon…), birds (Javan hawk-eagle, Javan scops-owl, Javan trogon), reptiles, amphibians (Bleeding toad) and more.

One of the three waterfalls of the Cibeureum waterfall area.

    Unfortunately, the rain lasted longer than expected in the morning and most of the charismatic endemics, sought after by most photographers, didn’t show up. But my main focus were lesser-known species such as endemic butterfly subspecies, small mountain passerines and even if the rain lasted nearly half of the morning, I was not disappointed !

The Horsfield’s treeshrew (Tupaia javanica) is an Indonesian endemic species, occurring in lower mountains on Sumatra and Java.

    Gunung Gede towers at 2900 meters high and my target, the Cibeureum waterfalls are about 1800 meters high. At this altitude, although we are still too low for many of the strict mountain specialist species, we are high enough to start feeling drastic changes of temperature and seeing species that we wouldn’t usually find below this altitudinal range. For a morning hike, this can already give you a great overview of what Java’s lower mountain forests can provide when protected efficiently.

Amongst the local endemics, one of the trickiest to photograph is the diminutive Javan fulvetta (Alcippe pyrrhoptera). This dull-looking passerine rarely comes in the open so I felt fortunate I captured this single shot.

Although the Javan bulbul (Ixos virescens virescens) is still common in suitable habitat, deforestation and capture for the trade are two threats that should be monitored.

     The lower part of the climb is great for partridges and for spotting various primary forest bird species such as minivets, woodpeckers, bulbuls, fulvettas, babblers, cupwings, flycatchers and many more. Gunung Gede’s forest is so thick and moist that observing any animal, no matter how bright its colors are, is a real challenge. On the way up, we spotted three Lesser gymnures (Hylomys suillus suillus), a shrew-like relative to hedgehogs who lives in mountain forests around most of Southeast Asia. We also heard and saw a few squirrels, mostly Black-banded squirrels (Callosciurus nigrovittatus) but the local endemic Mountain three-striped squirrel stayed out of sight. My only reptile of the morning, the Indonesian false bloodsucker (Pseudocalotes tympanistriga) was also spotted while hiking on the lower part of the trail.

This Indonesian false bloodsucker (Pseudocalotes tympanistriga) was the only reptile species we observed during this rainy morning hike.

This is the only decent photo I managed to get of the small Lesser gymnure (Hylomys suillus suillus). The species is common but moves fast and remains very tricky to photograph.

    Besides the canopy-dwelling butterfly species flying way above me, the only butterflies I saw during the deep forest part of the climb were dark forest-interior specialists such as the local endemic subspecies of the Common faun (Faunis canens canens) that was everywhere near the trail. When I got close to clearings, more butterfly species started to show up but their diversity remained quite low until we got far up enough (about 1700 meters high) in a more open area where, together with my guide, we observed at least 20 butterfly species in a matter of 5 to 10 minutes. This open area is flat, very humid and densely vegetated to about 1.5 meters above ground. It is the perfect habitat for one of the icons of Javan mountains, the endangered Javan hawk-eagle. It is also a great place to spot other birds who can venture near forest edges to find food, especially passerines and woodpeckers.

After a couple of hours of hiking our way up in thick forest, we come to a flatter humid area where wildlife is plentyful. The mighty Mt Pangrango is watching us in the background.

One of the butterflies I could photograph in the more open habitats was the Malay tailed judy (Abisara savitri atlas), a high-altitude butterfly, here represented by subspecies atlas, endemic to West Java.

    The final part of the hike was a mix of steep rocky stairs in deep forest and flatter areas at the bottom of a tall ridge. The waterfalls of Cibeureum waterfall area are impressive during the wet season for their height and the power of the main waterfall. Because the waterfall was near its peak power, not many animals were seen around but a few dozens of meters away, I was fortunate to get great views of a singing pair of Javan tesia (Tesia superciliaris). This small bird is highly coveted by private collectors around Java for its beautiful song, making it likely to get dangerously close to extinction as time goes by if more of its habitat remains unprotected.

The walkway to the Cibeureum waterfall area goes through pristine habitat alongside a tall ridge where langurs, gibbons and lots of birds can be found. This is the habitat of the bleeding toad and the Javan tesia amongst others.

The diminutive Javan tesia (Tesia superciliaris) is one of Java’s most sough-after endemics for its amazing song.

    Then come the two highlights of this misty morning around Gunung Gede ! First, while walking on a bridge above one of the humid zones we need to cross to reach the waterfalls, I spotted what looked like a tiny frog on a leaf of a huge plant, just below the walkway. Its dark coloration made it stand out from the bright green vegetation but it was in a bad position so I could only get one decent photo. After carefully looking, I realised that I just photographed a Critically Endangered and restricted range species … no other than the legendary Bleeding toad (Leptophryne cruentata) itself ! Since it was a very small juvenile, it didn’t show the adult coloration yet and was mostly dull but the body shape, location and dark coloration made the ID quite obvious.

A baby Bleeding toad (Leptophryne cruentata), one of the world’s most endangered toads, endemic to Mt Gede area.

    The other highlight of the hike was completely unexpected as well as 1800 meters high seems a bit low to photograph this “king” of the mountains. The Javan trogon (Apalharpactes reinwardtii) is now Endangered on IUCN Red List and has a very small range in the mountain forests of west Java. Gunung Gede is known to be the species’ stronghold but it doesn’t make it easy to see by any means. Few photographers have actually managed to capture good photos of this elusive but so stunning bird and my guides were shocked when 3 beautiful adult flew from the top ridge trees and landed just in front of us, remaining there, nearly motionless, for about 10 minutes. What a gift !

The amazing Javan trogon (Apalharpactes reinwardtii), one of the world’s most threatened trogons, a west-Java endemic species.

    The way down was very painful for my feet as my footwear wasn’t optimal for such a difficult terrain but we still got to see quite a few nice species in two big mixed flocks. The descent ended with a very friendly Javan whistling-thrush (Myophonus glaucinus) who hopped about 2 meters away from us and stayed in the open for a couple of minutes, allowing me to get very good record shots despite the low light inside the forest.

Javan whistling-thrush (Myophonus glaucinus), still relatively common but in decline throughout its range.

