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The vautour fauve, literally ‘bald vulture’ has a 2.5m wingspan and may live for 40 years. Once a common sight across France, the species was almost entirely wiped out before conservationists stepped in.

They say that dying men see their life flash before their eyes. For me, it was rather the opposite. The epiphanic moment was distinctly long-winded, my own life replaced with all life on Earth- oh… and I wasn’t dying. Tucked away, shivering violently, in a snow-laden castle in France, my time was divided between fantasizing about warm fires and caring for two dozen rough-looking birds of prey. In midwinter, no right-minded creature would be out of its own accord, so these were mostly old rescues: long-term care cases with injuries that would take months to heal.

I was cut off from the world, if not by my brain having frozen then at least by the snail’s pace of the internet speed. Few would be fool enough to fly out here to this forsaken corner of France in their summer holiday. Yet I had, and there I was. That decision changed my life. …


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You can find all episodes released weekly and freely available here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCD6fsKTuRiOfW1L2cbXM_HQ

I’ve recently been making a documentary miniseries and podcast called “The Cabinet of Curiosities,” looking at the wonderful stories behind items in my own natural history collections. In the course of researching these shows, I’ve come across many a wonderful fact, so I thought I’d share a few in the days and weeks to follow. I very much hope you enjoy:

Fact: Zebras are black with white stripes, just like zebra crossings…

Historically, it was believed that zebras were white with black stripes. One explanation of this lies in the fact that some zebras have plain white underbellies with the black stripes extending only down their sides. The natural assumption was that these black stripes had been ‘painted’ on the white canvas of the body below. Nowadays, we know that zebra embryos have black skin. If you shave a zebra you would find the same: the underlying skin is a darker shade. …


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For most of us, Africa’s another universe, a land of giants.
But when Lawrence Anthony gave shelter to a herd of rogue elephants, he learnt a very special truth. A thought leader, a dreamer, and idealist right through to the end, he has a message we all could learn from. Curious?

Lawrence Anthony was a South African conservationist, and proud owner of Thula Thula game reserve. One day, he received a phone call: the sort of phone call you kind of wish you’d put down as soon as you accept. There was a herd of elephants several hundred miles distant in some pretty deep trouble- a matriarch gone rogue and killed, causing riot amidst the rest and threats of culling within days. In Africa, there’s no such thing as compromise. …


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A weevil. Because why not?

It was spring, and that meant several things. Firstly, it meant that the dares and threats to push other family members in the pool- still unpleasantly cold- had begun. It also meant that the season of family birthdays was in full swing; a succession in which, much to my dismay, I was the last. But most importantly of all it meant that my faithful friends the insects had returned in all their glory to the garden, and so every free afternoon I could find I would be down in those mosquito-ridden, overgrown paths with my camera.

They were exciting times. Beyond our lawn lay the pool, shimmering in the afternoon light. And beyond that, further still, was the garden proper: an exotic collection of mismatched plants and shrubs, crowned in the centre by a fig tree perched upon a large flat rock. Beside this ran a narrow, paved path snaking its way to the back of the garden before it petered out into nothingness. I would spend hours down here, crouched peering into the greenery or observing closely as an ant tottered its way around the edge of a leaf on the hunt for food. Always I was surrounded by the whine of mosquitoes, caught between the need for utter stillness and swatting at these pests. …


How the FAO is safeguarding food security

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Due to restricted movement and trade shutdowns, many small-scale farmers are struggling as a result of the global pandemic.

As most countries work frantically to contain the spread of COVID-19 within their borders, others are looking further ahead at the impacts of the pandemic. A recent report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sets out the effect of this novel coronavirus on global food security, addressing risk factors in a $110 million USD plan to scale existing humanitarian activities. With over 4 million confirmed cases and 279,000 deaths to date, the virus infects all nations indiscriminately, but collateral damage to livelihoods will be most intensely felt in current high-risk areas.

Economies, politics, communities, families- all stand to suffer from this infectious respiratory disease that spread from central China in late 2019. Areas in less developed countries, experiencing conflict, political and economic turbulence, pressure from climate change and inmigration, malnutrition and deficient social services were amongst the last to be hit. …


A Bird’s Advice for Bachelors & Bachelorettes

“Nevertheless the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.”

Charles Darwin

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‘A large inauspicious nose, sunken eyes and a beard like Parmeliaceaen lichen’- no, I’m not describing myself. This is a description of the great Charles Darwin, so-called father of evolution and thus (inadvertently) the founder of etholobestiaerotology. The study of animal love, and what we as humans can learn from it. And yes- I made that word up.

