Feb 13

In the concluding part of our West End to Wildlife blog series, we catch up with The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables star Ramin Karimloo, and globe-trotting thespian, singer and composer Verity Quade.

Ramin Karimloo

Aside from man, Ramin’s chosen species has the greatest natural distribution of any terrestrial mammal in the western hemisphere: the puma. This species, also known as the cougar, mountain lion or panther, has Ramin fascinated, “They’re so beautiful and graceful, yet powerful, fearless and intelligent.

Puma image

The puma is powerfully built and extremely agile

Ramin tells us that he particularly likes the black varieties of these impressive big cats; the black colour morphs are rare, and are known as melanistic individuals. We have some wonderful images on ARKive of black forms of the Javan leopard, a majestic leopard subspecies which is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Javan leopard image

Some big cat species have black forms, such as this Javan leopard

Did you know?

  • The puma hunts by stalking and ambushing its prey.
  • The solitary puma is highly adaptable, and can swim and climb trees if necessary.
  • The puma holds the record for the mammal with the most common names, with over 40 names in English alone!
  • This nocturnal and crepuscular species is protected over much of its range, but is also persecuted as a potential threat to livestock.


Verity Quade

Sarah Earnshaw’s whale-watch in New Zealand was her favourite animal encounter, and it seems that someone else from the theatrical world has been awed by the incredible wildlife New Zealand has to offer.

Verity Quade fell in love with two amazing bird species on her travels to the southern hemisphere, and she chose to highlight these feathered fellows in our blog, as she herself had never heard of either of these species before encountering them in New Zealand on her recent trip.

Verity’s first species choice is the kakapo, as she loves its endearing, fluffy face, and finds one kakapo behaviour particularly amusing, “The male digs a pit, sits in it, puffs himself out like a balloon and makes a booming noise to attract a mate. If a female is impressed by the boom, she’ll come and take a look. If she doesn’t like the look of him, she’ll just walk off again!

Kakapo image

The kakapo is a giant, nocturnal parrot

Sadly, the ground-dwelling kakapo is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and in 2004 the total population of this species numbered no more than 83 individuals.

The great spotted kiwi is Verity’s next choice, and she describes it as a fascinating and beautiful animal – and she’s not wrong!

Great spotted kiwi image

The quirky kiwi is an iconic animal in New Zealand

Did you know?

  • The great spotted kiwi is a flightless bird, with incredibly fine, soft feathers.
  • This species is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
  • The primary threat to this lovely bird is predation by introduced mammalian species.
  • The great spotted kiwi’s large feet have fleshy footpads, which enable it to walk almost silently.
  • Kiwis are the only bird species with external nostrils on the tip of the beak.

Despite her penchant for birds, one of Verity’s favourite wildlife experiences was an oceanic one, “There is no greater feeling than being able to interact with a wild creature in its own environment, on its own terms. I recently swam with a pod of dusky dolphins – and a few Hector’s dolphins – and it was the most magical, unforgettable experience. I felt both awestruck and immensely privileged.

Dusky dolphin image

Charles Darwin originally named the dusky dolphin ‘Fitzroy’s dolphin’ after the Captain of the Beagle

Verity’s wildlife encounters with the birds and the dusky dolphins have had a profound effect on her, and she firmly believes in the importance of conservation efforts, “I have had the privilege of seeing various creatures in their natural habitats over the last year, and would like everybody to be afforded that same honour, which will only happen if we preserve the habitats and conserve the creatures themselves.”

Get involved

Why not have a browse around the ARKive website to seek out your favourite species? You might be surprised at what you find! Then follow us on twitter (@ARKive) and help spread the wildlife love by tweeting about your chosen awesome animal or peculiar plant using the #LoveSpecies hashtag!

Feb 9

Welcome back! Given that it is the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation this week, today we’ve gone down the regal route and are joined by two of the West End’s own nobility: musical theatre rock royalty Kerry Ellis, and Legally Blonde’s fitness queen Aoife Mulholland.

Will their favourites be terrestrial African species like Gina Beck and Tori Johns’ choices? Or will we be plunged back into the depths of the marine realm like we were with Oliver Tompsett and Sarah Earnshaw?

