The Ugly Animal Preservation Society

Ugly Animal Preservation SocietyAn elephant is killed every fifteen minutes to supply an insatiable and unsustainable demand for ivory. A rhino is killed every eleven minutes for horns that have as much medicinal effect as my big toenail. Wild lions could be gone in fifteen years as we teeter on the brink of the world’s sixth mass extinction. But it’s not just the charismatic, iconic animals in trouble. Forget pandas – ugly animals should be protected too. The Ugly Animal Preservation Society draws attention to less adorable endangered species, and I can’t wait for the show to come to Australia!

Gob-faced squidConservation issues are usually pretty depressing, so it’s refreshing for a comedy evening to take a conservation twist – scientists dabbling in comedy and comedians dabbling in science. Each has to pick an endangered (and ugly) species, and has ten minutes to champion it. At the end the audience votes, and the winner becomes the mascot of that regional branch of the society. In London it’s the proboscis monkey. In Edinburgh, the branch’s mascot is Australia’s own gob-faced squid.  The comedians take different approaches – some try to prove that their animal is not so ugly. Others admit, “They are hideous, but you know what, some days I wake up a bit rough myself!” But the main thing is to draw attention to the plight of these rare animals. These are species people don’t know much about, yet they all play a vital part in our ecosystem.

Just because an animal is unattractive, doesn’t mean we can ignore it. Take humble earthworms for example. Without them, tonnes of rotting organic rubbish would build up within months. Fly maggots microbatperform a similar function. Micro-bats are worth billions of dollars to agriculture yearly, by eating their weight in insects each night, while fruit bats are the vital pollinators and seed-dispersers of Australia’s great forests. So spare a thought for the less sexy species. They’re important too!


A Temple to Nature

I’m in London now. On Monday I fly back to Australia. A wonderful trip, but it’s time to go home. After six weeks away, I’m missing my family and animals more than I expected to. Now I can’t wait to return and enjoy the release of Brumby’s Run in a few weeks time. Advance copies are waiting at home, and I haven’t even seen them yet!

I’ve been to all sorts of amazing places since leaving the Tyrone Guthrie Centre: Dublin, Edinburgh, Loch Ness, the Isle of Skye, Stonehenge, Bath and the historic village of Lacock, entirely owned by the National Trust. Lacock is the place where Harry Potter was largely filmed. I even had the dubious experience of being robbed on the Tube.  But my blog tour of Ireland and the United Kingdom wouldn’t be complete without a visit to London’s 125 year old Natural History Museum.

The museum was purpose-built (I love that!) and is one of the finest Victorian buildings in England. Behind its magnificent Romanesque facade lies perhaps the world’s most important natural history collection. In the grand space of the Central Hall stands a full size replica of a 150-million-year-old Diplodocus skeleton. It has stood there since 1905 and is a full 26 metres long. Each exhibition is more amazing than the last: plants, birds, mammals, fossils, the earth hall, the wildlife garden, the Darwin centre … they’re all fascinating.

My favourite display was the exhibit of marine fossils. It features the first ichthyosaur ever found, discovered by blaze-trailing fossil finder, Mary Anning. There are also two skeletons of pregnant ichthyosaurs: in one case, three little foetus skeletons are visible between the mother’s ribs and in the second, the baby is forever frozen in the birthing process, with its tiny tail protruding from its mother’s body. Only a small fraction of the museum’s collection is on display. Behind the scenes, lie kilometre after kilometre of stored specimens. It makes me smile just to think such places exist in our world.