Science News

Wierd Creatures

Sun, 21st Jan 2007

Part of the show Alternative Energy, Climate Change and Carbon Capture

Ever heard a bumblebee bat, a Bactrian camel or a long-eared jerboa? Maybe not - these are two of the top ten weird creatures that the Zoological Society of London or ZSL have chosen to try and protect under their new Edge of existence programme - with Edge standing for "Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Threatened" species. The project focuses on animals that not only need immediate conservation action to prevent them from going extinct but they are also strange and distinct with not many close relatives - species that are truly one of a kind. In order to work out how evolutionarily distinct all the different mammal species are in the world, scientists at ZSL, as well as the University of Virginia in the US and Imperial College in London, created a super-tree of all the mammal species. It's just like a human family tree and maps out how all the mammals are related to each other. For a species to have a higher score for evolutionary distinctiveness they need to have fewer close relatives and represent a whole branch of the tree rather than just a twig. The idea is that these unusual and often little known species are especially important since once they have disappeared there will be nothing similar left on the planet. They then combined these evolutionary distinctiveness or ED scores with score for how globally endangered each species is, based on the IUCN Red List of threatened species, which is the most comprehensive assessment of how endangered species are - giving an over all Edge Score for every mammal. They found 564 Edge species, which are those with higher than average ED scores as well as being threatened with extinction. Of these, they short listed a top ten of the most endangered Edge species which will be the first to benefit from the initiative. These include Attenborough's long-beaked echidna, which was named after Sir David Attenborough and is also known as the spiny anteater. It looks a bit like a large pale coloured hedgehog with a long nose and it lives in the rainforests of Papua New Guinea and is only known from one dead specimen found in 1961. Now a team of scientists will be in search of these elusive creatures and trying to work out how best to help protect their habitat which is being destroyed by mining and farming. If you want to find out more about these unique animals visit the ZSLs website at They also work to support young scientists in the countries where these mammals occur, to equip them with the necessary skills to continue monitoring and protecting their country's unique Edge species into the future.


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