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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Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: common clubtail

Nominated by: British Dragonfly Society

Why do you love it?

The common clubtail has a misleading name, it is not common at all in the UK! This is a very unique species, with its bulbous eyes set apart from each other, its bright golden and black colouring and the clubbed tip of the body. While they are developing, which takes three to five years, common clubtails live as larvae underwater in rivers, burying themselves in the sediment but leaving their back ends sticking out to breath and their eyes poking out to watch for prey. This dragonfly is harder to see than most because of its habit of leaving the river and living in the tops of nearby trees as an adult.

What are the threats to the common clubtail?

This beautiful but elusive dragonfly is threatened by major works carried out on rivers, which destroys the plants they need to emerge into adults. Scouring of the river bed also removes the silt they need to bury in. Excessive silt build up is likewise a problem, suffocating the larvae, as is poor water quality. Fast moving boats on rivers are dangerous for this insect, with the wash created disturbing them during emergence. The removal of woodland near to rivers limits the amount of suitable habitat for this species, and finally, our changing climate is a potentially serious threat, with bad weather during emergence reducing their numbers and hot weather also killing the larvae.

What are you doing to save it?

Records of the common clubtail in the UK are mostly old and very patchy. The British Dragonfly Society desperately needs to understand the population sizes and distribution of this dragonfly to conserve it. This is why the society is running Clubtail Count 2017, calling on all nature lovers to join in the search for this beautiful insect. No previous experience of dragonfly identification is needed, you will be taught all you need to know to find this local specialist.

Visit the British Dragonfly Society website to find out more.

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Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: horrid ground-weaver

Nominated by: BugLife

Horrid ground-weaver spider

Why do you love it?

The horrid ground-weaver (Nothophantes horridus) is an extremely rare endemic money spider so called because of a corruption of its Latin name horridus which means hairy. A look at the spider under magnification indeed shows that it has a series of hairs or bristles sticking out from all its legs. It is just 2.5mm across, hence the need to observe under magnification. Until last year the only images available of this enigmatic little spider were a line drawing and a photo of a specimen in formaldehyde.

The spider lives in limestone cracks and crevices and is a nocturnal hunter across scree slopes most likely feasting on springtails and other small invertebrates. The IUCN added the Horrid ground-weaver to its list of endangered species in 2016 and it is probably the UK’s most rare spiders listed under Section 41 of the 2006 Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act.

What are the threats to the horrid ground-weaver?

The spider only lives on three recorded sites in Plymouth one of which has been developed into an industrial estate and another of which in 2015 was subject to a planning appeal for development. Buglife mounted a campaign to save the site, Radford Quarry, and were delighted when the planning inspector agreed to prevent development.

Many people who supported the campaign to save the Horrid ground-weaver were not spider fans indeed some were arachnophobes but they saw the importance of saving it – one supporter Helen stated on the petition “Not a panda, but just as important.”

What are you doing to save it?

After saving the site Buglife raised funds to study the spider which has now been found on a further site and we have also managed to obtain the fist ever photos and video of the Horrid ground-weaver in situ. All this was possible because over 10,000 individuals signed the petition and donated by a crowd funder. 2017 sees another obscure endemic under threat Fonseca’s seed-fly found on the north east dune scape of Scotland its habitat threatened by a golf course. Currently the only specimens of Fonseca’s seed-fly are in formaldehyde there are no photos.

Check out the Buglife website to see how you can help.

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