Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: black-legged kittiwake

Nominated by: Blue Planet Society

Why do you love it?

The black-legged kittiwake is a dainty gull with black-tipped silver wings, yellow bill and dark eyes. This pretty gull’s shrill call “kittee wa-aake” gives them their name. Colonies of black-legged kittiwakes are most commonly found on sheer cliffs in the Northern Hemisphere, it is on these perilous cliffs that they build a deep nest from seaweed, mud and grass and deposit two speckled eggs from which downy, white chicks emerge. The kittiwake preys on sandeels and shoals of other small fish and does not scavenge like other gull species.

What are the threats to the black-legged kittiwake?

Kittiwake numbers in the UK have declined by around 50% (66% in Scotland) since the mid-1980s. This decline appears to have been driven by a slump in the availability of sandeels due to climate change and overfishing. Breeding failure increases with the proportion of sandeels fished.

What are you doing to save it?

We are campaigning for more protection for seabird foraging areas, especially during the breeding season. We would like to see increased restrictions on sandeel and other forage fish fisheries. More research into plankton, climate change and their association with sandeel availability.

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Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: common cuttlefish

Nominated by: Marine Conservation Society UK

Why do you love them?

The common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) is an incredible creature that we believe deserves more love. Amongst the most intelligent invertebrates known, cuttlefish will definitely appreciate the love we give them.

Cuttlefish have incredible eyesight and an odd W-shaped eyelid that allows them to have panoramic vision. Despite their eyesight being advanced, it is thought that they are colour-blind, which is even more amazing as their skill in visual camouflage is unprecedented. Even in the dark, cuttlefish can detect textures and colour from the environment to help them camouflage. It is not truly understood how they can do this, but the cuttlefish clearly has a unique perspective and relationship with the physical world that we are yet to understand. This mysterious creature also has three hearts so clearly has the potential to return our love in a triple heartfelt way!

What are the threats to the common cuttlefish?

Cuttlefish, like other cephalopods, are extremely sensitive to environmental variability and their populations can fluctuate rapidly. In order to know how many cuttlefish we can catch, we must understand how various climate and ocean variables are changing and how cuttlefish react to those important variables. The acidity of the water is particularly important to cuttlefish as it affects the density of their cuttlebone and therefore impacts their buoyancy. If we catch too many cuttlefish any year, there may be too few adults to spawn the following years. Cuttlefish are more frequently fished for and are often caught as bycatch.

Often there is little data available about the level of cuttlefish catches per year. Having so little data is a problem as we often don’t know how many cuttlefish that we remove from our seas, making it difficult to understand how many are left to spawn in the future.

What we do to protect them?

One of our collective aims at the Marine Conservation Society is to raise awareness of important marine habitats, to create a network of marine protected areas (MPA’s) in the UK and encourage the government to legally establish and protect a network of habitats. One of our established areas lie below the white cliffs of Dover and offers an attractive habitat for the common cuttlefish. The intertidal and subtidal chalk has formed unique reefs, ledges, gullies and sand pits where young cuttlefish can thrive as they develop their amazing camouflage skills. Our campaigns also aim to highlight the importance of collecting data on commercial fishing and bycatch, which may prove valuable for the government to further protect cuttlefish and other species alike.

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Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: southern two-toed sloth

Nominated by: Pro Wildlife e.V.

Why do you love it?

Everything that the two-toed sloth does is very slow, and by slow we mean really, really slow! When you see it “moving” (if it moves while you’re looking at it) it seems like somebody has pressed the slow motion button. They can even swim in slow-mo. They are so slow that algae grow on their body, which makes the animals invisible in the canopy. It is also believed that this sloth will occasionally eat some of the algae off of its body and has the ability to absorb some of the algae’s nutrients through its skin. Even more fascinating, sloths will only leave the safety of the treetops to do their “business”, which only happens once a month.

What are the threats to the two-toed sloth?

The southern two-toed sloth is threatened by habitat loss and collection for the international pet trade.

What are you doing to save it?

There are several sloth species, some of them are endangered, some not. One of the threats to all sloth species is the international pet trade. We at Pro Wildlife work on a better national law that forbids the private keeping of sloths and other exotics. They don’t belong in households and the trade is heavily reducing their numbers in the wild.

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Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: sperm whale

Nominated by: Ocean Alliance

Why do you love it?

