Scientists try to save world's rarest creatures


Jan 16, 2007

A baby slender loris -- this nocturnal primate species is under threat from habitat loss and poaching, according to EDGE's Web site.

LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Scientists launched a bid on Tuesday to save some of the world's rarest and most neglected creatures from extinction.

With an initial list of just 10 -- including a venomous shrew-like creature, an egg-laying mammal and the world's smallest bat -- the program will give last ditch conservation aid where to date there has been little or none.

"We are focusing on EDGE species -- that means they are Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered," said Zoological Society of London scientist Jonathan Baillie.

"These are one-of-a-kind species. If they are lost there is nothing similar to them left on the planet. It would be a bit like the art world losing the Mona Lisa -- they are simply irreplaceable," he told Reuters.

Not only are the target species unique, the project itself is breaking new ground by using the Internet to highlight threatened creatures and encourage the public to sponsor conservation.

"This is appealing to the general public to take action to reverse the decline of these amazing species," Baillie said.

Global warming and human depredations on habitat are cited as root causes of the problem and Baillie said the top creature on the agenda, the Yangtze River dolphin, may already have disappeared.

Pygmy hippopotamus

Listed on the EDGE Web site as being down to just 13 individuals, scientists visiting the area recently had not seen any. "This really highlights the importance of acting quickly," Baillie said.

EDGE species include the rather more iconic -- and recognizable -- elephants and pandas -- but the London Zoo project is also aiming far smaller.

The list includes the bumblebee bat, the Hispaniolan solenodon and the golden-rumped elephant shrew, but Baillie hopes to save far more.

"Our goal is to ensure that over the next five years there are conservation measures in place for the top 100 species," Baillie said. "We have 10 species we are focusing on this year but that will change over time."

'Mona Lisa' species

Dr Baillie hoped the initiative would help raise awareness of the plight of these little-known animals.

"They represent entire lineages. If you were to think about Edge species in terms of the art world, it would be like losing a Mona Lisa - they are totally irreplaceable and unique.


Hirola - Africa's most threatened antelope (Image: Tim Wacher/ZSL)

At the moment, we are focusing on the 10 focal species where we think we can really make a difference, and we are trying to raise funds to implement conservation actions."

Other rare species:
*Attenborough's long-beaked echidna
*Hispaniolan solenodon
*Bactrian camel
*Yangtze River dolphin
*Slender loris
*Hirola antelope
*Golden-rumped elephant shrew
*Bumblebee bat
*Long-eared jerboa

For each of the animals, he says the first step will be to send a team of experts to the region to assess the state of the species.

Local students will then be recruited to act as "Edge conservation fellows" to carry out ongoing research, which will be used to shape strategies to protect the species.

He adds that they are aiming to have action plans in place for the top 100 Edge creatures within the next five years.

The programme will be funded by grants, and from donations made by the public visiting a website updated with the latest field research and blogs from conservationists working on the projects.

The ZSL is currently working on a similar scheme for amphibians, which it hopes to launch in the near future.