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ARKive – Images of Life on Earth
Type of site
Created by Wildscreen
Alexa rankIncrease Negative.svg 46,220 (August 2016) [1]
Launched20 May 2003 (2003-05-20)
Current statusArchived

ARKive was a global initiative with the mission of "promoting the conservation of the world's threatened species, through the power of wildlife imagery", [2] [3] which it did by locating and gathering films, photographs and audio recordings of the world's species into a centralised digital archive. [2] Its priority was the completion of audio-visual profiles for the c. 17,000 species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. [2]

In biology, a species is the basic unit of classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate sexes or mating types can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction. Other ways of defining species include their karyotype, DNA sequence, morphology, behaviour or ecological niche. In addition, paleontologists use the concept of the chronospecies since fossil reproduction cannot be examined.

Digital data, in information theory and information systems, is the discrete, discontinuous representation of information or works. Numbers and letters are commonly used representations.

IUCN Red List Inventory of the global conservation status of biological species

The (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, founded in 1964, is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. It uses a set of criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species and subspecies. These criteria are relevant to all species and all regions of the world. With its strong scientific base, the IUCN Red List is recognized as the most authoritative guide to the status of biological diversity. A series of Regional Red Lists are produced by countries or organizations, which assess the risk of extinction to species within a political management unit.


The project was an initiative of Wildscreen, a UK-registered educational charity, [4] based in Bristol. [5] The technical platform was created by Hewlett-Packard, as part of the HP Labs' Digital Media Systems research programme. [6]

Wildscreen is a wildlife conservation charity based in Bristol, England.

Bristol City and county in England

Bristol is a city and county in South West England with a population of 463,400. The wider district has the 10th-largest population in England. The urban area population of 724,000 is the 8th-largest in the UK. The city borders North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, with the cities of Bath and Gloucester to the south-east and north-east, respectively. South Wales lies across the Severn estuary.

Hewlett-Packard American information technology company

The Hewlett-Packard Company or Hewlett-Packard was an American multinational information technology company headquartered in Palo Alto, California. It developed and provided a wide variety of hardware components as well as software and related services to consumers, small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and large enterprises, including customers in the government, health and education sectors. In 2015, it was split into two separate companies, HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

ARKive had the backing of leading conservation organisations, including BirdLife International, Conservation International, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the United Nations' World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), [2] as well as leading academic and research institutions, such as the Natural History Museum; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; and the Smithsonian Institution. [2] It was a member of the Institutional Council of the Encyclopedia of Life. [2]

BirdLife International is a global partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats, and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources. It is the world's largest partnership of conservation organisations, with over 120 partner organisations.

Conservation International nonprofit environmental organization

Conservation International (CI) is an American nonprofit environmental organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. Its goal is to protect nature as a source of food, fresh water, livelihoods and a stable climate.

International Union for Conservation of Nature World organisation

The International Union for Conservation of Nature is an international organization working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. It is involved in data gathering and analysis, research, field projects, advocacy, and education. IUCN's mission is to "influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable".

Two ARKive layers for Google Earth, featuring endangered species [7] and species in the Gulf of Mexico [7] were produced by Google Earth Outreach. The first of these was launched in April 2008 by Wildscreen's Patron, Sir David Attenborough. [8]

Google Earth 3D globe-based map program created by Google

Google Earth is a computer program that renders a 3D representation of Earth based primarily on satellite imagery. The program maps the Earth by superimposing satellite images, aerial photography, and GIS data onto a 3D globe, allowing users to see cities and landscapes from various angles. Users can explore the globe by entering addresses and coordinates, or by using a keyboard or mouse. The program can also be downloaded on a smartphone or tablet, using a touch screen or stylus to navigate. Users may use the program to add their own data using Keyhole Markup Language and upload them through various sources, such as forums or blogs. Google Earth is able to show various kinds of images overlaid on the surface of the earth and is also a Web Map Service client.

Gulf of Mexico An Atlantic Ocean basin extending into southern North America

The Gulf of Mexico is an ocean basin and a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, largely surrounded by the North American continent. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. The U.S. states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida border the Gulf on the north, which are often referred to as the "Third Coast", in comparison with the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

David Attenborough British broadcaster and naturalist

Sir David Frederick Attenborough is an English broadcaster and natural historian. He is best known for writing and presenting, in conjunction with the BBC Natural History Unit, the nine natural history documentary series forming the Life collection that together constitute a comprehensive survey of animal and plant life on Earth. He is a former senior manager at the BBC, having served as controller of BBC Two and director of programming for BBC Television in the 1960s and 1970s. He is the only person to have won BAFTAs for programmes in each of black and white, colour, HD, 3D and 4K. In 2018 and 2019, he received Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Narrator.

The website closed on 15 February 2019; its collection of images and videos remains securely stored for future generations.