Sperm whales might not be as beautiful as some of their cousins, but they are enormously charismatic animals of immense power and grace, grafted into our legends and folklore through stories such as Moby Dick. When a sperm whales dives, it is descending to the deep, dark depths of our oceans: an alien world at the boundaries of human understanding. They are true Olympians of the natural world: the largest toothed predator to have ever existed on our planet, the largest brain of any animal ever and currently the loudest animal alive. We know of only one species which can dive as deep, for as long a period of time. Through their role in ocean food webs, we also know that sperm whales actually slow climate change!

What are the threats to sperm whales?

Whales in our oceans today face more threats than ever before. One of the biggest problems with studying sperm whales is that they live far out in the open ocean, far from land, and so it is almost impossible to tell exactly how their population is faring. Sperm whales face a particular risk from chemical pollution owing to the dual effects of bio-accumulation and bio-magnification. Most mammals, including humans and sperm whales, find it difficult to get rid of toxicants which enter their bodies, and over time these toxicants accumulate, a process known as bio-accumulation. Bio-magnification is a term which describes how doses of toxicants increase significantly each step up a food chain. As long-lived apex predators, sperm whales thus face a particular risk from these two processes.

As animals reliant on sound for finding food and communicating with other sperm whales, the impacts of an increasingly noisy ocean (owing to increases in human-caused sounds such as shipping, military sonar and seismic exploration) are to likely cause significant stress for sperm whales. Other threats include climate change, bycatch in fishing lines/nets and ship strikes.

What are you doing to save it?

Ocean Alliance has been working to protect whales and their ocean environment since 1971. After commercial whaling ended, our founder and president, Dr. Roger Payne, predicted that chemical pollution would replace the whalers harpoon as the greatest threat to whales. In response to this, from 2000-2005 Ocean Alliance carried out the Voyage of the Odyssey, a 5 ½ year research expedition which collected the first ever baseline data on pollution in our oceans from every major ocean basin using a single indicator species: sperm whales.

More recently, our efforts have switched to using drones to study whales. We believe that rapid recent advances in drone technology will create a new generation of powerful, cost-effective, non-invasive tools that will allow us to increase our understanding of whales, and how we might protect them, at a time when they need this desperately.

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Link to sperm whale species profile

Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: ground pangolin

Nominated by: David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Why do you love it?

Pangolins are the MOST trafficked mammals on the planet but hardly anyone knows about them. Although they look reptilian they are mammals and extraordinary ones at that. They eat mainly ants and termites which they detect by scent and can eat up to a staggering 23,000 insects a day!

They use their strong front claws to dig into nests and mounds and use their extremely long, sticky tongues (they can be as long as the pangolin itself) to get the insects. The tongue is attached way back inside the body between the pelvis and the last set of ribs. When not in use the tongue rests in a special pouch inside the pangolin’s throat. A special muscle closes their nostrils and ears to stop the insects attacking them. Stranger still, pangolins don’t have teeth but keratin spikes in their stomachs work with small stones or sand they have swallowed to grind the food up. Being such prolific eaters means that pangolins are an important form of pest control, often eating insects that negatively impact on crop production.

Covered in tough scales they look a bit like pine cones and roll into a protective ball when threatened. They can also use the erect scales on their tails to lash out at predators – they also hiss, puff and expel a foul scent to defend themselves.

They have one baby a year which is called a ‘pangopup’.

What are the threats to the ground pangolin?

Their main predators are leopards, hyenas, lions and humans. Over a million pangolins are believed to have been illegally captured and sold in the last decade alone. Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in some Asian countries; some also believe that their scales can be used to cure a range of illnesses. They are also vulnerable to loss of habitat due to an increase in agriculture. In Africa they are eaten as bushmeat0 and used for traditional African medicine.

There is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest that pangolin scales (made of keratin) have any medicinal benefit. Due to declining numbers in Asia, where they have suffered a 90% decrease over the last 20 years, attention has now turned to African pangolins to supply illegal markets putting our ground pangolin in grave danger.

What are you doing to save it? In 2016 the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) established a new pangolin protection programme in Zambia where there has been a dramatic increase in the number of pangolins confiscated from illegal traders.

The programme supports local awareness campaigns and funds wildlife crime prevention as well as supporting a specialist rehabilitation unit to help return seized animals back to the wild.

Find out more about DSWF’s pangolin programme.

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