Kerry Ellis

I am a huge animal lover and to choose my favourite species is just impossible, there are so many!

We at ARKive certainly don’t blame Kerry for not being able to decide! There are nearly 1.9 million species on our planet, and they’re just the ones we know about; scientists are constantly discovering new and exciting species, and it is estimated that there are many millions more that we haven’t found yet, which is pretty mind-blowing!

Spinner dolphin image

Spinner dolphins are named after the spinning motion they exhibit during leaps out of the water

Kerry has had some fantastic and unforgettable wildlife experiences, “I have been lucky enough to swim with dolphins, and I’ve also been walking with lions, which was surreal; being that close to them makes you realise what powerful creatures they are.

Lion cub image

Until they are about 16 months old, lion cubs are dependent upon adult lions in the pride

Did you know?

  • There are two recognised subspecies of lion, the African lion and the smaller Asiatic lion.
  • There are thought to be fewer than 360 Asiatic lions remaining, as a result of extensive hunting in the past.
  • The lion is the only truly social cat species, living in a group known as a pride.
  • It is the female lions that do most of the hunting, and this species tends to hunt at night.

Despite how much she enjoyed seeing a variety of different species abroad, Kerry still admires the beauty of her local wildlife, “We are also surrounded by incredible wildlife here in the UK. I live in the country in Hertfordshire and often see foxes, rabbits, lots of different birds and, of course, squirrels when walking my dogs, which is wonderful.

In fact, one of Kerry’s favourite wildlife experiences actually occurred in her house!

When I was young I remember finding a bat in my brother’s room that had made its way through from the loft. We managed to get it out eventually but it was cool to see a wild bat so close.

Honduran white bat image

The Honduran white bat constructs its own roost from the leaves of plants

It is highly unlikely that the bat Kerry found in her house was this Honduran white bat, as it is only found along the Caribbean lowlands of Central America, but we thought we’d include it as it is a rather unusual looking critter!

Kerry is concerned about the state of wildlife, and has chosen the hedgehog to highlight the need for conservation, “I heard not long ago that there were not many hedgehogs left in the UK; I can’t even imagine that sometime soon there could be none at all. We are lucky to have all this great wildlife around us and we should protect it, they have just as much right to be here as we do.

Kerry is quite right; in the 1950s there were an estimated 30 million hedgehogs roaming the UK, but the population has since declined dramatically, only numbering 1.5 million in 1995, a figure which has probably dropped further since.

Hedgehog image

Hedgehogs are nocturnal animals, and they hibernate in winter


Aoife Mulholland

Perhaps inspired by the glacial conditions we’ve had in the UK of late, Aoife has pointed us towards the Arctic for her chosen species, “My favourite species is the beluga whale! I love their gorgeous white colour and it’s cool the way they are so flexible!

Beluga whale image

The beluga whale inhabits cold arctic waters, usually near to the ice edge

Did you know?

  • Unlike most cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), the beluga whale has an extremely flexible neck, allowing it to turn its head almost 90 degrees to the side.
  • The beluga whale also has flexible lips, and can form many facial expressions.
  • This species does not have a dorsal fin, and its genus name Delphinapterus means ‘dolphin-without-a-wing’.
  • The beluga whale has blubber which can be as thick as 15 centimetres!
  • The clicks, grunts, squeals, screeches and whistles of the beluga whale can be heard through the hull of a ship, hence sailors nicknaming this species the ‘sea canary’!
Beluga whale image

Beluga whales are able to dive to depths of over 1,000 metres, but tend to spend most of their time at the surface of the water

Far from the icy climes of the Arctic, Aoife had an incredible wildlife experience involving Gina Beck’s favourite species, the African elephant, “I went on safari in South Africa and I loved it. One day I was reading outside my room when an elephant came along and started eating a tree about five metres from where I was sitting. Scary, but amazing!

African elephant image

As well as eating grasses and leaves, the African elephant likes to feed on the woody parts of trees and shrubs

Aoife agrees with Kerry’s views on conservation, and has these words of wisdom for us, “We should do everything in our power to save species in danger of extinction.

Join us again soon for our final instalment of this blog series, when we will be joined by Ramin Karimloo and Verity Quade.

