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Putting the verse into biodiversity

Wild animals have inspired some great poetry. Think William Blake’s The Tyger, Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s The Eagle, or The Jaguar by Ted Hughes; iconic poems that glorify some of the world’s most iconic wildlife. But what about all the less familiar, unloved, unprepossessing species that go largely unnoticed and uncelebrated? As long as our literary giants are preoccupied with crafting immortal lines about our most charismatic megafauna, there’s an obvious gap in the market for an intellectual pygmy to write bad verse about obscure animals and plants. Forget Ode to a Nightingale. It’s time to put the ode in nematode. With an estimated 8.7 million species on the planet, there may not be time to do them all justice, but let’s see how we go. It’s unlikely to be a daily posting once my existing supply runs dry – even a prolific wordsmith like Stephen Fry would consider that, as he might say, an enjambment too far. Entries will be a mixture of cursory rhymes (for those with busy lives) and long poems (for those with too much time on their hands). Species will appear randomly, rather than in alphabetical order, otherwise we’ll never make it to ‘zorilla’, and it would be a crying shame not to feature an animal that sounds like a cross between a zebra and a great ape. Stay tuned for Biodiversity Challenge

Biodiversity challenge – Umbrellabird

Canopy slyness

Rainforest quiz:
Is there a way of staying dry?
How do you solve
The daily downpour problem?
Here’s a thought:
Why not evolve
To sport a built-in brolly?
Golly, well I never.
Jolly clever.
Wattle they think of next?

© Tim Knight and timknightwriter, 2015

Species profile: Umbrellabird

IUCN Red List: Endangered

Umbrellabirds live in the rainforests of Central and South America. They are among the largest passerines (perching birds) in the world. Distinctive features include their almost totally black plumage, a conspicuous, umbrella-like crest on their crown, and an inflatable wattle on their neck, which amplifies their booming calls when the males gather at ‘leks’ to attract a mate. The long-wattled umbrellabird is endemic to the Chocó rainforest along the western slopes of the Andes in Colombia and Ecuador. The bare-necked umbrellabird, which has a bright-red throat pouch and wattle, is restricted to Costa Rica and western Panama. Both these species are threatened by deforestation, habitat conversion, and hunting to supply the caged bird trade.

Biodiversity challenge – Lammergeier

Bone meal

Scavenging angel
Takes to the skies,
Gains height,
With calcium prize
Clasped tight.

Carries that weight
In a crooked claw;
All skill and bone,
The talon of fate.

Providence in the fall
Of the marrow,
May the g-force be with you,
Deliver a sliver.

X marks the spot,
Take after take,
Then a lucky break.
Guzzles the lot.

Splinters and shards,
The whole nine yards.
Dish of the day
At the hard rock cafe.

© Tim Knight and timknightwriter, 2015

Biodiversity challenge – Mangrove finch

Swamped

Darwin’s darling,
One foot
In the tomb.
The famous finch
One inch
From doom.
Oppressed by
Uninvited guests,
One hundred
Beaks unique
To Isabela’s
Salty womb
Hunker down
Inside their
Hundred hectare
Panic room.
A wing,
A prayer,
One square
Kilometre of light
Amid the gloom.
One final fling:
Bring on the
Baby boom.

© Tim Knight and timknightwriter, 2015

Biodiversity challenge – Kagu

Grey spirit 

Phantom of the forest,
Ghost of Caledonia past,
Caught yapping.
Earthbound, hapless
Headdress chicken,
Easy meat.
Not flying, but flapping.
Feral future lapping
At your coral feet.

© Tim Knight and timknightwriter, 2015

Biodiversity challenge – Adzebill

The final cut

Mini moa
Lookalikes,
Gone with Gondwanaland.
Zealandia expands,
Contracts.
A continent divides;
Man conquers,
Multiplies,
Subtracts
From North and South
The axe-beaked islanders.
Sum total:
Minus two,
Remainder none.

© Tim Knight and timknightwriter, 2015.

Biodiversity challenge – Floreana mockingbird

To save a mockingbird

Ground zero
For a scientific superhero,
Far-flung Floreana,
Former mockingbird nirvana.
Here the chosen one
Dropped anchor,
Found the inspiration
For his show and tell,
Sailed home and
Dropped his bombshell,
Blew a crater in creation’s well
Of wishful thinking.

