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: goliath frog

Nominated by: Synchronicity Earth

IUCN Red List classification: Endangered

What is so special about your species?

The goliath frog is the world’s largest frog. It is known only from south-western Cameroon from the region of Nkongsamba, and south to Monte Alen in mainland Equatorial Guinea. It is generally found at low to medium altitudes. These enormous frogs can weigh more than 3kg, and when they extend their powerful hind legs they can measure more than 80cm from their snout to the tip of their toes. They live in or near fast-flowing rivers and streams in rainforest. Breeding takes place in streams and small rivers. The young rest by flowing water during the day.

What are the threats to this species in the wild?

The goliath frog is threatened mainly by hunting for its meat. Through much of its range, goliath frogs have now been hunted out from the areas around villages. Rising human population densities mean that there are fewer and fewer places far enough from human settlements where the animals can be safe. Hunters use special traps to catch the animals and the meat of the frogs is highly prized and eaten in the form of a special “goulash”. The species is also threatened by loss of its forest habitat, leading to siltation and pollution of rivers.

As an Endangered amphibian, the goliath frog is emblematic of the problems facing frogs around the planet. They are the planet’s most threatened class of vertebrates, with 40% at risk of extinction.

What can people do to help your species?

The Cameroon Herpetology-Conservation Biology Foundation, with the support of Global Wildlife Conservation, is leading the work to tackle the threats of over-harvesting and habitat loss. This work is: 1) raising conservation awareness in communities that interact with frog populations, and 2) restoring altered habitats where they have been disturbed. Because these frogs are a type of bushmeat and food source, the key to successful conservation is in working directly with communities hunting the species. By raising awareness and garnering community support, the Cameroon Herpetology-Conservation Biology Foundation works to change behaviour and reduce hunting. There is also an urgent need to understand the breeding biology of the species better and to identify the most important surviving populations.

VOTE NOW!

 

Feb 1

Species name: shortfin mako

Nominated by: The Shark Trust

IUCN Red List classification: Vulnerable; Critically Endangered – Mediterranean

What is so special about your species?

Sleek and fast, the shortfin mako is capable of reaching speeds of over 30mph, making it the fastest shark in the world. On top of this, it has the power to leap clean out of the water, reaching heights of 9m. Its high-spec finish of brilliant metallic blue on top and clean, crisp white underneath would impress any car designer. The shortfin mako really is the supercar of the shark world. Despite these impressive features, this species is highly vulnerable. Reaching lengths of nearly 4m, this large pelagic shark matures late (18 years), is long lived (32 years) and produces just 4 – 25 pups after a lengthy pregnancy with a 2 – 3 year cycle.

What are the threats to this species in the wild?

Retained for their meat and fins, the shortfin mako is a valued bycatch species that has been subjected to decades of unregulated fishing. Extensive fishing coupled with their low reproductive rate has led to the severe depletion of the North Atlantic population which is now close to collapse. Even a prohibition on retention would leave just a 54% chance of population recovery by 2040.

It is a pivotal time for the shortfin mako. With the EU taking the lion’s share of this fishery, it is essential to implement the necessary measures to secure the future of this vulnerable species.

What can people do to help your species?

The Shark Trust’s No Limits? campaign to stop uncontrolled shark fishing, turned its attention to the shortfin mako in 2017 by launching the Mako’ver to highlight the vulnerability of this species. To date, over 168,000 signatures of support have been collected through petitions and these have been presented to the EU Commission. As part of the Shark League coalition, the Shark Trust works with Shark Advocates International, Project Aware and Ecology Action Centre to advocate for the implementation of catch limits, including measures to stop overfishing of shortfin mako in the Atlantic. With Atlantic fishing nations now required to release live caught shortfin mako in the North Atlantic, there is a real chance to safeguard the future of this spectacular species.

Join us by causing a stir on social media and use #MakeTimeForMakos #NoLimits #NoLimitsNoFuture #Makover to bring light to the plight of this speedy shark. Keep your eyes peeled for campaign updates arising in 2018!

VOTE NOW!

 

Feb 1

Species name: grass snake

Nominated by: Wiltshire Wildlife Trust

IUCN Red List classification: Least Concern

What is so special about your species?

The grass snake is the largest British species of snake and is non-venomous.

The female lays her eggs usually under a warm mound of vegetation such as a compost heap or manure heap as the fermentation of the vegetation helps speed up the development of the eggs.

Grass snakes have a heart-shaped head, perfect for Valentine’s Day!

What are the threats to this species in the wild?

As with many species of animal, general decline of natural habitat, fragmenting of landscape and increased urbanisation have affected the grass snake.

What can people do to help your species?

Make suitable areas in your garden to encourage the grass snake such as open compost heaps (perfect for laying eggs), leave a wild space in your garden where the lawn can be kept longer and a sunny area that’s perfect for basking in the sunshine! They also like being close by to water so creating ponds in your garden is a great way to help them.

VOTE NOW!

 

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