Feb 15

The race to become crowned as the World’s Most Unloved Species was hotly contested, once again, this year with 19 nominated species in the running.  After 12 days of fierce competition, impassioned pitches and over 4,500 votes, the top 10 was announced on Valentine’s Day.

But slithering into first place… it’s the Galapagos racer!

Often demonised, the Galapagos racer shot to fame during the BBC’s 2016 series Planet Earth II.  They are one of a few endemic snakes found in the Galapagos and can grow to a maximum of 125 centimetres.  However, little is known about the Galapagos racer and there is even confusion over the number of species or subspecies of racer snakes found in the Galapagos.  The Galapagos racer is already locally extinct on Floreana Island and are threatened following the introduction of cats and pigs onto neighbouring islands which forage for their eggs.

All the nominated species are worthy winners, and were chosen as they are often overshadowed and overlooked by the more cute, handsome and (supposedly) interesting members of the natural world.  But which species pulled at the public’s heartstrings the most and made it into the top 10?  Here’s a quick rundown:

Wombling into second place, it’s the bare-nosed wombat.  Also known as the ‘common wombat’ this furry marsupial may no longer be as ‘common’ as its namesake suggests, as the population battles an increasing number of fatal road strikes and the deadly skin condition mange.

Flying into third, and in the highest place a bird has had in this contest, it’s the lappet-faced vulture.  Definitely not noted for their cuddly nature, these birds have been known to take on jackals to defend a carcass!

In fourth place we dive underneath the waves with the first shark to enter the top 10!  The shortfin mako is a speed machine, capable of reaching 35 kilometres an hour and even having the power to launch itself clear out of the water.

At number five we have the Asian elephant.  Despite having had a close relationship with man over the centuries these giants are facing a number of threats including poaching and habitat loss, and are often overlooked by their larger African relatives.

Hopping into the top 10 at number six is the common toad.  Firmly rooted in English folklore and culture this gardener’s friend is another species with an unfortunate name as populations have taken a dramatic downturn declining by 68% over the last 30 years.

The ‘lucky number seven’ spot is taken by the red squirrel.  However this iconic species is not so lucky, facing habitat fragmentations, disease and competition with the grey squirrel, introduced into the UK in the 1870s.

Coming up in eighth place is the aye-aye.  Not known for its dashing good looks, this primate has been considered an omen of bad luck resulting in persecution by the Malagasy people!

Looking fine at nine is the Copan brook frog.  The second amphibian in the top 10, this tiny frog could be easily hidden if it wasn’t for its bright, lime green colouration.

And last but by no means least, it’s the blue shark.  This sleek apex predator is instantly recognisable as it moves gracefully through the water however it is one of the most heavily fished sharks in the world, with an estimated 15-20 million caught every year.

To find out more about these species and the work being done to research and conserve them, visit the results page here.

Feb 1

Species name: thorny skate

Nominated by: Shark Advocates International

IUCN Red List classification: Vulnerable

What is so special about your species?

Thorny skates have amazing features, support substantial fisheries, and face serious threats. Yet, they get so little love.

This fierce-looking, bottom-dwelling species has a dozen or more large thorns running down its back and tail. It’s found on both sides of the North Atlantic, with the degree of “thorniness” varying by latitude. In the UK, it’s known as the “starry ray” because the bases of its thorns are shaped like stars. Female thorny skates don’t begin laying egg cases (known as mermaids’ purses) until after age 10, and produce only about 15 viable hatchlings per year after incubation that can last three years! This species is believed to live longer than other North Atlantic skates (~30 years or more).

What are the threats to this species in the wild?

Like most rays and sharks, the main threat to thorny skates is overfishing. Their slow growing lifestyle makes them inherently susceptible to it. Skates are a popular food fish (particularly in Europe), and are also killed incidentally in fisheries targeting other species. The Northwest Atlantic thorny skate population has been seriously overfished and yet the international quota set by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) is significantly higher than scientists advise. In 2018, however, we have a great chance to change that! Scientists will update the thorny skate population status in June and issue fishery management advice that NAFO officials from governments all across the North Atlantic will consider in September.

What can people do to help your species?

Skates need love, seriously. As part of the Shark League, we’re working with Ecology Action Centre, Project AWARE, and Shark Trust to raise and channel the public support necessary to elevate the conservation priority of skates within governments, and secure the actions required for recovery. Concerned citizens (particularly in Canada, the EU, Norway, and the US) can help by letting policy makers know they care about thorny skates, and calling for a precautionary, science-based NAFO skate quota decision in September.

Follow #ElevateTheSkate and #SharkLeague on Twitter over the coming months to learn more and get involved. Thank you!

VOTE NOW!

 

Feb 1

Species name: blue shark

Nominated by: Hector the Blue Shark

(official spokeshark for the Ecology Action Centre)

IUCN Red List classification: Near Threatened

What is so special about your species?