    This wasn’t a true biodiversity assessment as my time over there was way too short but it is the prelude of a much longer and real biodiversity assessment I am hoping to perform during the coming one or two years. Hiking upwards and downwards this very famous mountain and seeing such beautiful habitat was a true blessing and I can only hope more remaining pristine habitat in beautiful Indonesia will be protected the same way as Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park !

This mountain lake is very famous for the bright blue colors of its waters, due to algae proliferation. During my visit, it was more dark blue but still amazing to see !

Until next time !

Pierre de Chabannes
Founder, ACEE


A small-scale biodiversity assessment of two tracts of forests in Mindanao (Philippines)

Hi everyone,

    In December 2022, after two years, I finally had the chance to come back to Philippines and spend a few days on Mindanao to perform a biodiversity assessment in two beautiful tracts of primary forests located near Bislig, on the eastern side of the island. Together with our guide, Felizardo Goring, with the blessing of the Bislig Tourism Office and with the valued help and support of Davao Crocodile Park’s director and staff, I stayed two days in the area for a brief and preliminary survey of the fauna of a forested area known as PICOP.

The pink-bellied imperial-pigeon (Ducula poliocephala) is a country endemic, threatened by deforestation. The species remains fairly common in PICOP rainforest area for the time being.

    This forest is famous for being one of the best places in the island to observe and photograph some of the most elusive of all endemic bird species in southern Philippines. Amongst them, the Short-crested and Celestial monarchs are some of the most coveted targets of birders worldwide. But besides these (and many other) birds that were, just by themselves, enough of a good reason to go to PICOP, this forest is also known to harbor a wide variety of invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles. Amongst them are many recently described species (Mindanao regularly provides new species to science as we keep exploring this island thanks to dedicated Filipino scientists such as Kier Michael Pitogo and others) and quite a few that remain so far undescribed. Performing regular biodiversity assessments throughout this vast island and its many habitats is a good way to keep track of changes within the habitats, potential growing threats and gather valuable information for the conservation of these poorly known gems, some of which I was lucky to see and photograph during my two rainy days of biodiversity assessment. PICOP rainforest used to be a large logging concession area and despite the deforestation, some beautiful tracts of forest still remain and are home to many animal species including primary forest specialists. Although the logging has officially stopped, illegal logging is still a major activity in PICOP as you will see at the end of this article.

Despite the weather, we were blessed with a few country endemic birds such as the Philippine drongo-cuckoo (Surniculus velutinus velutinus). This species is more and more threatened by loss of habitat.

    No wild mammals were seen during these two days in PICOP despite our surveys by day and night but the rain didn’t help with our plans and many species usually seen by wildlife watchers remained hidden. Nonetheless, our biodiversity survey proved to be quite successful with other targets, including species that aren’t usually monitored in most wildlife-watching trips.

    As I said in the introduction, PICOP forest is famous for its birds and we spotted quite a few species during this journey. Some are regular wide-ranging species such as the Brown tit-babbler (Macronus striaticeps mindanensis) and the Purple-throated sunbird (Leptocoma sperata trochilus), others are endemic to the area but still common such as the Metallic-winged sunbird (Aethopyga pulcherrima) and the Philippine drongo-cuckoo (Surniculus velutinus velutinus). But something that immediately struck me is that the area of Mindanao and nearby smaller islands is home to endemic subspecies for most of the wide-ranging species or country endemic species present there. To me, these subspecies should be treated as separate conservation units from the rest of the species as Mindanao forests, once widespread, are now rapidely being destroyed without most of the world knowing about it.

The Orange-bellied flowerpecker (Dicaeum trigonostigma cinereigulare) is one of the widest-ranging flowerpeckers in Southeast Asia. This subspecies occurs in six islands of the southeast and south Philippines.

    We also heard, saw and documented species that are known to be globally threatened such as the Mindanao bleeding-heart (Gallicolumba crinigera crinigera), the Azure-breasted pitta (Pitta steerii steerii), the Pink-bellied imperial-pigeon (Ducula poliocephala) and the rare local subspecies of the threatened Spotted imperial-pigeon (Ducula carola mindanensis). With the extent of deforestation ongoing on Mindanao, many of these subspecies (and species) are now facing a very bleak future if no immediate strict habitat conservation measures are taken.

One of our luckiest and rarest finds, this stunning specimen of Spotted imperial-pigeon (Ducula carola mindanensis). This species is Vulnerable according to IUCN Red List and in worrying decline throughout its range.

    Philippines is home to a great variety of endemic reptiles, some of them being iconic such as the Samar cobra, Philippine crocodile, Mindanao water monitor, Mabitang monitor, Gray’s monitor and so on. But there are lots of lesser-known species that are in need of attention such as forest skinks. Philippines is home to many species of forest skinks including quite a few undescribed ones. For more information about Philippine’s endemic herpetofauna, I recommend checking the amazing work of local scientists such as Arvin C. Diesmos and Angel Alcala, two of the country’s most prominent wildlife conservation scientists in most’s opinion.

    There are also sun skinks in the area and thanks to a recent revision work, we now know that there are actually quite a few endemic species in the island, most previously believed to be wider-ranging. Their conservation status needs to be understood and better studied. During our survey, I was lucky to photograph a nice adult specimen of Caraga sun skink (Eutropis caraga), a regional endemic described in 2020 in the above-mentioned publication.

One of the adult Caraga sun skink (Eutropis caraga) we saw during a brief periode of sunshine on our second day in Bislig area.

    Last but not least, I have been fortunate to see and document many species of invertebrates, some of which still remain unidentified at this time due to lack of accessible data and reliable species identification resources. However, some others proved to be really interesting. The staggering diversity of forest weevil species of Philippines comes to mind and many entomologists as well as macro-photographers are still fascinated to this day by these small but strikingly colorful jewels of the forest. Their diversity is still being studied and new species are described on a regular basis. Two of the species I photographed in PICOP are likely either new to science, yet un-named or color morphs or known species. Their status needs to be clarified in the future.

Two unidentified (and possibly undescribed) forest weevil species. The left one likely belongs to the genus Pachyrhynchus whereas the right one could be Metapocyrtus.

