Nov 23

Today’s guest blog has been provided by ONCA, a UK-based charity which aims to cultivate environmental and social wellbeing through the arts. All their activities seek to inspire creativity and positive action in the face of environmental change, and to help galvanise the creation of a critical mass of work responding to and exploring these changes.

One of ONCA’s projects is the Remembrance Day for Lost Species which is held annually on 30 November and aims to raise awareness of the current biodiversity crisis, the Sixth Mass Extinction. Matt Stanfield from ONCA explains…

Lost Species Day logo designed by Julia Peddie

Extinction in and of itself is a normal part of life on Earth. What is absolutely not normal is the current rate at which species are going extinct. So serious has this problem become that many scientists now believe that we are living through the Sixth Mass Extinction, the worst period of global species loss since the end of the Dinosaur Age. Shockingly, there are only half as many individual wild animals alive today as there were forty years ago!

bombus franklini by Eti Meacock _photo by Abi Horn

Bombus franklini by Eti Meacock © Abi Horn

Unlike previous mass extinctions, the Sixth Mass Extinction is not due to some meteorite or volcano. It is being caused entirely by humans, and only human action has the power to stop it.

Remembrance Day for Lost Species (also known as Lost Species Day) began in 2010. An international grouping of artists and scientists felt that the Sixth Mass Extinction needed to be marked, as other tragedies are, with a day of remembrance.

martha procession_photo by robin taylor

Lost Species Day procession © Robin Taylor

One question which I am often asked in connection with Lost Species Day is “Why remember lost species?” My answer is that there are three main reasons to do so.

Firstly, I believe that in order to protect and restore the world’s ecosystem, it is vital to understand what is happening to it. Today’s children live in a severely depleted world but are mostly unaware of this, having never known anything else.

Second, many of the stories of species lost to human activity contain lessons to be learned. The stories of recent extinctions have recurring themes, especially those of overhunting and habitat loss, which between them remain by far the biggest threats to wildlife in today’s world.

Last but not least, Remembrance Day for Lost Species places a great emphasis on storytelling as a means of remembering extinct species. Extinction stories are often memorable, with exotic settings, colourful characters and creatures which it is hard to believe ever existed. Animals such as Steller’s sea cow, the upland moa and the Tasmanian tiger may sound fantastical but you wouldn’t even have to go back as far as the Middle Ages to have seen them all.

Thylacine marionette by Ben Macfadyen © Warren Draper

Thylacine marionette by Ben Macfadyen © Warren Draper

In telling the tales of vanished species, thoughts often turn to those species which still cling on. In the future, will Remembrance Day for Lost Species honour the memory of the Sumatran rhino, the Cuban crocodile or the blue whale? Their tales are not yet finished, a chance remains to change their narrative and it is a chance which we have the power to take.

                                                    Thylacine cabaret © Mari Opmeer

The hope of Lost Species Day is that, besides providing an opportunity to remember extinct organisms, it will inspire fresh commitments to the protection and restoration of the natural world.

The intention of Lost Species Day has always been for the event to be inclusive, diverse and global in scope. Anyone, anywhere, can commemorate species lost to human activity and commit anew to protecting the planet’s biodiversity as they see fit. This could involve anything from lighting a candle to holding a procession, and much more besides. The fundamental objective is to help people develop an emotional connection to the issue of species loss.

Artistic projects have played a big role in Remembrance Day for Lost Species so far, since the arts are an effective means of getting across the message behind the initiative in a way that truly resonates with people at a deep level.

                                              Wales beach passenger pigeons © Keely Clarke

If this piece has inspired you to participate in this year’s Remembrance Day for Lost Species on 30 November, find an event near you or to let ONCA know about something which you are planning for this year’s Lost Species Day.

Aug 8

August 8th is International Cat Day, but before you open up the catnip for your domestic moggy why not take a look at their wild relatives? There are 41 cat species in the Felidae family and while the more famous members steal most of the limelight, there are probably quite a few species that you haven’t even heard of who are equally astounding. Here’s 10 that we thought deserved a bit of recognition this International Cat Day…

1) Rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus)

The rusty-spotted cat is the world’s smallest cat, with the some adults weighing just 0.8kg. This nocturnal hunter is found across India as well as Sri Lanka and Nepal, where it lives in dry deciduous forest, scrub and grassland and feeds on some of the classic cat favourites: rodents, birds and domestic poultry.

2) Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus)

The Iberian lynx is the world’s rarest cat; only 400 individuals remain and until recently there were only two known strongholds for this species. This cat is threatened by a dwindling food supply; their diet largely consists of rabbits which have declined due to epidemic outbreaks of myxamatosis. However may not be lost, as individuals have been translocated and reintroduced into three conservation areas across Spain and Portugal, which has led to a subsequent increase in the population.

3) Pallas’s cat (Otocolobus manul)

Pallas’s cat is an elusive and solitary cat whose range stretches across Central Asia. Far from the top of the food chain, Pallas’s cat is often predated by raptors, wolves, red foxes and, more recently, domestic and feral dogs.

4) Wildcat (Felis silvestris)

The wildcat is of huge importance to the human population, as without this species there would be no domestic cats. We’ve fed, groomed and generally been ruled by our cats for 9,500 years and it’s thought that wildcats were originally lured towards human settlements due to rodents that lived in their grain stores. The friendliest individuals domesticated themselves by taking advantage of human protection and leftovers, and this affinity with humans due to easy access to food is something has never shown any signs of stopping!

5) Flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps)

It’s commonly thought that cats hate water, but this is a misconception. It certainly isn’t the case for this brave felid, which lives a semi-aquatic life due to its love for feeding on fish, frogs and crustaceans. It has specialised adaptations for aquatic hunting, including webbed feet and backward pointing teeth. The flat-headed cat is not the only cat species that is regularly seen in water – check out this video of a tiger swimming across a river.

6) Caracal (Caracal caracal)

Arguably the most striking of all of the cat species, the caracal (or rooikat) is a fierce predator. Hunting in tropical savannas across Africa and Asia, the caracal can take prey items up to three times its size, including small antelope.

7) Borneo bay cat (Pardofelis badia)

The Borneo bay cat, endemic to the island of Borneo, is the most under-studied cat in the world, and only 25 individuals have ever been recorded. The first bay cat was collected by the famous biologist Alfred Russell Wallace in 1855, although this individual was dead and it wasn’t until 1992 that a live bay cat was caught and recorded. The Asiatic golden cat is a close relative of this species, although the population of their common ancestor is thought to have been split in two around 4.9 to 5.3 million years ago, triggering the evolution of these separate but genetically similar species.

8) Jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi)

Found in the New World, the jaguarundi is an unusual looking cat. Its slender build and small head gives it a weasel-like appearance. It also differs from other New World cats in its behaviour, as it is active in the day, has a large home range and is spends much more time on the forest floor than in the trees. Amazingly, individuals of this species have been seen jumping up to two metres off the ground when attempting to catch birds.

9) Guigna (Leopardus guigna)

Due to of its secretive nature and tiny size, very few people have seen a guigna and it is definitely not a cat that many people have heard of…until now! This arboreal species is found in Chile and Argentina, where it is known as the ‘kodkod’. The guigna is one of the smallest cat species in the Southern Hemisphere and I think we can probably all agree that it is extremely cute.

10) Lion (Panthera leo)

We imagine you’ve heard of this one, but did you know that lions were once common in Greece? There was once a European lion (Panthera leo europaea), which is often featured in Ancient Greek mythology, writings and pottery. Due to their geographical proximity these lions were captured and used in Roman arenas where they fought the ‘bestiarii’ (men who fought animals). In one festival in 240 AD, 70 Lions were slaughtered for entertainment. This was a main factor for extinction for both the Barbary lion and the European lion.

 

Want to find out more about wild cat conservation? Check out these amazing conservation organisations…

IUCN Cat Specialist Group
Felidae Conservation Fund
Wildlife Conservation Society – Big Cats
International Society for Endangered Cats Canada
Panthera

Ted Savile, Arkive Guest Blogger

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