May 23

The Whitley Fund for Nature holds an annual ceremony where pioneering conservationists around the world are honoured with an award recognising their achievement and given £35,000 (US$50,350) to continue their projects. We were lucky enough to be invited along to the ceremony to meet the finalists and find out more about their work. Each day this week we will release an interview from each of the winners on the Arkive blog and our Youtube channel. ENJOY!

Alexander Rukhaia – Magnificent migrants: safeguarding birds-of-prey in the Batumi Flyway

Alexander founded SABUKO, an NGO in Georgia which protects migrating birds of prey in the Batumi Flyway. Traditionally, individuals migrating over this passage would be at risk of being hunted, but Alexander and his organisation have worked with local people to stop this from happening and, as a result, turning the area into a thriving birdwatching destination.

To find out more about Alexander’s work, visit the Whitley Awards website

Discover more about SABUKO

May 20

It’s our 13th birthday! People who are superstitious will mostly say that 13 is an unlucky number, although others believe 13 to be lucky. We don’t know what to believe but we thought we would celebrate our birthday by looking at 12 (rather than 13, just in case) strange superstitions that include members of the animal and plant kingdom!

Magpies

Certain quantities of magpies mean different things to a superstitious person, and there is even a rhyme to remind them of the fate they may face: one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a story never to be told.

If a superstitious person sees a solo magpie, there are many ways they can overcome the sorrow they may face, some salute the bird, some flap their arms like wings and make a ‘caw’ sound, and others say, “Good morning Mr Magpie. How is your lady wife today?” The reason for this superstition is due to magpies mating for life; therefore a single individual may have lost its mate, or could just be collecting nesting material or food for their nestlings. We thought we should include a picture of two magpies to spread joy and good fortune on our birthday!

Bats

Bats are believed to be harbingers of death and misfortune in many cultures, although in China and Poland they are thought to be a sign of a happy and long life. There are many ancient myths which say different things about bats, including them being trapped souls or witches in disguise. Some people believe that bats drink human blood, but cases of this are extremely rare. Hematophagous (blood-eating) bats, such as the common vampire bat, usually feed on cattle or horses.

Aye-aye

Although it is in fact a Lemur species on Arkive, the strange-looking aye-aye was initially identified as a rodent. Some local Malagasy people believe that if an aye-aye points its middle finger at you, then you will die, and this species is regularly persecuted due to this superstition. The function of the enlarged middle finger of this primate is actually to tap on trees to find hollow areas where insects may be, and to extract any prey items that it finds inside.

Mistletoe

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which is shrouded by myth and legend. This plant is a commonly seen decoration at Christmas time, and if a person passes underneath a hung piece of mistletoe, they must kiss the person on the other side or they will remain single for another year. Ancient superstitions state that mistletoe can cure any disease and it was considered sacred and magical. Once mistletoe touches the ground, however, ancient cultures believed it to be bad luck rather than good.

Elder

The elder is the focus of a rich wealth of folklore, and has many magical associations. The name ‘elder’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘aeld’, meaning fire. This may have arisen from the practice of using the hollow stems of the elder as bellows to encourage fires. It was, however, extremely bad luck to burn elder wood; if this happened the Devil was said to appear, explaining another local name ‘Devil’s wood’. Conversely it was said to keep the Devil away if planted close to a house. Some of these old superstitions linger today; many modern hedge-cutters refuse to attack an elder for fear of bad luck.

African golden cat

Both wild and domestic cats are the subject of much superstition in many areas of the world, and the African golden cat is no exception. Pygmy tribes in Cameroon carry the tail of the African golden cat when hunting elephants to ensure good fortune, and the skin is used in some areas during circumcision rituals.

Black cats

We bet that these black cats (black leopard morphs) don’t cross people’s paths very much, but domestic black cats certainly do, and this is considered to be very unlucky by some people. Black cats have as much to do with good as they do with bad luck to superstitious people and it is said that if a couple see a black cat on their wedding day then they will definitely have a happy marriage.

Strangely, many years ago, sailors would keep black cats on their ship as a good luck charm, although they would never say the word ‘cat’ as this was considered to be bad luck.