    I photographed two other endemic species, namely Pachyrhynchus antonkozlovi and Metapocyrtus sakaii, that have been described as late as 2016 and 2011. For both of these, the extent of their range and their conservation status is unknown but these species are likely either strongly linked or dependant on forests for their survival.

This weevil species, likely Pachyrhynchus antonkozlovi, was finally described to science in 2016.We have identified this beautiful forest weevil as being Metapocyrtus sakaii, an endemic species described in 2011.

    On the morning of our first day of biodiversity survey, we spotted a pair of unidentified stick-insects, likely belonging to the genus Orthomeria. However, to my limited knowledge, there seems to be no Orthomeria described from Mindanao so would this be a new species ? Did I miss something in this genus or do we have yet another genus of stick insect ? I hope this matter will be clarified soon as this species looks absolutely beautiful !

This stick-insect species, likely belonging to genus Orthomeria, is unidentified at this time and could be a new species.

    Outside of the insect realm, I also photographed a couple of other interesting invertebrates, including this beautiful (but troublesome as it is invasive) hammer-headed worm (Bipalium cf. nobile). The species ID remains to be confirmed but it appears to be quite common now in the area. This predatory worm has successfully adapted itself to Philippines and the evolution of its populations and the harm it can do to local wildlife is currently being monitored.

The beautiful but invasive Hammer-headed worm (Bipalium cf. nobile), photographed climbing down a tree in PICOP rainforest.

    Last, we found a number of spiders, including two relatively big huntsman spiders, both of them within 10 meters from one another in one of the wildest parts of PICOP forests. The first one, carrying an egg-sac was identified as Heteropoda boiei but the second one, displaying striking colors could be something new. As some of you know, a huntsman spider named after Rock legend David Bowie inhabits the forests of Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo and perhaps parts of the Philippines (such as Palawan?). However, to my knowledge, the David Bowie spider (Heteropoda davidbowie) hasn’t been recorded from Mindanao. To add to this matter, the individual photographed here (see below) is only superficially similar to David Bowie’s spider. The presence of distinct white dots on legs and absence of red lines on chelicerae, coupled with slightly different color, shape could mean that we are dealing with something poentially new. I can’t wait to gain more knowledge on this specimen located by my good friend Jop Gonzales who has been driving us throughout this exciting journey.

This beautiful unidentified huntsman spider (Heteropoda sp.) is in ambush position, next to an endemic forest snail species.

    However, as exciting as this small-scale biodiversity survey was, it also left me with a very bitter taste in my mouth as I witnessed the large-scale destruction of Mindanao’s primary forests. The palm oil producing companies that were operating mostly in Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo are now well established on Mindanao and operating with what seems to me as very little to no monitoring at all. Many valuable primary forest patches are being rapidly destroyed and this piece of news doesn’t seem to reach many outside of the country as we, westerners, are more focused on the fate of Sumatra and Borneo. To this day, at least 70% of Mindanao’s key biodiversity areas are not legally protected (Mallari et Al. 2016). Let’s not forget Mindanao and its amazing wildlife! I really hope that international conservation organizations will take this matter into their own hands and help Philippines protect its forests. I will do my part by performing further biodiversity assessments and helping raising awareness about the fate of the primary forests of Mindanao.

One of the few trucks we saw during our time in PICOP, carrying freshly cut trees from the protected forest area. While we were looking for wildlife, we could hear the chainsaws…

The stunning Azure-breasted pitta (Pitta steerii steerii) is a primary forest interior specialist and currently listed as Vulnerable by IUCN. With the ongoing destruction of the forests within its very limited range, this species could soon face a much higher risk of rapid extinction if no conservation action is taken.

    I would like to thank the Dizon family for supporting this biodiversity assessment, particularly Marco Dizon and Sonny Dizon without whom this survey wouldn’t have happened. I would also like to thank my great friends Ana Borja and Jop Gonzales for their help, support, friendship and presence during this field assessment. I wouldn’t do this without you ! Last, I would like to thank Felizardo Goring, our guide, for his patience, persistence and great skills ! And last but not least, my love goes to my wife who has been supporting me and my dreams for the past 10 years !

Just as we were about to leave the area on our last day, we were blessed with the unobstructed sighting of a group of Philippine trogons (Harpactes ardens ardens), one of the countries’ most amazing endemics !

Until next time (soon!)

Pierre de Chabannes
Founder, ACEE


Indonesian Hydrosaurus review

Hi everyone,

    For this new and long due article on species identification, I chose to focus on the Indonesian species from the genus Hydrosaurus, also called sailfin lizards or even dragons because of their amazing look. Following a 2020 publication describing two new species from Sulawesi, there are now five species in the genus Hydrosaurus, four of which live in Indonesia and the fifth one in Philippines.

    Two of the Indonesian species are more or less regularly found in zoos and in the trade but there are lots of challenges about their proper identification and it seems that “intergrades” (I would be tempted to just call them hybrids as the two species don’t seem to naturally be in contact at all in the wild) do occur in the trade, in fairly big numbers.

    The information I am sharing with you here comes from my own observations in Indonesia and from traded animals in Europe, USA and Asia. I have also used the latest publication on Indonesian Hydrosaurus species (dating from April 2020) and describing the two new Hydrosaurus from Sulawesi, accessible at THIS LINK. And as additional help and photo sources, I have also used an Indonesian blog that has proven to be very useful, especially for comparison of phenotypes ! This blog, called Riqnauf is accessible at THIS LINK.

    I won’t go through any detailed explanations about the morphology and behavior of Hydrosaurus lizards since the purpose of this article is to help identify the species and clarify the differences between Hydrosaurus amboinensis and Hydrosaurus weberi in particular. For more information, you can refer to the species pages on Pierre Wildlife’s website and the various resources available on google. I have seen only one of the five species of this genus in the wild, in Philippines. Here are two pictures of juveniles and females Hydrosaurus pustulatus found on Negros Island, in the Western Visayas archipelago.

    Now let’s focus on Indonesia. In order to properly identify our animals, provided they are not hybrids of course, we need to focus on four main physical characteristics : the shape of the rostrum (presence of a crest-like appendage or flat rostrum), the amount of large conical scales on neck and upper flanks (presence, absence, shape of the scale arrangements), the shape of nuchal and dorsal crests (uniform vs. interrupted) and the coloration pattern (although that can be variable, knowing that most Hydrosaurus species tend to darken with age, some males being nearly totally black).