Blue sharks are sleek and streamlined, zipping through the water, crossing entire oceans. As they zip around, blue sharks use proton filled jelly in their heads to detect electrical fields generated by other fish and animals in the water – even miles away. And, of course, they have unique super cool, blue tinted skin making them very recognizable.

What are the threats to this species in the wild?

Blue sharks are the most heavily fished shark in the world caught in many types of fisheries throughout our oceans with estimates ranging from 15-20 million caught every year. The fins of blue sharks make up the largest percentage of the global fin trade and the number of blue sharks being landed continues to rise in many areas. These amounts don’t even capture the tens of thousands of blue sharks that are hooked and cut off lines while at sea because they are unwanted catch. With some regions seeing upwards of 30% declines in population, there are increasing concerns about blue sharks and whether they can continue to withstand this amount of fishing.

Unfortunately, despite their amazingness and their important role as a widely distributed apex predator, the blue shark is often considered a pest by fishers trying to catch other more valuable species. They remain unloved and underappreciated and, as such, there are almost no limits on how many blue sharks can be caught by fisheries nor fishing controls in place that would ensure the blue shark remains throughout our oceans in the future. Ignoring proper management and conservation for such an ecologically important species, especially one so heavily impacted by human activities, should no longer be acceptable in 2018, .

What can people do to help your species?

Follow Hector the Blue Shark, the most famous blue spokeshark, in his work with friends at the Ecology Action Centre to get science-based, strict fishing limits in place for him and his blue shark kin around the world. Supporting an organization with dedicated experts that work with fisheries managers, conservationists, researchers, and governments is one of the best ways people can help blue sharks and other sharks and rays. It takes years of work and dedication to move conservation forward for these animals and organizations need your support!

The Ecology Action Centre together with partners Project Aware, Shark Trust, and Sharks Advocates International are SLAM, the Shark League of the Atlantic and Mediterranean, working for groundbreaking conservation at the international level for sharks, rays, and skates.

VOTE NOW!

 

Feb 1

Species name: Asian elephant

Nominated by: Elephant Family

 

IUCN Red List classification: Endangered

What is so special about your species?

The largest living land mammals – elephants – are intelligent, social and vital to their ecosystems.  For thousands of years they have helped shape and protect their landscapes and the species they live alongside.  Capable of immense strength and extraordinary empathy they live in complex social groups led by a matriarch.  Sadly, the Asian elephant is a forgotten species that does not enjoy the same public profile and support as its larger African cousin.

What are the threats to this species in the wild?

Over the last 100 years, Asian elephant populations have plummeted by 90% leaving around 50, 000 struggling to survive in fragmented landscapes across thirteen range countries. As human populations grow, elephant habitat is shrinking at a rapid pace leading to increasingly fierce competition between people and elephants for living space and food which can lead to conflict, often with fatal consequences for both sides.

Along with the depletion and fragmentation of habitat and ivory poaching, a new threat – the illegal trade in elephant skin – is emerging.

What can people do to help your species?

Since 2002 Elephant Family has funded over 160 conservation projects to help protect this endangered animal. Partnering with Asia’s most ambitious and determined conservationists we are reconnecting forest fragments, preventing human-elephant conflict and fighting wildlife crime.

You can help by voting for the Asian elephant to raise awareness of its plight or donate to fund our critical conservation work at www.elephant-family.org.

 

VOTE NOW!

 

Feb 1

Species name: freshwater pearl mussel

Nominated by: Freshwater Habitats Trust

 

IUCN Red List classification: Critically Endangered

What is so special about your species?

Freshwater pearl mussels are magnificent bivalves that live in rivers with exceptionally clean water and lots of healthy wildlife. Pearl mussels are spectacularly long-lived, often over 100 years, and have a fascinating life cycle. Baby pearl mussels need healthy populations of trout and salmon and live harmlessly in the gills of these fish, enjoying a safe, oxygen-rich nursery until they are big enough to begin life in the riverbed. In return, large populations of the filter-feeding pearl mussels provide a water cleaning service. A healthy population of Freshwater pearl mussels shows that a river and all its wildlife are doing well.

Freshwater pearl mussels were once widespread. Sadly, there are very few rivers where these marvellous mussels still live, and even fewer where baby mussels are able to grow into adults. Freshwater pearl mussels are now one of the most critically endangered species in the world.

What are the threats to this species in the wild?

Freshwater pearl mussels are not breeding well because our rivers are in a poor state. Nutrient pollution from agriculture and sediment washing off land are making our rivers uninhabitable for many species. Fish numbers have fallen so baby mussels cannot survive, and mussel beds are choked with silt and algae causing the adult mussels to die. People fishing for pearls, which is illegal, therefore is also a concern, even though they are very unlikely to ever find a pearl in a pearl mussel.

What can people do to help your species?

Anyone who looks after land can help by reducing the amount of pollution and soil running from their land into streams and rivers. There are many schemes that offer support for land managers looking to protect our clean, healthy rivers and help clean up polluted waters.

 

VOTE NOW!

 

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