Forest owlet

The forest owlet faces a serious threat as a result of local superstitions. Its eggs are collected by tribes to bring luck in gambling and the animal itself is killed since owls are locally renowned to feed on human souls. Additionally, killing a young forest owlet is widely considered to boost fertility.

Rabbit

In old English folklore, if “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” is the first thing you say on the first day of the month, you will have good luck for the rest of the month, and carrying a rabbit’s foot is also considered to be a good luck charm. They are also considered to be bad luck; however, and in ancient times, people would spit over their left shoulder if they came across a wild rabbit. Rabbits are another animal which are believed to be witches in disguise – those must be some very cute witches!

Striped hyaena

One of the greatest threats to the Near Threatened striped hyaena is the misconceptions and superstitions of humans. Believed to be responsible for killing livestock, robbing graves and the disappearance of small children, the striped hyaena is severely persecuted through baiting, tracking and trapping. In the past, some governments have paid bounties for every hyaena killed, and certain governments still organise killings of wolves and striped hyaenas in places where carnivores are thought to be responsible for child disappearances.

Frogs and toads

Frogs and toads have many superstitions that surround them, such as that touching the bumpy skin of a toad can give you warts, and touching a frog can make you infertile, but these are not true. Warts are caused by a virus that is only transferred by skin on skin contact between humans and touching a frog is not known to affect your fertility. Despite these amphibians being seen as bad luck in these respects, some people actually see them as good luck and consider a frog coming into your house as being lucky. The poor Titicaca water frog is Critically Endangered due to overcollection, as people blend individuals to make a juice that can supposedly cure any ailment. We might stick to OJ!

Black beetles

Black beetles such as the super-rare ground beetle were once referred to as ‘deathwatch beetles’, and if one were to crawl across your shoe or be found within a wall, it was considered to be a sign of impending death. The good news is that you could prevent this from happening by moving the beetle safely outside. Seems like a no-brainer to us!

Are there any superstitions that we have missed from your area of the world? Please share them with us!

Apr 25

Well done to everyone who took part in our #GuessThePenguin quiz for World Penguin Day. You all have great identification skills when it comes to these very handsome creatures!

We can now reveal the answers to the mystery penguins we posted on social media, but we didn’t want to ruin it for those who didn’t see it and still wanted to play the quiz, so we’ve revealed the answers at the bottom of this blog. Can you guess the penguin species just from looking at a photo?

1) CLUE: I live in a very surprising place where you may not know that penguins exist

2) CLUE: this penguin is named after the wife of the explorer who discovered it

3) CLUE: this penguin is named after a distinctive characteristic below its bill

4) CLUE: this is the largest penguin species in the world, reaching heights of over 1m and weighing up to 40kgs

5) CLUE: this amazing penguin can dive to depths of over 170 metres and is the fastest known diving bird, reaching speeds of up to 36 kilometers an hour in the water

6) CLUE: this is the smallest penguin in the world, weighing a maximum of 1kg and only growing up to 40cm tall

7) CLUE: this penguin was discovered during an expedition that took place in 1519

8) CLUE: this penguin is not named after a type of pasta, although it is commonly mistaken for the penguin that sounds like it is!

9) CLUE: look into the eyes of this penguin and you might just guess its name!

…and the answers are:

1) African

2) Adelie

3) Chinstrap

4) Emperor

5) Gentoo

6) Little

7) Magellanic

8) Royal

9) Yellow-eyed

How many did you guess correctly?

Discover more penguin species on Arkive

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Feb 1

We’ve asked conservation organisations around the world to nominate a species that they believe to be overlooked, underappreciated and unloved, and tell us why they think that they deserve a fair share of the limelight, this Valentine’s Day.

Each nominee’s story is featured on the Arkive blog with information on the species, what makes them so special, the conservation organisation that nominated them and how they are working to save them from extinction.

Click the ‘unloved species’ tag above to see all of the nominations and their blogs.

Once you have perused the blogs you can vote for your favourite to help get them into the top ten unloved species and get them the recognition that they truly deserve! Share your favourite with others using the #LoveSpecies hashtag on Twitter and Facebook and tell them why they should vote for them too. Voting closes on February 14th at 23:59 PST (07:59 GMT).

