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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.