Get involved

Why not have a browse around the ARKive website to seek out your favourite species? You might be surprised at what you find! Then help spread the wildlife love by tweeting about your chosen awesome animal or peculiar plant using the #LoveSpecies hashtag!

Feb 5

We hope you enjoyed our last From the West End to Wildlife blog featuring Gina Beck and Tori Johns’ favourite species! Today, we’re back with another instalment, quizzing the best of the West End to find out what their favourite species are, and hear about some fascinating wildlife experiences!

Oliver Tompsett

Oliver is currently playing bad-boy wannabe Drew in Rock of Ages, and has chosen a fellow primate as his favourite species, “I love the gorilla; such a powerful creature, yet always so gentle to its family.

Mountain gorilla silverback

Gorilla families are led by an adult male known as a silverback

Oliver is quite right; despite their King Kong reputation, gorillas are actually not particularly aggressive animals, and live in strongly bonded family groups led by a male known as a silverback. There are two species of this impressive primate, the eastern gorilla and the western gorilla, classified as Endangered and Critically Endangered, respectively, on the IUCN Red List. The main threats to these majestic creatures are the loss and fragmentation of habitat, and poaching.

Infant mountain gorilla image

Young gorillas are not fully weaned until they are 3.5 years old

Did you know?

  • Gorillas are the largest of the living apes; adult male gorillas can stand at a height of 1.7 metres.
  • At about 14 years of age, the hair on the saddle of a male’s back turns whitish, hence the name ‘silverback’.
  • Despite their massive size, gorillas are herbivorous, feeding mainly on leaves.
  • Gorillas build nests to sleep in at night, usually on the ground.

Oliver moves from land to sea for the location of his favourite wildlife experience to date, “Snorkelling in Egypt! It was truly like being super-imposed into Finding Nemo! The colours were incredible!

One of the stars of Finding Nemo was Crush the green turtle, and Oliver may well have seen one of Crush’s relatives, gliding gracefully over the reef, during his snorkelling adventures in Egypt.

Green turtle image

Green turtles are graceful gentle giants

There are hundreds more intriguing species to be found off the coast of Egypt, and as an avid rocker, I’m sure that Oliver’s character Drew would have loved to have seen the super-cool giant guitarfish!

Giant guitarfish image

The giant guitarfish is named for its strange guitar-like shape!

Our favourite rocker’s trip was ended rather abruptly thanks to the appearance of another rather large fish species…

The guide saw a dangerous shark and told us all to get back on the boat. Luckily I didn’t see it or I would have cried. I am obsessed with and petrified of sharks!

Oliver may well be terrified of sharks, but we have found one West End wonder who loves them…


Sarah Earnshaw

When asked about her favourite species, Sarah replied without hesitation, “For me it has to be the great white shark. I’m absolutely fascinated by them. They have such power, yet are incredibly graceful. I mean, don’t get me wrong, if I came face to face with one I’d be terrified but there’s something so intriguing about their mystery and danger!

Great white shark image

Great white sharks are highly skilled marine predators

The great white shark is often thought of as a fearsome man-eater, but this is not the case; it feeds predominantly on fish, but will also eat turtles, molluscs and small marine mammals.  Like other sharks and rays, the great white shark has a skeleton made of cartilage, rather than bone. This mighty species uses its keen senses of smell, sound location and electroreception to detect weak and injured prey from great distances.

Sarah sticks to the marine realm for her favourite wildlife experience, “I had the most fantastic experience when I was in New Zealand. I went whale and dolphin watching. We saw three beautiful humpback whales, and dolphins literally for as far as the eye could see! There was something so special about seeing the whales diving and their tails rising above the surface. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

Humpback whale image

Humpback whale calves are born in warm waters

Did you know?

  • The humpback whale gets its name from the way it arches its back when it dives deeply or ‘sounds’.
  • The pattern on the underside of the flukes is unique to each whale, and can be used to photo-identify individuals.
  • Humpback whales are known to herd their prey into a cluster by blowing a net of bubbles around shoals of potential food, making it easier to catch a big mouthful at once.
  • Male humpback whales sing a complex song to attract mates.