    Let’s start with probably the most misidentified of all these species, the Ambon sailfin lizard (Hydrosaurus amboinensis). It is not only the biggest of all Hydrosaurus but the one with the brightest coloration as well. It also has the largest range of all Indonesian Hydrosaurus, occurring on Ambon and on New Guinea. True Hydrosaurus amboinensis are actually rare in captivity and very difficult to come by, yet they are actually quite simple to recognize. First, their nuchal and dorsal crest in totally uniform with no areas with smaller spines or scales or less raised spines. Second, their coloration pattern is unique, usually bright green getting yellow or even light orange on lower flanks with black spotting often merging to form a well recognizable reticulated pattern. Third, this species, even for bigger males, has no appendage at all on its rostrum and has a “flat nose”. And last, this species has no visible clumps of conical scales visible on its neck and its flanks which is the easiest and most accurate way to tell it from all the other Hydrosaurus species. Here are some photos taken from the Indonesian blog called Riqnauf, featuring some truly remarkable specimens :

And here is one of my only photos of a true Hydrosaurus amboinensis from Indonesia

    The other often misidentified species of Indonesian Hydrosaurus is the Weber’s sailfin lizard (Hydrosaurus weberi). This is, in fact, the commonest species of its genus in captivity today, at least outside Indonesia. In the wild, the species is endemic from Halmaheira and Ternate islands, in the Moluccas Archipelago. There are two major ways to tell apart Hydrosaurus amboinensis and Hydrosaurus weberi : 1/ H. weberi has a disjunct crest with the nuchal and the dorsal part being separated by a “lower” area with much smaller scales and 2/ H. weberi has a distinct row of clear conical scales on the sides of the neck then isolated conical scales forming some sort of a line on its upper flanks. Furthermore, Hydrosaurus weberi has little to no appendage on its rostrum (allowing for an easy differenciation with the two species recently described from Sulawesi) and its coloration, although variable, is usually much duller than H. amboinensis. Its head and legs are often quite dark (especially for males) and its flank color can go from yellowish to nearly grey, often with a “peppered” aspect due to the black edges of each clear flank scales. Again, here are some photos from the Riqnauf blog showcasing exceptionnal individuals belonging to this species :

Next are the two new species that are endemic from Sulawesi. Those two have been described long ago but were only recently resurrected, in a publication going back to April 2020. Both of these species are found in the trade but are globally rare in captivity, especially outside Indonesia where they are very seldom seen. Both of these species share a common trait, the presence of a well developped appendage on the snout giving them a distinct head profile and allowing for an easy differenciation between them and the two previously analysed species, namely H. weberi and H. amboinensis.

Hydrosaurus celebensis is likely the most striking of the two Sulawesi species, and also possibly the rarest under human care (although that needs to be investigated). This species usually is very dark in color (it often has completely black tail, head, breast and limbs) with a paler and “peppered” (often light yellow-white to grey-white) area on middle flanks. This species has small clumps of conical scales on upper flanks, linked to thin vertical lines of large scales going to the bottom of the flanks. These scales are clear in color but in really colorful specimens, these clumps of scales can turn light blue. Again, here are some photos from the Riqnauf blog showing stunning adults :

Hydrosaurus microlophus, from Sulawesi too is superficially similar to H. celebensis with its round appendage on the snout and its globally dark coloration although H. microlophus often has a lot less black (usually restricted to the face, limbs and end of tail) on its body. Its flanks and breast are dirty yellowish to olive with less of a peppered aspect. But the easiest identification criteria to look for is the presence of large clumps of black conical scales oriented diagonally on the upper flanks. These scales look a lot less neat than those of any of the other Hydrosaurus and their diagonal orientation and darker coloration is a good way to tell too. Let’s first see some more stunning specimens, courtesy of Riqnauf blog.

And a really beautiful and characteristic adult that I was fortunate to photograph in Batu Secret Zoo, in east Java.

And to finish this article, here is a collage found on Riqnauf blog showing you three of the four species of Hydrosaurus lizards from Indonesia side by side ! Top left : Amboinensis, Top right : celebensis, Bottom left : microlophus, Bottom right : celebensis.

Thank you to the owner of Riqnauf blog for showing us such extraordinary animals, thank you to my friends from the Hydrosaurus messenger group for the help and for taking me into this, and thank you to my wife for encouraging me to dig deeper into Identification issues !

I hope this article will help you sort out your Hydrosaurus identifications until we get to learn more with future publications ! In the meantime, take care.

Founder, Pierre Wildlife


The “cataphractus” case

Hi all !

     I thought I would talk briefly about the groundbreaking work done by Matt Shirley and his team on the Slender-snouted crocodile populations in Africa and the implications that work and the publication have on the captive populations of this species.

     Slender-snouted crocodiles (Mecistops cataphractus) are found in western and central Africa and are currently listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN on their Red List. The link to the species’ assessment page is available Here.

     Matt Shirley and his team managed to study both populations of Mecistops and ended up reviving the formerly synonymized species known as Mecistops leptorhynchus. This species was described in the early XIXth Century if I am not mistaken and the name applies to the Central African population, the one from West Africa retaining the name Mecistops cataphractus.

     In terms of conservation, this is quite big as we are already struggling to preserve what is now known as the “Mecistops cataphractus species complex”. Now that the populations are distinct species, things become even more difficult and two different conservation strategies need to be implemented to make sure both species survive in the wild. It seems logical, due to the species-complex assessment by IUCN, to say that the newly revived species is most certainly critically endangered as well.

     I have been lucky to talk to Matt Shirley about his work and about the identification of captive specimens of Mecistops species around the world. The information I am about to disclose is the result of our conversation and additional (ongoing) researches online and through my contacts network.

     First, concerning the American captive population of Mecistops, according to Matt, all specimens have been tested and happen to be pure Mecistops cataphractus (West African population). The specimens kept at Bali  Reptile Park haven’t been tested but Matt ID’d them as Mecistops cataphractus as well with very little to no doubt at all. There could be other specimens in Asian zoos but I haven’t seen them yet so they were not included in our conversation.