It’s Valentine’s day soirée- date night- and you’re already feeling the butterflies. As these giant arthropods collide with your inner organs, you have two options. Either you play the old lady and swallow a bird, or you can take a few deep breaths, preen back your feathers and take faith from our avian amis. Your choice. For the former, I recommend head-first and to try with something smaller than a shoebox at least to start. If however the latter was your choice, then read on and find out what tips and tricks you might pick up from the animal world. …


Where art and politics combine in a very large flag…

Dan is a social changemaker and disruptor of systems, using art and people to see the way towards a better future. His most recent project has been to establish the We Are Watching campaign, which aims to have the faces of 77,000 people flying on a flag outside of the COP 25 meeting this December. You can find out more about it here: https://wearewatching.org/

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So the first thing I just wanted to get my head around was where the idea for the flag came from?

Good question! So first of all, it comes from a personal need to act. There was a really big need to do my part. My work is about getting people engaged and giving them the opportunity to act. The idea was around “how I can do something myself, but also empower other people to join in?” Right now from my office I can see a small flag of mine which is above one of the roads into Geneva, and it says ‘You Are Welcome.’ There are all these things we hear about separation, but this is a really powerful thing. It’s simple and effective, because everybody coming into the city sees it.

I actually did go already to Santiago in Chile for a social change festival where I was invited to speak. And there in front of the main government building there is a flag that flies which is exactly the same size as the flag I want to do and it is the flag of Chile. When I was there I was really mesmerized by this huge flag that moves very slowly… this piece of material that flies really beautifully, but the symbol of the flag is of nationalism. So I remembered this flag, and the idea is to create basically exactly the same flag- but instead of representing one nation, it will represent the whole world population. …


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Who wouldn’t want to have their name on a flamingo?

Sir David Attenborough has called it the “biggest of compliments that you could ask from any scientific community,” and he should know: he’s got a whopping 18 animals that bear his name. But for all us average Joes, surely there’s no hope of such lasting fame? If you’re not a politician, celebrity or scientist, honestly your chances are pretty slim- but with a few tweaks to the system, naming your own animal could be a thing.

We’ll start with some number-crunching. And it’s worth clearing up something from the very start: no-one really knows how many species there are on Earth. For the past two decades, estimates have ranged mostly from 2 billion to 10 billion, of which approximately 1.74 million have been described. Then, scientists being a fickle and argumentative bunch, a new study in May 2016 came along that blew all of these guesses out of the park. This mammoth academic work looked at thousands upon thousands of site surveys for lifeforms both great and small to determine the ratio that should exist between these (known as ‘scaling laws’). Having done so, they plugged into these equations the number of large animals we think there are (which is much easier to know) and came out…


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To the people who act for life,

You know we are all connected to the Earth. Yet few of us act for it. And those who do, do so alone. This needs to change.

On 15th March, 150,000 students across my home country, Australia, chose to follow the example of a single Swedish girl the same age as myself and strike against our widespread inaction against climate change. After decades of denial, popular pressure for environmentally sustainable policies is mounting at a rate never before seen. This is overwhelmingly positive news… and yet it is not enough.

Whilst many in the younger generation have seen the light with respect to our carbon footprint, even the most ardent supporters of this movement remain clueless when it comes to the equally pressing issue of biodiversity loss. We may change our ways and live ‘green’ as can be, but the threats posed by habitat degradation, animal trafficking, and invasive species will continue ad infinitum unless an equal miracle can be wrought here too. …


Discovering the Answer to a Monty Python Classic

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Well, the most obvious answer- you might think- is “An African or European swallow?” But this is, indeed, where film culture begins to diverge from real life. Because in actual fact, none of the 47 swallow species found on the continent directly bears its name. We might consider the West African swallow, or the South African Cave swallow, however a choice between these two would be completely arbitrary- and neither is sufficiently studied to provide the data we need.

So we shall answer our first question, and go simply for the European (or ‘Barn’) swallow. And this is where things get a little science-y, so buckle up! Believe it or not, there is in fact an accepted way to estimate the airspeed of a bird using an equation known as the Strouhal ratio. This states that the frequency of wingbeats multiplied by their amplitude and divided by the airspeed of the bird provides a semi-constant value. This is known as the Strouhal number and averages between 0.2 and 0.4 …

About

Elliot Connor

When we look at nature, we see ourselves.

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