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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 May, 2003, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Digital Noah's Ark launched
Zanzibar Red Colobus: Image Richard Edwards
The site features the world's rarest and most endangered species
A huge website designed to provide an electronic safe haven for endangered animals and plants goes online on Tuesday.

ARKive is described as a 21st Century "Noah's Ark" which will house information about species in danger of extinction.

Anyone wanting to research the natural world will have free access to audio and video "portraits" of endangered animals.

Highlights of the 4m resource include the only surviving film of the extinct Tasmanian tiger and the last known shots of the golden toad, believed to be extinct.

ARKive is split into two sections: a UK chapter celebrating Britain's natural heritage and a section for globally endangered species.

Rare corals

Currently there are about 600 digital portraits on the UK section - from brown hares boxing and a dormouse giving birth, to a journey around the rare corals of the British coast.

Compiling the global chapter is a huge undertaking - 6,000 animals and 33,000 plants are listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union.

At the moment, ARKive consists of about 500 audio and video records of species which are most representative of those in most danger.

Tree sparrow: Image Mike Wilkes/naturepl.com
ARKive says all endangered species have a place on the site
While many of the images are of exotic-sounding animals and plants, the creators of ARKive stress that all wildlife has a place on the site.

"There's never been a danger of ARKive becoming a beauty competition, with entry restricted to images of pin-up species," said ARKive's media production manager, Richard Edwards.

"Yes, it's easier to find stills and footage of lions, tigers, dolphins, sharks and so on.

"But there are academics and amateurs throughout the world who are just as passionate about the weird, wonderful, plants and animals to which they dedicate hours of study."

Broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough said: "The human population of the world is becoming increasingly cut off from the natural world.

"Unless people understand in the future and care for and know about the natural world, that degradation will go on.

Helped develop

"So this is an archive which I see as a crucial element in the conservation of nature in the years to come."

The resource, which has been partly funded by a lottery grant, is aimed at everyone from scientists to schoolchildren.

Young people can visit Planet ARKive, a section dedicated to education and learning for students aged seven to 11, which children from three Bristol schools helped develop.

ARKive was first envisioned by Christopher Parsons, the former head of the BBC's Natural History Unit, more than 20 years ago.

The launch of the site will be combined with a memorial service honouring Mr Parsons who died in November 2002.

Sir David Attenborough
"The vital statistics of animals that are on the verge of extinction will be preserved forever"

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