The Slender-snouted crocodiles (Mecistops cataphractus)
in Bali Reptile Park, in 2017.

     The European population is more interesting in terms of history and identification. According to Matt, but no genetic testing has been performed to back this claim up so far, most if not all living cataphractus from European collections look like Mecistops cataphractus, Western population again. We can only hope that the studbook keeper for this species in Europe will soon be able to conduct genetic testing to ensure that we don’t keep hybrids indeed.

     But there is one exception to this ! Rotterdam zoo used to display two very old Mecistops that were brought as a gift by superstar singer and dancer Josephine Baker in the early 1930s. Their origin is apparently unknown and both of these specimens lived to become the world’s oldest captive crocodiles ever known (they are featured in the Guiness book of records). These crocodiles were named Hakuna and Matata. One of these crocodiles looked definitely like a pure cataphractus but the other one, according to Matt and his team, really looked like Mecistops leptorhynchus. Unfortunately, no genetic testing has been performed so far to back up this information but the scientist told me that this identification is almost sure (90%). If verified, this would be the only known and verified Mecistops leptorhynchus ever kept in zoos.

Here is my best photo of what could well be the world’s only known
captive specimen of Mecistops leptorhynchus. It died of old age in 2013
at Rotterdam Zoo (Netherlands).

     Now, what we need to do, knowing that and besides genetic testing, is investigate the origins of the breeding pair from what used to be Noorderdierenpark Emmen. This pair sired what is probably the majority of known Mecistops in European zoos today. Phenotypically, they and their offsprings look like pure cataphractus but we should test them because if they have been produced in Rotterdam from what would be a hybrid pair if genetic testing confirm the leptorhynchus ID, then it would mean that the European stock would feature a majority of hybrids that would be worthless for breeding and conservation purposes. I am hoping that this matter will be investigated soon before further breeding efforts are carried in European zoos.

     Other specimens that must be investigated are the ones born at the Ferme aux Crocodiles park in Pierrelatte, France. I have been told that the park used to house three old wild-caught specimens and many babies were born there. Some of them were temporarily on display at the Aquarium Tropical in Paris, France, back in 2007. Let’s hope that the founders of this particular group all belonged to the same species !

One of the two subadult Mecistops cataphractus born at Pierrelatte’s
Ferme aux Crocodiles and displayed for a few months in Paris’ Aquarium tropical.

      To sum up, I would say that this issue with a new species being either revived by spliting or described clearly shows you why taxonomy should never be overlooked and proper identification and tracking of breeding specimens should always be a primary concern for all zoos that are serious with captive breeding for establishing insurance populations of critically endangered animal species. Any hybrids in the mix would make the efforts nearly worthless and could spell doom on wild populations if any reintroduction is to be performed.

     Let’s follow up with this Mecistops case and feel free to share any reliable information on the Facebook group of Pierre Wildlife or on any other relevant group. For those of you who are interested in getting the scientific publication for the description of this new species, you can follow THIS LINK. And if you want to find out which zoo currently keeps Mecistops in Europe, you can check out our partner Zootierliste at THIS LINK.

Thanks for your support as always !

Pierre de Chabannes
Founder, Pierre Wildlife


Rebranding and more

Hi everybody !

    First, allow me to appologize for the lack of updates but the first seven months of 2018 have been very busy for me ! Not enough hours in a day to do everything so I had to postpone updates to a later time. Now, at last, I have a bit of time although the end of August will bring even more business with work and, most importantly, my wedding !

    But let’s turn our focus to the website for a minute. As some of you might have noticed, the name Photozoo is gone and the project is now called Pierre Wildlife. All the pages that used to be available under the Photozoo name have been rebranded with new logos to fit the new description of the website. There are two reasons for this rebranding: 1, the name was too close to the Photo Ark project’s name for which I am working… it caused enough confusion to become troublesome, and 2/ I felt that Photozoo didn’t quite suit what I was really doing anymore… sure, I still take photos in zoos, but I do more and more consulting work (both for zoology, education and conservation) and am more and more involved in production, pre-production and post-production of photographic trips along with other duties included in my work for National Geographic. Furthermore, I felt that my project isn’t much a photo project… it is an education project linked to conservation. Therefore, instead of using names of activities or places that are secondary, I chose to broaden the scope and use my own name… so, I introduce you to “Pierre Wildlife” !

Despite all this work, I was able to spend some time in the field in Asia
and was lucky to spot beautiful wildlife such as this male Scarlet-rumped trogon (Harpactes duvaucelii) in Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre.

    As said earlier, all the features of Photozoo Collection and the old Photozoo photo gallery are still there and available under the URL . You will find that the zoo pages have been slightly modified (Check out the new Yangon Zoo page for example) and lots of new pages have been added in different countries such as Czech Republic, United Arab Emirates or Myanmar (the last two visited for the first time in March 2018). With the rebranding, I had to reupload all PDF files displayed in each species pages with new copyrights and brandings. The uploading is finally complete and you can check out this example with the Eyelash palm viper’s page. More than 1700 species pages are online and much more will be uploaded in the future.

One of the beautiful areas near Yangon, Myanmar, is the famous Hlawga Park.
This huge place is like a gigantic open safari where you can watch hundreds
of macaques and deers living freely in beautiful open spaces such as this
grassland leading to one of the lakes. Far away in this picture, some
hog deers (Axis porcinus) can be spotted.

    My travel schedule has also been very busy with three trips to Asia planned this year and two already done. The first trip took me to Malaysia to give presentations at the MAZPA conference about education in zoos. This was a beautifully organised event and I am really happy to see that Malayan zoos are setting to follow the path of the world’s best zoos. My gratitude goes to Dr Kevin Lazarus, director of Zoo Taiping and MAZPA, Gerard Woong, director of Malacca Butterfly and Reptile Sanctuary and Vice-president of MAZPA, Dr Gino Ooi, Director of Penang Bird Park and treasurer of MAZPA, and Junaidi Omar, head of education at Zoo Negara, for allowing me to come and giving me the opportunity to collaborate in helping Malayan zoos to grow.

