Archives for posts with tag: endangered species

Cover illustration ©Jon Mitchell

Recently I’ve been doing some research about red squirrels for a new book. Despite having lived in Scotland for 25 years, I have never actually seen a red squirrel in the wild. They are the only squirrels native to Britain, but unfortunately someone thought it would be a good idea to bring a few grey ones from North America in the 1870s. The grey squirrel is larger and hardier, and competes with the red for food. As a result, over the past 150 years the red squirrel population has suffered, and now there are 15 grey squirrels in Britain for every red one. No wonder they are hard to spot!

Red squirrels are very pretty, with tufty ears and white tummies. My new rhyming story is about two young ones who are venturing out into the forest for the first time. I did a little Googling and found this adorable photo:

Photo ©AP

The first ten weeks of a red squirrel’s life are spent in a drey, which is a nest built in the fork of a tree with twigs, moss, leaves and dried grass. Sometimes these dreys are communal, shared by a group of squirrels at different times.

Photo ©wildwoodtrust.org

In my story the two baby squirrels, Rowan and Hazel, set off down their tree to explore the forest nearby. Naturally, they wander further than they should and run into a few scary creatures, including a hungry fox!

I had to find out exactly what red squirrels eat, and the Wildwood Trust website is a great source of information. Red squirrels live in forests with both conifer and deciduous trees, and their main source of food is hazelnuts and seeds from conifer cones. They also eat berries, flowers, green shoots and mushrooms. To ensure they have food to eat in the winter, they bury nuts in the woodland floor, and hang mushrooms up in the trees to dry for later use.

My little squirrels get distracted by all the tasty food they find, and soon are lost in the forest. One of the clues they use to get home again is a mushroom that Hazel has nibbled. This is a Scottish story because most of the red squirrels found in the UK today live in Scotland. The Wildwood Trust says there are about 160,000 red squirrels across the country. Of those, about 120,000 live in Scotland, 30,000 live in northern England and 10,000 in Wales. They have almost completely disappeared from southern England.

There are several organisations devoted to protecting the red squirrel, including the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. There are lots of ways to get involved if you want to help out.

I hope my new book will raise awareness about the red squirrel. I have found two lovely toy squirrels to take with me when I visit schools, but I hope we’ll never reach a time when they are the only kind left.

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thunderbird

The Thunderbird, ©JK Rowling and ©Warner Bros Pictures

Newt Scamander is on a mission. The central character of JK Rowling’s new film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is passionate about protecting rare and special creatures that are threatened because of their magical powers. He has created a sanctuary for a collection of amazing animals, ranging from the enormous Thunderbird and the galumphing Erumpent to the tiny, leafy Bowtruckle that lives in his breast pocket.

These creatures have qualities of many animals we recognise.  The first creature we see, a Niffler, is very like a platypus with soft fur and a duck-like beak. It has magpie tendencies as it can’t resist shiny things and collects them in its pouch. The Demiguise is a grey, long-haired ape similar to the Japanese macaque. The Erumpent is like a glowing, inflated rhinoceros. There are blue, snake-like creatures and something that looks like a cross between a lion and a blowfish.

beast-guide

A guide to some of the beasts, ©www.telegraph.co.uk

Newt is determined to save as many of these creatures as he can, and he gathers detailed  information about their characteristics, behaviour and habitats to put in his book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Above all, he wants to protect them from being destroyed by thoughtless and sometimes cruel humans who mistakenly believe they are dangerous.

Does this sound familiar? Here in the real world we have all sorts of beautiful and amazing creatures that are being threatened in the same way. Compared to humans they have incredible powers: of flight, super strength, powerful vision, amazing agility and speed. They have adapted perfectly to their environments, and are often portrayed by humans as posing a terrible threat to us. In reality, we are the ones who threaten their existence, and now an ever-lengthening list of these fantastic beasts is endangered.

wwf-white-rhino

Photo @www.worldwildlife.org

Like the Erumpent, the black rhino in Africa is critically endangered as a result of habitat loss and poaching. They and other species of rhino are being protected in sanctuaries in Africa and Asia, but there are still very few that live in the wild. Organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund have worked for decades to raise awareness of endangered animals.

wwf-giant-panda

Photo ©www.worldwildlife.org

Despite their universal appeal and worldwide fame, giant pandas are very rare. These were the first animals to be protected by the World Wildlife Fund since its inception in 1961. Happily, the giant panda has moved from being ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ as numbers of the animals in the wild increase.

There are so many endangered animals that we take for granted. Most of us only ever see such amazing creatures in zoos or on television, but without some effort being made to save them, we may not have gorillas, tigers, orang-utans or elephants for future generations of humans to learn about and appreciate. I hope the passion and determination of Newt Scamander will inspire fans of all fantastic beasts to look after them while we still can.

One of my favourite toys (well, my children’s toys) is a baby orangutan that Anna calls Gerome. Here he is sitting on the sofa with a lovely jungle pillow. Isn’t he cute?

I think Gerome likes this pillow because it reminds him of home. Orangutans live in the rainforests of two islands in South East Asia – Borneo and Sumatra. The name orangutan comes from the Malay language, and it means “man of the forest” (orang=man and hutan=forest). The scientific name for them is Pongo pygmaeus. Perhaps we should have called Gerome Pongo instead!

Orangutans have long, strong arms that are good for swinging from branch to branch, and they live and sleep up high in the trees to stay safe from other animals that might eat them, like leopards, tigers and big python snakes.

They get quite big, around five feet tall, and weigh between 65 pounds (a small adult female) and 200 pounds (a big adult male). In the wild they live to be about 35 years old, and in a zoo they can get as old as 50 or more.

Orangutans like to eat fruit (berries and wild figs) as well as leaves, insects and birds’ eggs. They find all these things in the trees and hardly ever have to come down to the forest floor.

The fur of an orangutan is long, shaggy and reddish-brown – quite like a Highland cow! I think their fur is much thinner than the cow’s, though, because unlike the Highlands it’s very hot where they live. Female orangutans have a baby only once every 8 years or so, and the baby stays hanging onto its mum for the first year of its life. Over the next few years the young ones stay close to mum, until they are ready to strike out on their own at the age of 11 or 12.

Little orangutans like to play together, but when they grow up they are quite solitary animals. When a group of them are feeding in the same area, the young ones play but the adults ignore each other. Sometimes the males will fight over territory, but mostly they just live alone in the forest.

Did you know that orangutans are an endangered species? That means there are fewer and fewer of them in the wild, and one day they could disappear altogether! Lots of people care about orangutans and want to save them. There are organisations all over the world that look after them and raise money to help them.

One group I found is called the Sumatran Orangutan Society, and their website has lots of information about orangutans. They have a great list of ideas for kids who want to raise money for orangutan protection. HERE is their list of fun activities you can do to help orangutans and get people thinking about them.

My friend (and very talented illustrator) Hannah Shaw has told me she sponsored an orangutan from the Orangutan Appeal. Their website has lots of brilliant pictures of orangutans and more information about how you can help.