Sarah is a firm believer in wildlife conservation, “Conservation is extremely important. Without it, not only would we lose some of the most interesting, beautiful and diverse creatures in the world, we also risk a real disruption to the balance of nature as we know it.

Join us again soon for our next blog, when Kerry Ellis and Aoife Mulholland share their wildlife favourites with us!

Get involved

Why not have a browse around the ARKive website to seek out your favourite species? You might be surprised at what you find! Then help spread the wildlife love by tweeting about your chosen awesome animal or peculiar plant using the #LoveSpecies hashtag!

Feb 1

With all of its lights, sequins and drama, London’s West End is almost as dazzling, colourful and exciting as the natural world. Many of the ARKive team enjoy the odd trip to the theatre, and always come away amazed by the performances they’ve witnessed. So we decided to turn the tables and quiz some of Theatreland’s residents to find out what fascinates them about our area of work…wildlife!

Gina Beck

Currently found in the rather green musical Wicked, Gina Beck also recently starred in The Phantom of the Opera, where she shared the stage with a large prop version of her favourite species…

African elephant image

The African elephant is the largest living terrestrial mammal

My favourite species is the African elephant!” says Gina. “I was lucky enough to visit South Africa on tour with a show, and we had a wonderful day at an elephant sanctuary. We were able to get really up close and personal with these beautiful animals.

The African elephant is a truly enigmatic creature, but sadly it is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with the ivory trade and conflict with humans being the key causes for its decline.

Gina learned a lot about elephants during her time at the sanctuary, and gained an appreciation for the need for conservation, “Conservation, of species and ecosystems, is incredibly important to maintain the health of the environment and the quality of life on this planet.

African elephant image

The African elephant has a gestation period of nearly two years

Did you know?

  • An elephant’s skull comprises up to 25% of its total body weight.
  • An adult elephant needs to eat about 160kg of food a day.
  • Unlike most mammals, African elephants continue to grow throughout their lives, although the rate of growth does slow down once they reach maturity.
  • The low-frequency rumbles produced by the African elephant to communicate with each other can be heard at distances of eight kilometres or more.

Tori Johns

Tori Johns one of Gina’s co-stars in The Phantom of the Opera, has chosen another African mammal as her favourite species, but one which is considerably smaller than Gina’s!

Meerkat image

Meerkats are highly sociable animals

I find meerkats very amusing. But I also think that there is something very human about them in the way that they interact with each other,” says Tori. A baby meerkat is probably one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen!

The highly sociable meerkat lives in underground burrows in groups of up to 50 individuals. While out and about foraging, one or two meerkats will be on duty as ‘sentries’, keeping an eye out for predators. A sentry will stay at its post, usually an exposed mound or bush, for an hour or more at a time, and will use its extensive vocal repertoire to warn group members of potential aerial or terrestrial dangers.

Meerkat image

Meerkats mainly forage for insects and other invertebrates

Tori’s favourite wildlife experience occurred in Australia, where she saw the unusual quokka, a Vulnerable marsupial, “A few years ago now I visited Rottnest Island whilst on holiday in Perth, Australia. I was lucky enough to see the quokkas that live there. They are extremely cute and look like small, dumpy versions of a kangaroo! I feel so lucky to have seen this species in the wild.

Quokka image

The quokka is also known as the short-tailed wallaby

Did you know?

  • The quokka was once thought to be a large rat.
  • It is also known as the short-tailed wallaby.
  • Thanks to specialised feeding and digestive adaptations, the quokka can go for months without drinking water.

Tori tells us why she feels that conservation is important, “Conservation efforts help to ensure the survival of many species which otherwise might not have a guaranteed future. It also helps raise general awareness of the other animals and plants that we share this world with.

Join us again soon to find out what species have been chosen by other West End stars such as Kerry Ellis and Oliver Tompsett…!

Why not have a browse around the ARKive website to seek out your favourite species? You might be surprised at what you find! Then help spread the wildlife love by tweeting about your favourite awesome animal or peculiar plant using the #LoveSpecies hashtag!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author


RSS feedArkive.org is the place for films, photos and facts about endangered species. Subscribe to our blog today to keep up to date!

Email updates

Sign up to receive a regular email digest of Arkive blog posts.
Preferred frequency:


Arkive twitter

Twitter: ARKive