Join us and our conservation partners in celebrating and raising awareness for some of the world’s most unloved species this Valentine’s Day!

Species: Baer’s poachard

Nominated by: Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT)

Conservation status: Critically Endangered

Why do you love it? WWT loves the Baer’s Pochard because it is a very understated and poorly-known diving duck that is in urgent need of help. Sporting a plumage of mostly shades of brown, it has declined massively within its East Asian range over the past 20 years or so and there is likely to be fewer than 500 birds remaining. It might also be the canary in the coalmine for other East Asian ducks – most of these remain relatively numerous but a lack of good counting schemes means it is hard to know whether they are declining or not. More love for Baer’s Pochard also means more love for the many other migratory ducks that share its flyway.

What are the threats to Baer’s pochard? The major threat is likely to be the extensive loss of its wetland habitat in both breeding and wintering areas, but particularly parts of the breeding range in northeast China. This region has seen a huge loss of wetland habitat in recent decades, primarily for rice production. Many of the few remaining wintering sites are also under threat, particularly from the development of housing and industry, as well as recreation. In addition, there are significant levels of waterbird hunting and egg harvesting ongoing in much of its range, and whilst we do not yet know the true scale of this it is likely that intense effort at particular wetlands that still support the species could have a significant impact on the remnant population that is now concentrated at a small number of suitable sites.

What are you doing to save it? WWT has led the process to develop an action plan for the species under the auspices of the East Asian – Australasian Flyway Partnership and is now overseeing its implementation through the EAAFP Baer’s Pochard Task Force, though this is only just getting started and there is much to do. We need to identify all the sites that still support Baer’s Pochard and ensure they are properly protected and managed.

Surveys have been undertaken in parts of its range, and this winter key sites in Myanmar will be surveyed in the near future. The most significant gap in our knowledge is about where they are breeding – the latest counts have located about three times as many birds in winter as compared to the breeding season. We also urgently need to know more about the impact of hunting and egg harvesting and ensure any ongoing activity is halted.

Find out more about WWT’s conservation work

Discover the top 50 bird species on Arkive

 

VOTE NOW!

Feb 1

We’ve asked conservation organisations around the world to nominate a species that they believe to be overlooked, underappreciated and unloved, and tell us why they think that they deserve a fair share of the limelight, this Valentine’s Day.

Each nominee’s story is featured on the Arkive blog with information on the species, what makes them so special, the conservation organisation that nominated them and how they are working to save them from extinction.

Click the ‘unloved species’ tag above to see all of the nominations and their blogs.

Once you have perused the blogs you can vote for your favourite to help get them into the top ten unloved species and get them the recognition that they truly deserve! Share your favourite with others using the #LoveSpecies hashtag on Twitter and Facebook and tell them why they should vote for them too. Voting closes on February 14th at 23:59 PST (07:59 GMT).

Join us and our conservation partners in celebrating and raising awareness for some of the world’s most unloved species this Valentine’s Day!

Species: White-backed vulture

Nominated by: Colchester Zoo – Action for the Wild

Conservation status: Critically Endangered

Why do you love it? Vultures are so important to our ecosystem as they represent natures ‘dustman’, removing carcases that may spread disease to humans and other wildlife. They are not just scavengers, they are actually relatively successful hunters. Seeing them fly together circling in the skies is a breath taking sight as they fly with grace with such a large wing span. Overall they are very smart birds with great individual characters, we need vultures!

What are the threats to the white-backed vulture? The most threatened group of birds in the world, there has been a massive population decline in recent years especially in West Africa. Threats to the species consist of poisoning and hunting, along with habitat loss which results in lack of food availability.

What are you doing to save it? Colchester Zoo supports a number of vulture conservation projects through their charity Action for the Wild these include Gyps Vulture Restoration Project and VulPro. One of Colchester Zoo’s keepers has been out to Africa and volunteered at VulPro and went on to help at the Vulture Conservation Project Seminar, you can find out more about the projects and keeper, Kat’s, experience on our website.

Find out more about Colchester Zoo’s Action for Wildlife project

Discover more hawk, eagle, kite and harrier species on Arkive

 

VOTE NOW!

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