An Ode to the Odd and Obscure

Ever heard of the Macaya breast-spot frog? Didn’t think so. It’s one of many obscure organisms that made a new list of the hundred most threatened species, announced Tuesday at the World Conservation Congress.

After the press briefing, I chatted with Jonathan Baillie, conservation director at the Zoological Society of London, about some of the guys that rarely get their own campaigns (though I’d gladly launch one to save the Okinawa spiny rat).

To Baillie, all the species on the list are “charismatic,” a term many people use to describe the rhinos, tigers, and bears of the world.

One species in particularly dire straits, he said, is the Red River giant softshell turtle, below.

Photograph courtesy Asian Turtle Program via Conservation International

Hunting and habitat loss have driven the population down to just four individuals, and attempts to breed two of them have failed. Scientists are still searching the Red River in China and Vietnam in hopes of finding more.

Baillie seemed to enjoy talking about Attenborough’s echidna, a species so rare that only one specimen has been caught (hence the unappealing photo of a dead one below).

 Photograph courtesy Hein van Grouw

This odd mammal lays eggs and has babies called puggles, and—as if it could get any better—Baillie said Attenborough’s echidnas form a “conga train” during courtship, during which the female is trailed by a bunch of males hopping along.

“You can’t lose that,” he said—and I have to agree. (Watch a video showing the Tasmanian echidna’s four-headed penis.)

Other species he called out include the red crested tree rat and the Seychelles sheath-tailed bat, which uses a membrane between its hind legs to perform aerobatic feats.

The red-crested tree rat. Photograph courtesy Lizzie Noble Fundacion ProAves

The Seychelles sheath-tailed bat. Photograph courtesy Justin Gerlach

Overall, Baillie said, “we have to either care about all life—or we don’t care about any.”

The threatened list is part of a book called Priceless or Worthless, produced jointly by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Christine Dell’Amore, environment writer-editor for National Geographic News, is reporting from the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju Island, South Korea.


Meet the Author
Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.