Wildscreen Arkive’s Love Species campaign is here to raise awareness of the world’s overshadowed and underappreciated species, getting them some much-needed and overdue affection on the run-up to the most love-filled day of the year, Valentine’s Day.
Nineteen conservation organisations from around the world nominated a species they thought needed some time to shine, and wrote a blog to let everyone know why their nominee deserves to be crowned the ‘World’s Favourite Unloved Species’.
After twelve days of ferocious competition, we received over 4,500 votes from 112 different countries and are very excited to be able to announce the winner!
Here are a few clues about the winning species:
It became a BBC television star…
It can move incredibly fast…
It lives in the Galapagos…
What is the No.1 World’s Favourite Unloved Species?
No one can forget the heart-pounding scenes from the BBC’s Planet Earth II where the Galapagos racers were the stars of the show. Normally shy of humans, these snakes were dead set on taking advantage of the best feeding opportunity of the year – hunting baby marine iguanas on Fernandina Island. 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 one of the few endemic snakes found in the Galapagos and can grow to a maximum of 125 centimetres. Like other species of snake in the Galapagos, the racers are only mildly venomous, using constriction as their main hunting method to prey on lava lizards, iguanas and geckos. One subspecies of racer has even been documented hunting for marine fish in rockpools on Fernandina Island! This is a unique behaviour for a terrestrial snake which hasn’t been observed anywhere else in the world.
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.
Continue to show your love for this species and support its conservation! Read the Galapagos racer’s blog, written by the Galagagos Conservation Trust, to find out more about how you can get involved in conserving the species, and how people are already helping.
The common wombat is among the world’s largest burrowing animals and is endemic to south-eastern Australian where it has a fragmented range. As marsupials, the female common wombats have an external pouch in which the immature young are raised after birth and nursed until early infancy. Whereas other marsupials such as the kangaroo have a front-facing pouch, the common wombat has a pouch which faces backwards. This is to allow the females to dig without dirt entering the pouch and covering the joey!
Despite being relatively abundant, the common wombat has a number of threats and was historically treated as vermin throughout its range; the species is currently protected in all but one state of Australia. However there are still a large number of road strikes and the horrendous skin infection mange that can lead to a painful death is spreading fast.
The image of vultures circling around dead and dying animals is not particularly endearing, and just looking at a lappet-faced vulture you know you wouldn’t want to get too close – as the largest vulture in Africa, they have been known to take on jackals to defend a carcass! However these animals play an extraordinary role in the ecosystem. As scavengers, feeding on animal carcasses, they are clearing the environment of dead animals which helps to mitigate the spread of disease and controls pests such as wild dogs by reducing the amount of food available.
Unfortunately the lappet-faced vulture is now listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and is suffering from a variety of threats. Widespread accidental poisoning has occurred as farmers protect their livestock and these vultures feed on treated bait intended for mammalian predators.
Despite its rather sinister looking black eyes, the shortfin mako is an incredible shark, capable of reaching speeds of 35 kilometres per hour it also has the power to launch itself clear out of the water! The shortfin mako’s high tail allows the shark to propel forward rapidly in extreme bursts of speed and during long-distance travel.
Sadly, the shortfin mako’s speed has not allowed it to escape from fishing pressures where it is a valued bycatch species, renowned for its high quality meat and fins. Fishing pressure together with a low reproductive rate has led the shortfin mako to be listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List and the population in the Mediterranean has been listed as Critically Endangered.
Elephants are the largest living land mammals and cut an impressive figure as they move through the grassland. Often overlooked by their larger African relatives, Asian elephants still reach an incredible size: males can weigh up to 5,400 kilograms and reach 6.4 metres in length. Interestingly, the elephant’s characteristic trunk, which provides a variety of functions, only has one finger-like process on the base, whereas the African elephant has two.
Despite having had a close relationship with man over the centuries and playing an important role in the religious and cultural history of the region, their once extensive habitat has diminished, restricting them to isolated fragments. As the human population grows, competition for land has increased, leading to elephants often coming into conflict with local farmers over space and food. Poaching is also a major threat to Asian elephants, not just for ivory but a variety of other products including leather. As a result, Asian elephant populations have dropped by 90% over the last 100 years. Programmes to reduce human-wildlife conflict, reconnecting habitat fragments and fighting wildlife crime are key to this species’ survival.
The common toad certainly isn’t cute and cuddly, although they do feature widely in English folklore and culture, and are incredibly useful to gardeners by eating slugs and snails. However there has been a dramatic loss in this species in the UK over the last 30 years: populations have declined by over 68%.
Their sneaky defence mechanism, where glands secrete a horrible taste into a predator’s mouth, hasn’t been able to ward off the number of deaths each year on roads or stopped the loss and fragmentation of their habitat. Continuation at this level of population decline, the common toad may not be ‘common’ any longer.
Native to the UK and an iconic species, the elusive red squirrel is an animal that many people long to catch a glimpse of. However in the last 150 years the number of wild red squirrels has decreased from 3.5 million to just 140,000. They are threatened with habitat fragmentation, disease and fierce competition with the introduced grey squirrel for limited food resources, which tends to favour the latter.
Red squirrels prefer coniferous forests and mixed woodland that have yet to be invaded by greys. Red squirrels do not hibernate but pull together a store of food to see them through the harsher winters when fresh food is not available.
The aye-aye is a bizarre looking animal, with large ears and wide, yellow-orange eyes it’s not surprising that this small primate has been considered an omen of bad luck by the Malagasy people. However the aye-aye has a number of tricks up its sleeve to survive as its habitat continues to decrease and fragment. It has an extremely long middle finger which it uses to find and extract food from trees, gnawing at the bark with incredible incisors before hooking out insect larvae. It also utilizes echolocation to find food – the only primate to do so.
What this tiny frog lacks in size (it’s only 3-4 centimetres), it surely makes up for in colouration. The bright, lime green spot pattern that adorns its back resembles lichen growing on branches in its native Honduras and Guatemala and gives it its namesake soralia, the Greek for lichen. Underneath it is a golden yellow and moving to its head the frog has deep red eyes.
However even with wonderful markings this tiny frog isn’t immune to the threats of deforestation, fragmented habitat and the deadly amphibian fungal disease, chytridiomycosis. This disease has been detected within the small population with between 45 to 60% of all larvae infected.
The blue shark is easily recognisable with its unique blue tinted skin and incredibly sleek and streamlined body, moving gracefully through the water. They are often observed cruising slowly around and will circle prey before moving in to attack, where they are also capable of powerful rapid movements. The noticeable conical snout also houses special sense organs in jelly-filled pores which allow the sharks to detect electrical fields generated by other fish and animals in the water.
Blue sharks, as apex predators, are an ecologically important species, but despite being amongst the most fast-growing and fecund of the sharks, blue sharks are one of the most heavily fished sharks in the world, with an estimated 15-20 million caught every year.