Sir David Attenborough and the ARKive David Attenborough.jpg
Sir David Attenborough and the ARKive

The project formally was launched on 20 May 2003 [9] [10] [11] [12] by its patron, the UK-based natural history presenter, Sir David Attenborough, [13] [14] a long-standing colleague and friend of its chief instigator, the late Christopher Parsons, a former Head of the BBC Natural History Unit. Parsons never lived to see the fruition of the project, succumbing to cancer in November 2002 at the age of 70. [15]

Christopher Eugene Parsons OBE was an English wildlife film-maker and the executive producer of David Attenborough's Life on Earth, widely regarded as one of the finest and most influential of nature documentaries. As a founding member and a former Head of the BBC Natural History Unit, he worked on many of its early productions and published a history of its first 25 years in 1982. Besides television, he was also passionate about projects which helped to bring an understanding of the natural world to a wider audience, notably the Wildscreen Festival and ARKive.

The BBC Natural History Unit (NHU) is a department of the BBC which produces television, radio and online content with a natural history or wildlife theme. It is best known for its highly regarded nature documentaries, including The Blue Planet and Planet Earth, and has a long association with David Attenborough's authored documentaries, their notably called Life on Earth.

Parsons identified a need to provide a centralised safe haven for wildlife films and photographs after discovering that many such records are held in scattered, non-indexed, collections, often with little or no public access, and sometimes in conditions that could lead to loss or damage. [15] He believed the records could be a powerful force in building environmental awareness by bringing scientific names to life. He also saw their preservation as an important educational resource and conservation tool, not least because extinction rates and habitat destruction could mean that images and sounds might be the only legacy of some species’ existence.

Film preservation historic preservation of motion pictures

Film preservation, or film restoration, describes a series of ongoing efforts among film historians, archivists, museums, cinematheques, and non-profit organizations to rescue decaying film stock and preserve the images which they contain. In the widest sense, preservation nowadays assures that a movie will continue to exist in as close to its original form as possible.

Habitat destruction is the process by which a natural habitat becomes incapable of supporting its native species. In this process, the organisms that previously used the site are displaced or destroyed reducing biodiversity. Habitat destruction by human activity is mainly for the purpose of harvesting natural resources for industrial production and urbanization. Clearing habitats for agriculture is the principal cause of habitat destruction. Other important causes of habitat destruction include mining, logging, trawling, and urban sprawl. Habitat destruction is currently ranked as the primary cause of species extinction worldwide. It is a process of natural environmental change that may be caused by habitat fragmentation, geological processes, climate change or by human activities such as the introduction of invasive species, ecosystem nutrient depletion, and other human activities.

His vision of a permanent, accessible, refuge for audio-visual wildlife material won almost immediate support from many of the world's major broadcasters, including the BBC, [9] Granada, [9] international state broadcasting corporations [9] and National Geographic magazine; [9] leading film and photographic libraries, international conservation organisations and academic institutes such as Cornell University. [9]

The initial feasibility study for creating ARKive was carried out in the late 1980s by conservationist John Burton, [16] but at the time the costs of the technology needed were too far too high, [17] and so it was over a decade later, after the technology had caught up with Christopher Parson's vision (and the costs dropped), that the project was able to get off the ground.

After capital development funds of £2m were secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 1997 [18] and New Opportunities Fund in 2000, [18] work on building ARKive began as part of the UK's Millennium celebrations, using advanced computerised storage and retrieval technology devised for the project by Hewlett-Packard, [17] with an initial capacity of up to 74 terabytes of data, [17] using redundant hardware and multiple copies of media stored at multiple sites. [17] Media was digitised to the highest available quality without compression and encoded to open standards. [6]

A prototype site was online as early as April 1999. [19] There were several design iterations before the formal launch. [14] [20] [21] [22]

By the launch date, the project team had researched, catalogued, copied, described and authenticated image, sound and fact files of 1,000 animals, plants and fungi, many of them critically endangered. More multi-media profiles are added every month, starting with British flora and fauna and with species included on the Red List – that is, species that are believed to be closest to extinction, according to research by the World Conservation Union. By January 2006, the database had grown to 2,000 species, 15,000 still images and more than 50 hours of video. [23] By 2010, over 5,500 donors had contributed 70,000 film clips and photos of more than 12,000 species. [24]

In February 2019, Wildscreen announced that they "...have had to make the very hard decision to close the Arkive website on 15 February 2019", due to funding issues. [25] On that date the website was replaced with a short statement, concluding: [26]

The complete Arkive collection of over 100,000 images and videos is now being stored securely offline for future generations.


The site was Sunday Times website of the year for 2005. [23] It was a 2010 Webby Award honoree for its outstanding calibre of work, [24] in the 'Education' category, [27] and a 2010 Association of Educational Publishers 'Distinguished Achievement Award' winner, in the category for websites for 9–12-year olds. [24] [28]

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