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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 May, 2003, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
All aboard the digital Ark
by James Bregman
BBC News Online

African elephant
The African elephant is an endangered species
A website designed to provide an electronic safe haven for endangered animals and plants went online on Tuesday.

ARKive is a "virtual conservation effort", aiming to preserve photos, videos and audio clips of thousands of creatures, ensuring that available material is gathered and secured for future generations.

This is a well-funded venture, and none of the 4m budget has gone to waste. The resulting website is a truly impressive resource.

The species are organised into two main categories - UK-dwellers and creatures from the rest of the world. They are then divided into further subsections where you can browse types of mammal, bird, plant and even fungi.

Click on, say, the Australian Central Rock Rat, and you will find a detailed description of the animal's habitat, behaviour and eating habits, along with photographs and a video.

Biography references are provided on each page, and these function as links to even more detailed information for those who need it.

Cheetah family
The cheetah is featured on the site
ARKive also has room for the presumed-extinct; you will find vital statistics and flickering film of the Tasmanian tiger and golden toad.

It is pleasing that what is at heart a major scientific exercise has been presented in such a user-friendly format, which the layperson will have no trouble exploring or understanding.

Care has been paid to presentation as well as content, and navigating the various critter categories is a simple and uncluttered experience.

Along with an annoying search engine that only returns Latin names, a minor disappointment is the inconsistency where video clips are concerned - for example, the Californian Condor page has no moving pictures, while the Mauritius Kestrel gets five.

But this sort of favouritism, which is surely down to rights and availability issues, can be overlooked when there are plentiful stills on every profile.

Besides, ARKive is not complete yet. When finished, it aims to feature 11,000 animals and plants, and, no doubt, more moving images.

As a bonus, a spin-off site called Planet ARKive provides an interface for kids to access a selection of the information. Again, it looks lavish, but more importantly is excellently designed.

Digital Noah's Ark launched
20 May 03  |  Bristol/Somerset

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