    During this trip that occurred in March, I took the opportunity to visit the United Arab Emirates for two days and was very impressed by the quality of the collections of Al Bustan Zoological Centre, Arabia’s Wildlife Centre in Sharjah and the Sharjah Aquarium. Another discovery in this trip was Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. I spent nearly 8 days in this amazing country and visited zoos in Yangon, Naypyidaw and Mandalay.

Probably the biggest highlight of the trip, the beautiful and very rare
Rufous-necked hornbill (Aceros nipalensis) is found in all of
Myanmar’s biggest zoos.

    I went back to Asia in May, first with my wife for some holidays coupled with photography in different places such as Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity, to spot the critically endangered Giant ibis, then with Joel Sartore and a filming crew from CBS’s famous magazine 60 Minutes in the Philippines. The second part of this trip, with Joel, is the result of the 2 months I spent last year in Philippines scouting for the Photo Ark so I was very proud and thankful to be on board this photography trip. Despite the difficulties of navigating a country made of islands with very heavy yet fragile photographic gear, this trip was a great success and Joel Sartore managed to secure fantastic shots of most of Philippines rarest species, including the Philippine eagle and Walden’s hornbill.

Kali, the very last tamaraw alive under human care treated us with very
nice pauses for the Photo Ark ! He will now live forever with this great project
and will be the ambassador of his species in publications to come (I will keep
you posted about this later).

    That’s about it for now… more to come of course with new species pages that will be added soon and another Asian trip in November, targeting Malaysia, Singapore and Java. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Pierre Wildlife and what this project has to offer. Thank you so much for your continuous support, it is much needed and appreciated !

Yours truly,

Pierre de Chabannes
Founder, Pierre Wildlife


Pierre Wildlife’s travel schedule for 2018

Hi everybody !

     Now that 2018 is already well underway, it’s time for me to let you know more about the very intensive travel schedule that awaits me for this year (knowing that it is likely to get even busier). As most of you know, when I am off to travelling somewhere, it is more and more to work for pre-production and production of shootings for the National Geographic Photo Ark project for Joel Sartore. I do also travel exclusively for Pierre Wildlife but this has become a rarer occurrence these days, with my work schedule for National Geographic getting busier.

     Last year (and in 2016 as well), I was lucky to go twice to Asia. First, from early may to july, a very long scouting trip taking me through Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines, Java and Bali and then a lecture trip (see previous updates) at the end of the year, covering Philippines and Mainland Malaysia. Going to South East Asia is a true blessing and this year, I am very excited to say that I have already three trips organised and confirmed to South East Asia and a fourth trip on the way to approval !

Giving a talk in front of volunteers, educators and curators at
Zoo Negara Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), last november.

     This year’s first Asian trip will occur at the end of March and early April. This time, it isn’t a pure National Geographic assignment trip (although I will talk about the Photo Ark project in different places) but it has been made possible thanks to the generosity of MAZPA (The Malayan Zoo Association) and my good friends at Zoo Negara Malaysia. I am honored to be one of the keynote speakers at a MAZPA-organised event about education in zoos, called AMAZED (All MAlayan Zoo EDucators). Hats off to everybody at MAZPA for organising such an interesting event and allowing me to be part of it.
While going to Asia, I will make a one day stop in Dubai to visit some zoological collections there (on the way in and way back), hoping to see some of the Arabian Peninsula endemics ! This trip is also the occasion for me to discover a new South-east Asian country: Myanmar ! The fauna there is very rich and not always well known. There are very few information about the zoos and rescue centers in this country so visiting the main collections there (and hopefully some wildlife rehabilitation centers) is very exciting !

     Late april to early June, I am going back to South-east Asia, first with my fiancée (touring around Cambodia, Sabah, MAinland Malaysia and Singapore), then as an assistant and trip-producer for Joel Sartore for more than two weeks in the Philippines. Another Photo Ark shooting trip is already planned for Indonesia later this year. I will have more information about this soon but the species we are going to photograph there are very exciting !

The endangered and very poorly known Siau Island Tarsier (Tarsius tumpara), kept at Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta (Indonesia), will be a major target for us this summer.

     In terms of animal species, all these trips are likely to be very exciting, even concerning the places I have been to a few times like Singapore, Mainland Malaysia and Sabah. In Singapore, I am looking forward to spending time at the Wildlife Reserves and at the fabulous SEA Aquarium to see what new rarities the team working there will have found. Last time (November), I was greeted with 25 new species, knowing that I already visited three times in June and July the same year.

The rare Rhomboid wrasse (Cirrhilabrus rhomboidalis), recently described and
endemic to a small Atoll in the Marshall Islands. This was one of the new exciting
species displayed at the SEA Aquarium in November !

     Of course, I am also looking to get new shooting opportunities for species that I have on picture already but are so rare or so unique that new occasions are always important. Amongst them are the Critically Endangered Helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) kept at Penang Bird Park (Malaysia) or the Tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) on Mindoro island (Philippines).

The splendid adult female Helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) from Penang Bird Park, taken during the Photo ark shooting tour in Malaysia, back in 2016.
I am looking forward to seeing her again this year !

    Seeing and photographing wild animals is something I enjoy more and more doing despite having usually very little time and finding this hobby quite frustrating when your targets are a no-show (Bornean bristlehead, missed twice already). I am still motivated and will try my best to see and take decent photographs of as many wild animals as I can around South East Asia within my very limited timeframe. Of course, species endemic to Kinabalu Park on Borneo are still high in my list (particularly the Whitehead’s trogon) !

I never get tired of seeing wild animals, even when I have already seen them before quite well. There is a very good observation spot for Collared broadbills (Eurylaimus ochromalus) on the boardwalk of the Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Center. Being there at the right time will allow you to get very good views of a group that is far from shy !

     At last, I still hope to find a bit of time going around some European collections (I will be in west Germany for a quick 4-days zootour from 8th to 11th March) and I hope to have enough time to keep updating Pierre Wildlife’s species pages regularly. For your information, we are now standing at around 1800 animal taxa featured in the species’ pages ! More will come and, maybe someday, most of my collection will be online !

     I will keep you updated on the travel schedule and will try to post more identification articles soon ! Until next time, take care and thanks again for your support !

