London Zoo’s bid to help the world’s ugliest animals

THEY may not be the most attractive of species but these ‘ugly ducklings’ of the animal world are in danger of losing out to the ‘poster boys’ of extinction in the struggle for survival.

The Ganges River dolphin, rondo dwarf galago, and saola – or ‘Asian unicorn’ as it is known – are just some of the rare species to have recently been added to a list of the top-100 most evolutionary distinct and globally endangered mammals in the world.

Conservationists in the Zoological Society of London’s EDGE team, based at London Zoo, have just conducted their latest update of the most unique, threatened species as they try to highlight the plight of a host of animals that don’t get the coverage they deserve.

Protecting some of the weirdest and most wonderful species on the planet, the programme specifically targets creatures that have few close relatives among animal species and are often extremely unusual.

Carly Waterman, EDGE programme manager, said: “A lot of what we focus on tends to be smaller, less charismatic animals.

“These are the species that are currently falling through the net.

“It does seem to be that it’s the large charismatic animals in particular that get the lion’s share of conservation funding.

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“We don’t think the ones on the list are ugly but they tend not to be as charismatic in the traditional way and find it difficult to compete with the poster boys of conservation – things like elephants and rhinos.”

Working with the world’s most extraordinary species that are largely unfamiliar to the masses, Ms Waterman says these animals that provide the most unique characteristics which would be totally lost if they were to become extinct.

She says the programme is in a race against time to raise the profile of these animals and avoid the same fate of the original number one EDGE mammal, the Yangtze River dolphin, which is now believed to have died out.

“These animals are the ones with the fewest relatives in the rest of the animal world so they have unique characteristics,” she said.

“There are things like a species of toad that gives birth through the skin on its back or the long-beaked echidna which is unique in that it is a mammal that lays eggs.

“These are the most remarkable animals on the planet but they are being completely overlooked.”

As well as drawing up two lists of the top 100 endangered unique mammals and amphibians, EDGE, which has been running since 2007, conducts a number of conservation projects worldwide.

“We do two types of project,” said Ms Waterman.

“The smaller scale projects are supporting an individual to study a species about which very little is known. We help them to carry out projects and then they keep the skills for the rest of their career.

“In the larger scale projects we are working with local people to actively save a species from extinction, which takes a lot of investment and time and effort.

“For example, we have a project on the slender loris which is a nocturnal primate from Sri Lanka.

“We are supporting a team of Sri Lankan conservationists who have gone out and surveyed the whole slender loris forest range in Sri Lanka which is about 20,000 square kilometres.

“Then we have drawn up an action plan and we are now looking for funding to restore the forest and work closely with landowners and the government to ensure it remains a suitable habitat for the loris.”

So next time you turn your nose up at an ‘ugly’ animal you haven’t seen before, take a moment to appreciate how unique it may be and don’t let it become another forgotten species.