Attenborough’s picks for his personal ark

We all know the story of Noah and his Ark, well now Sir David Attenborough has released the VIP list (more accurately VIA) for his own ark.

In the new BBC documentary Attenborough’s Ark, Sir David gives the top 10 endangered animals he would most like to save from extinction. Some of his picks you may never have heard of before, and you may be surprised by a few conspicuous absences.

1. The black lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysopygus) – Thought to be extinct for 65 years, this critically endangered primate was rediscovered in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, in 1970. The main threat to this species is habitat destruction and there may only be around 1000 individuals left.

2. The Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) – This species once roamed throughout Southeast Asia but is now restricted to Borneo, Sumatra, and the Malay Peninsula. The Sumatran rhino is the smallest living rhino and has long been threatened by habitat loss and poaching. However, it is the species small population size which now poses the greatest threat to their existence. Fewer than 250 individuals are thought to remain today.

Wikimedia Commons: Willem v Strien

3. The solenodon (Solenodon cubanus, Solenodon paradoxus) – There are two species of solenodon, the Cuban solenodon and the Haitian solenodon. They are primitive little mammals (resembling shrews) that are nocturnal, have venomous saliva, and eat insects. Unfortunately, the introduction of the mongoose along with habitat loss and degradation has left this super cool species vulnerable to extinction.

4. The Olm salamander (Proteus anguinus) – Adapted for living in underground caves this bizarre amphibian is blind, can sense electric fields, has acute hearing, super sensitive chemoreceptors which allow them to ‘taste’ compounds in the water, and can live for as long as 100 years. The Olm lives in Eastern Europe and is vulnerable to both poaching and the leaching of pollutants into underground waters.

Wikimedia Commons.

5. The marvellous spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis) – This hummingbird lives up to its name and is immediately distinguishable by their spectacular 6 inch long tail feathers (three times as long as the birds body) which have been described as ‘racket shaped’. Again, this species is under threat from deforestation and hunting and is now limited to a remote Peruvian valley.

6. Darwin’s frog (Rhinoderma darwinii) – Native to Chile and Argentina, Darwin’s frogs are masters of camouflage but are best known because males have a vocal sac in which they brood young tadpoles. When the tadpoles have developed into froglets, young either jump out or are spat out of their father’s mouth in a kind of second birth. Deforestation threatens R. darwinii but like frog species from around the world the exact reason for their declining population remains unclear.

7. Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) – Found throughout Southeast Asia, Pangolins are scaly skinned nocturnal anteaters which can sleep in burrows, climb trees, and curl up into a ball when threatened by predators. Pangolins have been and continue to be hunted to a shocking degree for their skins (used as leather), their scales (thought to be medicinal in Chinese superstition) and meat (considered a delicacy in many parts of Asia).

8. Priam’s birding butterfly (Ornithoptera priamus) – Found in New Guinea and Northern Australia this butterfly is massive with a wingspan of up to 19cm.

Wikimedia Commons: Sarefo

9. Northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus) – A carnivorous marsupial native to Australia which faces a suite of threats including deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and predation by introduced dogs and cats. The Northern quoll (which is also a favourite of mine) has only now become listed as endangered because of the spread of the disastrous cane toad.

10. Venus’s flower basket (Euplectella aspergillum) – A sponge from the deep ocean which amazingly constructs its intricate skeleton from silica (glass).

Wikimedia Commons.

Through this documentary, these animals are likely to receive greater attention from wildlife enthusiasts and hopefully conservation programs. It is awful to think that anyone would have to choose which species to save and which to let go but conservationists regularly confront similar situations, deciding where best to place their limited money.

Personally, my ark would include the Sumatran tiger, Siberian tiger (I am a sucker for big cats), the kakapo parrot, the sawfish, the leatherback turtle, brush-tailed rock wallaby, the Sumatran orangutan, mountain pygmy possum, bluefin tuna, and the Philippine eagle. Of course my picks are not based on ecological importance or any measure other than the ‘cool factor’.

What animals would you choose to save?