Yours truly,

Pierre de Chabannes
Founder, Pierre Wildlife

Let’s cross fingers for the very last tamaraw under human care, a male named Kali,
to be still alive when we come to photograph him again in May ! In the meantime, you can find Pierre Wildlife’s animal species page for the tamaraw by clicking HERE !


The mousedeer headache

Hi everybody !

     Here we are… a brand new year for Pierre Wildlife with lots of travel projects, new species sightings and much more to come ! 2018 is really going to be exciting ! But before writing about my schedule for this year (this will be in another soon-to-come update), I wanted to open the discussion about a topic that I have been trying to work on for more than 5 years. It deals with mousedeer species identification in captivity and, as the title says, it has proven to be a true headache !

   We are going to focus about the genus Tragulus because this is where all the identification trouble has occurred in recent times. What I mean by trouble is identification issues at species level (but also subspecies sometimes) because of the recent split of Tragulus javanicus, the Javan mousedeer, in two species. A few years back, all “Lesser mousedeers” from mainland Asia and greater Sundas were lumped under the name Tragulus javanicus with many subspecies known. Now, Tragulus javanicus is restricted to the island of Java where two color forms are known to occur (their taxonomic status might still be discuted at this time). The lesser mousedeers from Vietnam to Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra are now listed as Tragulus kanchil (kanchil meaning mousedeer in Malay).

     Two other mousedeer species are known to be kept in zoos. The Greater mousedeer (Tragulus napu) with two subspecies found in the main zoos of South East Asia is apparently absent from European collections. I think there are still some specimens in American zoos but this requires confirmation. Subspecies rufulus, recognized by a well distinct black mask around its snout and eyes and its orange-rufous coloration is known from Singapore Zoo and was previously kept in Zoo Melaka (Malaysia). Nominate subspecies, darker brown with very faint mask on face, is still kept in Zoo Melaka and is also known from one or two other Malayan zoos.

Tragulus napu napu from Zoo Melaka. This subspecies is darker brown.
The species itself is much larger than the lesser mousedeer and shows longer
white neck stripes and mottling on back.

The rare Tragulus napu rufulus, endemic to Pulau Tioman (Malaysia) is the same
size as nominate subspecies but has a distinct black mask around eyes and snout
and a much more orange coloration. Those characteristics are well visible here.

     The other known species of mousedeer from zoos is the endangered Balabac mousedeer (Tragulus nigricans), endemic to Philippines. In size and coloration, it looks like a very dark version of the Greater mousedeer. The species is more and more represented in Europe and is kept in big numbers in Philippine’s biggest zoo, Avilon Zoo.

With its nearly black back and flanks coloration, the Balabac mousedeer is
impossible to mistake with any other mousedeer species.

     So far, we are out of harm’s way as those taxa discussed above are relatively easy to recognize. Now comes the trouble with the Tragulus javanicus / Tragulus kanchil complex. In Europe, all Lesser mousedeers are still identified as Tragulus javanicus but, to me, most if not all Lesser mousedeers in Europe actually are Tragulus kanchil for a few different reasons. First, let’s go back to the latest importation of Lesser mousedeers to Europe, done by Mr Radoslaw Ratajszczak, at this time director of Poznan Nowe Zoo. At the time of the import, the split of Tragulus javanicus wasn’t yet accepted so these mousedeers came to Europe under the accurate identification at the time. The papers were filed under the name Tragulus javanicus so, legally, even if the taxonomy has still changed, they are known as T. javanicus.

From my latest conversation with Mr Ratajszczak (I am fortunate to count him as a friend), it appears that the mousedeers imported to Poznan were originally from Indochina (Thailand most probably). In this case, following the new classification, their scientific name is Tragulus kanchil affinis. The Poznan mousedeers have bred very well and were sent all over Europe in the last decades. It would be interesting to take a look at the mousedeer population today and see if there are any other mousedeers from different imports still alive at this time. Anyways, most of the captive stock in European zoos, if not mixed with possible other populations, should be known as Tragulus kanchil affinis.

One of Europe’s numerous Lesser mousedeers in zoos, this one taken at
Zooparc de Beauval in France.

Tragulus kanchil affinis from Vietnam, kept at Cu Chi Wildlife
rescue center, near Ho Chi Minh City.

     From a physical point of view, Tragulus kanchil and Tragulus javanicus are superficially similar but can be told apart by the darker coat of Tragulus javanicus, especially on back and neck. The top of head is nearly black as well. Tragulus javanicus also has a slightly shorter snout and different jaw size (the jaws are only visible when close examination is possible, this is unlikely in zoos). So far, I have seen true Tragulus javanicus only on Java island, in a small exhibit of the Taman Mini Indonesia Indah complex (known as TMII) near Jakarta. This exhibit is now closed and replaced by a big butterfly hall.

One of the only true Tragulus javanicus I have seen. There are more kept in other
Javan zoos and possibly in Bali zoos as well. As you can see on the picture, the
snout seems relatively short and the coat is significantly darker.

     But here is where it becomes even trickier… Some insular subspecies of Tragulus kanchil (particularly on Borneo and Sumatra) can be darker than normal (although some specimens show normal coloration). This becomes complicated especially when you know that many animals kept in Javan zoos are actually from Kalimantan (South Borneo) and Sumatra. The case arises with the Javan mousedeers displayed in Ragunan Zoo (Jakarta). These animals are relatively dark but with a different shade of coloration (and what seems to be a slightly longer snout) than the true T. javanicus shown above. I have yet to receive confirmation about this but these mousedeers might actually be Tragulus kanchil from Sumatra, in that case, they would belong to nominate subspecies Tragulus kanchil kanchil.

One of the Javan mousedeers in Ragunan Zoo. The snout doesn’t look as short as in the true T. javanicus and the coat has a completely different coloration, much closer to T. kanchil. Investigation is still going on to find out about their true ID.

     In Mainland Asian zoos, we find the same problem as in Europe because most zoos still use the old taxonomy and label their mousedeers as Tragulus javanicus. In all cases I have seen so far, these mousedeers were in fact Tragulus kanchil. In Malayan zoos, things can get more complex because there are two different subspecies in Peninsular Malaysia, fulviventer in the south and ravus in the north. Zoo Melaka keeps the southern population it seems whereas Penang Bird Park and Zoo Negara keep ravus. Zoo Taiping’s population ID is still being investigated.

