Apr. 9, 1999 PHILADELPHIA-- The world has nearly 10,000 known species of birds. The 6,000th has just come to roost at The Academy of Natural Sciences--in the form of a photograph.
The Academy houses the world's most comprehensive collection of bird photographs in a collection called VIREO (Visual Resources for Ornithology). This outstanding collection now contains over 95,000 bird images taken by some of the best wildlife photographers in the world. The images depict every aspect of bird life, including courting, mating, migrating and tending young. The collection is a vital resource for scientists and also for commercial users.
The photograph that notched the VIREO collection up to the 6,000th mark was that of a Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler taken at Nylsvley, a nature reserve in the northern part of South Africa. Nature photographer Warwick Tarboton of South Africa lives on a farm alongside the nature reserve and he lured the bird close in his garden with suet. The bird lives in a restricted range in the semi-arid area of southern Africa.
Since it was established in 1979, VIREO has had the goal of gathering images of all the Earth's birds. That goal is now over 60% complete. The collection is used by scientists to study physical characteristics, such as feather and eye color, that are not preserved over time in the actual bird skins housed in museum specimen collections like the Academy's. Scientists also can gain valuable data from behavior caught on film.
"This is a true milestone," said VIREO Director, Doug Wechsler. "Scientists all over the world can use the VIREO collection to study a group of bird species or geographical variation with one species."
VIREO images are also available to a wide variety of commercial users around the world; thousands are purchased or licensed annually for use in lectures, publications, and electronic products. The centralized repository of images also contains the original film, which VIREO preserves in its state-of-the-art facility. More than 500 photographers have contributed to the collection including Academy ornithologists. Many photographers have gone to great lengths and risked physical dangers to capture a moment of a bird's life.
Wechsler has led or accompanied expeditions to remote and exotic locales including the Philippines, South America, Cuba and Cameroon. One of his most recent adventures was in fall 1997 to Borneo, where he was the photographer for a team of Malaysian and Indonesian researchers. At the time, vast stretches of forest were burning out of control due to a lack of rain and land clearing for huge palm plantations. "The air was full of smoke," said Wechsler. "When we reached the border, the whole town greeted us with the traditional welcoming ceremony of the indigenous people. It was a truly thrilling experience."
To acquire photographs of the remaining 3,500 species, VIREO will continue its globe trotting to some of the most remote corners of the Earth.
For information on purchasing a VIREO photograph, call Doug Wechsler at 215/299-1069. VIREO also offers group tours of its collection. For information on group tours, please call 215 299-1012.
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The mission of The Academy of Natural Sciences is to expand knowledge of nature through discovery and to inspire stewardship of the environment.
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