New Book Finds Massive Animal Congregations are a Feast for the Eyes but a Risk for Survival


"Wildlife Spectacles" a collaboration between CI, Agrupaci�n Sierra Madre and CEMEX

Washington, DC - Every summer, virtually the world's entire population of Heermann's gulls (Larus heermanni) and 90 percent of the globe's elegant terns (Sterna elegans) descend on a single, small volcanic island in Mexico's Gulf of California. The sight of some 500,000 seabirds congregating to mate is a dramatic spectacle that is a major tourist draw, but the gathering also makes these species uniquely vulnerable.

Like the seabirds, thousands of animal species gather every year to breed, feed or flee the elements. While these massive congregations and migrations have fired mankind's imagination for hundreds of years, they have never been fully grasped as a conservation opportunity.

That's why Conservation International, a leading Mexican environmental organization called Agrupaci�n Sierra Madre and the global cement company CEMEX have launched a new book called "Wildlife Spectacles." Drawing on the research of more than 20 environmental organizations and some of the world's top photographers, the book documents mass congregations of animal species around the globe.

"Some of our most vivid and enduring images of the natural world are of large and spectacular groupings of animals, like vast flocks of migratory birds so enormous that they block out the sun, or huge schools of fish that move in union as if they were a single organism," said CI President Russell Mittermeier, one of the book's authors. "But many congregatory species - even common species that are not considered threatened - face significant risk of extinction when a large proportion of their population gathers. While this book is by no means comprehensive, we hope it begins the process of documenting and safeguarding these congregations and the sites where they occur."

Spanning the globe, the book captures some of nature's most renowned displays - from the tens of thousands of male emperor penguins that huddle on the polar icecaps every year to guard their eggs, to the desert locust swarms of northern Africa, where clouds of up to 10 billion grasshoppers can darken the skies.

Just 120 km west of one of the world's largest cities, Mexico City, is the Cerro Pelon mountain. Every winter an estimated 2 billion monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are drawn by the mild climate from their northern breeding grounds in Canada and the U.S. Reaching densities of more than 25 million butterflies per acre, their sheer weight can sometimes bend trees.

"There is something very special about witnessing thousands or millions of animals gathered in one spot," said Agrupaci�n Sierra Madre President Patricio Robles Gil, one of the authors and lead photographers of Wildlife Spectacles, and the editor of CEMEX's environmental book series. "It's something that everyone can connect with and I hope that by documenting this phenomenon we can encourage people to protect these areas where it occurs."

In Africa, the book follows the 800-kilometer migration of 1.3 million blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), 200,000 plains zebra (Equus burchellii) and 300,000 Thomson's gazelle (Gazella thomsonii). Seeking new grazing lands, the herds walk from Tanzania to Kenya along a route as predictable as the seasonal change itself. But habitat constraints and hunting have forced many wildlife herds into unprotected areas, making them exceedingly vulnerable.

On Christmas Island, a volcanic island in the Indian Ocean about 360 kilometers southwest of Java, lives virtually the world's entire population of terrestrial red crab (Gecarcoidea natalis). With the exception of a small, recently introduced population on the nearby Cocos Islands, red crabs occur nowhere else on Earth. Weighing up to 500 grams, or 1 pound, there between 100-120 million crabs on the island and they reach densities of about 2.5 crabs per square meter.

Over the last decade, CEMEX has published 11 books that outline new approaches to biodiversity conservation. Each illustrates scientific findings, with outstanding images by the world's best photographers.

"By educating readers about the delicate nature of our world's biodiversity and letting them know how they can contribute to its protection, we are helping conserve the Earth's natural heritage, " said CEMEX Executive Vice President of Development Armando J. Garcia. "To date, we've donated thousands of copies of books to multiple conservation organizations worldwide, which use the proceeds to fund their conservation projects. Together, we've helped to create a growing worldwide culture of environmental awareness."

This is the fourth book that CEMEX has produced in association with CI and Agrupaci�n Sierra Madre. The previous titles are: Megadiversity, Hotspots and Wilderness Areas.


Photographs and interviews available upon request.

Wildlife Spectacles will be available for purchase in December, 2003. From December on, orders may be placed by downloading the form on the Wildlife Spectacles book page.

Conservation International (CI) was founded in 1987 to conserve Earth's living natural heritage, our global biodiversity, and to demonstrate that human societies are able to live harmoniously with nature. CI, a field-based organization headquartered in Washington, DC works in almost 40 countries on four continents, drawing upon a unique array of scientific, economic, awareness building and policy tools to help people find economic alternatives without harming their natural environments. CI employs more than 800 employees worldwide, most of whom are residents of the countries in which they work.

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