Penang Bird Park (Malaysia) keeps a very nice breeding
group of Tragulus kanchil ravus.

      Most zoos in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia keep Tragulus kanchil affinis but there is another possible issue coming up here as there are two very poorly known mousedeer taxa from northern Thailand and Vietnam: Tragulus versicolor (previously treated as a subspecies of T. napu, its presence in the wild is uncomfirmed at the moment) and Tragulus williamsoni (occurring as isolated populations in northern Thailand). So far T. williamsoni is only known from the holotype. It used to be treated as a subspecies of T. kanchil but being significantly bigger than the average mousedeer from the nearby areas (it would be Tragulus kanchil affinis). Although their presence in captivity in Thailand and Vietnam is unlikely, we must not rule out this hypothesis yet as I have seen a very dodgy specimen of Tragulus kanchil in Dusit Zoo (Thailand) back in 2009. At this time, the zoo identified some of their mousedeers are being Tragulus versicolor. I don’t believe this to be accurate but this mousedeer looked bigger than T. kanchil affinis and seems to have a different breast pattern. Is it a weird T. kanchil affinis or could it be T. williamsoni, or a hybrid… or something else… I haven’t managed to solve this problem yet.

My only photo of the dodgy Tragulus from Dusit Zoo in Bangkok, taken on
January 1st 2009. I haven’t seen this specimen on my other visits to this place.

     Luckily, some zoos keep track of their importations and this can allow for clear identifications, this sometimes bringing surprises. That was the case very recently in the worldwide famous Singapore Zoological Garden. We’ve talked earlier about their nice group of Tragulus napu rufulus but the zoo also keeps some Tragulus kanchil, breeding in the Fragile Forest exhibit. I would have thought that these animals would probably belong to one of the Malaysian subspecies as a sizeable proportion of  Singapore Zoo’s Asian animals is found in this neighbooring country. After asking the curator about their origin, it turns out I was only half right… The animals are in fact from Borneo and it is very possible that these are the only representants of their subspecies outside Indonesia and Bornean Malaysia. Their unique status still remains to be investigated but, in the meantime, I am very happy to report that Singapore Zoo keeps Tragulus kanchil klossi.

One of the Bornean lesser mousedeers (Tragulus kanchil klossi) kept at
Singapore Zoo, in the Fragile Forest walk-in exhibit.

     So, as you can see, mousedeer identification in zoos can be quite tricky if the proper data about importation and origin of animals isn’t preserved. This could apply to many other cases because one never knows what could happen to a species with the new scientific discoveries made on a nearly daily basis. Keeping track of the collection and making sure no hybrids are made is, to me, an important part of a modern zoo’s mission.

     I hope you will find this article useful ! If you have any question or want to debate, the Photozoo Collection’s facebook page is there for you ! Talk to you soon with another article about my travel schedule for this year ! Some exciting things are going to happen !

Thanks again for your support !

Gratefully yours,

Pierre de Chabannes
Founder, Pierre Wildlife


To an even greater 2018 !

Hi everybody !

     First, allow me to wish you a very nice end of 2017 and all the best for the year to come… success, love, anything that will make you happy ! On my side, 2017 ended with lots of optimism and a splendid Asian trip devoted mostly to lectures in Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore.

In the campus of the Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) in Perlis state, giving a lecture about the Pierre Wildlife project and my work with National Geographic, with the partnership of Nikon Malaysia.

     During most of November, I lectured around universities and zoos in Malaysia (I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my friends who helped making this tour possible, you know who you are). I was privileged to give a talk at the Nottingham University campus of Kuala Lumpur about Education in zoos and introduced the Pierre Wildlife project to the students of UUM, amongst others. I was also lucky to be able to give talks in the two most prominent zoos in Mainland Malaysia, namely Zoo Negara and Zoo Taiping.

     Of course, while in Asia, I spent time visiting animal collections and taking pictures of species that would be new additions to Pierre Wildlife ! My biggest number of new species came from the ever amazing S.E.A. Aquarium of Singapore. In a single day of shooting, after already visiting the facility more than 5 times in two years, I was able to gather more than 20 new taxa for the project, including an amazing eagle ray species.

The spectacular Ornate eagle ray (Aetomylaeus vespertilio), probably a world’s first display at the S.E.A. Aquarium of Singapore.

    Having time off between Philippines and Mainland Malaysia, I decided to go spend 4 days in Sabah, around Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan to search for wild endemics. While the quest for Bornean bristlehead and Whitehead’s trogon has still not been a success (this is already my second attempt to see both species), I was blessed to see another prized Bornean endemic during the morning spent hiking around Mount Kinabalu Park.

This Bornean green magpie (Cissa jefferyi) was gathering nesting material near the trail and gave me stunning views. This species was my last missing taxa from the Cissa genus.

     Around Sandakan, I decided to check out the proboscis monkeys sanctuary of Labuk Bay. There, two wild colonies of monkeys have been habituated to human presence and are fed daily on platforms that are easily viewed from a sheltered area. Unfortunately, the area around the sanctuary are totally cleared and covered with plantations of palm trees for the palm oil industry.

The dominant male proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) in Labuk Bay sanctuary. He is giving a threat display to a nearby group of Crab-eating macaques.

     While in Sandakan, I decided to spend a few minutes visiting the Sandakan Crocodile Farm despite the fact that it didn’t have good reviews on social networks. Whereas the quality of exhibits is far from optimal, I was very surprised to see a number of very rare species on display such as the Strickland’s shama and the Bornean thick-spined porcupine. That shows you that even the small parks with a so-so reputation can yield interesting species… at least, for those of you who, like me, are on the hunt for new species under human care, every single little collection is worth checking out, especially in Asia !

Another spectacular rarity from Sandakan Crocodile Farm, the Sabah partridge (Arborophila graydoni) !

     More new collections, new countries and presentations are being currently scheduled for next year so stay tuned ! In the meantime, I wish you the best and thank all of you for stopping by and for your support !

Gratefully yours,

Pierre de Chabannes
Founder, Pierre Wildlife

Pierre giving a talk about the National Geographic Photo Ark at the SEAZA conference in Manila. Thanks to Alex for the picture !