Gone, long gone,
The great man and his Beagle,
Gone without a trace
The bird that spurred him on;
Displaced by space invaders,
Banished to a brace of
Offshore dots no bigger than
A giant tortoise carapace.

Time to pull a rabbit from the hat,
Restore the habitat,
Depose those reigning
Cats and dogs,
Deport the greedy goats,
Repair the prickly pear,
Remove the rats,
Kick out the new kids on the block,
Turn back the clock,
Return the mock.

© Tim Knight and timknightwriter, 2015

Species profile: Floreana mockingbird

IUCN Red List Category: Critically Endangered

The Floreana mockingbird was once common on the island of that name and, along with two other mockingbird species on neighbouring islands, played a pivotal role in the theory of Natural Selection that Charles Darwin proposed after visiting the Galapagos archipelago. Within 50 years of Darwin’s departure, the mockingbird had disappeared from Floreana, driven out by invasive black rats and loss of habitat. The species now clings to survival on two tiny, predator-free nearby islets. It is one of the rarest and most endangered birds in the world. A ten-year rescue plan is under way to eradicate all introduced species from Floreana, restore the degraded habitat, and reintroduce the mockingbird to its former home.

Biodiversity challenge – Mallorcan midwife toad

Midwife crisis

No strings attached,
She said.
Now see how
Sticky shackles
Cramp his style
More than a tad.
Her long-term plan
Already hatched;
Not so, his heavy load.
Her fate, the open road,
No fixed abode,
A rolling toad;
Her mate, a little flat.

© Tim Knight and timknightwriter, 2015

Species profile: Mallorcan midwife toad

IUCN Red List Category: Vulnerable

Found only on the island of that name, the Mallorcan midwife toad was believed to have gone extinct 2000 years ago until several populations were discovered in remote mountain brooks in 1980. Like others in its genus, this toad has an unusual breeding strategy in that the females fight over the males, and the males carry the developing eggs, wrapped around their ankles in strings, until the tadpoles emerge. This declining species is down to around 500 breeding pairs and faces numerous threats to its survival. These include introduced predators like the viperine snake, and habitat loss resulting from pressure on water resources due to the growing numbers of tourists visiting the island.

Biodiversity challenge – Cuban solenodon

Fading star

*
Dwindle,
Dwindle,
Cuban star
Someone left
The door ajar.
Feral peril runs amok
Plundering the local stock.
Native mammals
Largely gone.
Can we save
Solenodon
?

© Tim Knight and timknightwriter, 2014

Species profile: Cuban solenodon

IUCN Red List Category: Endangered

The Cuban solenodon or almiqui is a small insectivorous mammal that superficially resembles a shrew on steroids. In fact, solenodons diverged from all other mammal species an incredible 76 million years ago. This is one of only two solenodon species left on the planet. Solenodons are the only mammals known to subdue their prey using toxic saliva. Formerly among the dominant native predators in the West Indies, they are now threatened with extinction as a result of falling prey to introduced predators such as mongooses, dogs and feral cats.

Biodiversity challenge – White-winged parakeet

Dead parrot sketch
white_winged_parakeet_john_halbert

White-winged parakeet by John Halbert

Poisoned minds on a killing spree,
Poisonous sense of humour set free,
A tumour where your heart should be,
Offended by too much green in a tree.
Not enough grey in your concrete streets?
Was there too much life in those parakeets?
Too raucous and colourful for you here?
Need somewhere with less atmosphere?
What you deserve is a spell behind bars,
Or maybe a one-way ticket to Mars.
Then death shall have no further dominion
Outside your luxury condominium.

© Tim Knight and timknightwriter, 2014

(For Kitty, Carolina, John and the other artists who are painting to stop the slaughter)

Several years ago the construction of “Avenida das Torres” (Avenue of the Towers) in the Amazonian city of Manaus resulted in the removal of many of the native trees and palms where white-winged parakeets and other birds had nested and roosted. In search of new homes, the birds found a group of imperial palms in front of a luxury condominium complex. As the residents did not like the chattering, singing and socialising of the birds, they arranged to have huge plastic nets put over the trees, which trapped and killed many of the birds. More recently several hundred of the parakeets have been found dead on the street, most probably poisoned. The white-winged parakeet is not an endangered species as such, but it will be before long unless attitudes to wildlife change. Remember the passenger pigeon, anyone?