In early July, Victoria, Synchronicity Earth’s Head of Relationships and Operations, told me there was a London Marathon place available through the organisation, and would I like to take it? I’ve been lucky enough to run the London Marathon twice before and both times were such positive, energising experiences. Tens of thousands of runners pounding the pavement and raising money for charity, with scores of boisterous supporters cheering and clapping, creates this incredibly uplifting atmosphere. You can’t help but be swept up in the joy of it all! I took the place without thinking twice.
There was no obligation, Victoria told me, to raise funds for the charity. Somebody else was originally due to run for Synchronicity Earth but had to pull out due to unforeseen circumstances, and their place had become available without strings attached. But what an opportunity to help draw attention to overlooked and underfunded species! People dress as rhinos, pandas, trees – even the globe – to draw attention to conservation, so surely I could run as one of the species supported either by Synchronicity Earth, or the organisation that I work for and that Synchronicity Earth hosts: SHOAL.
To make it even more fun, we decided to let the public choose the species from a shortlist of three threatened species: the Critically Endangered Rufous-headed Hornbill, the Endangered Copan Brook Frog, and the Vulnerable Attenborough’s Killifish.
A male Attenborough’s killifish. Image © Béla Nagy
Being the SHOAL guy, it’s natural I’m hoping the killifish gets picked. Here’s why:
Freshwater fish are historically forgotten about, even in conservation circles. Hidden under the surface of the planet’s rivers, lakes and wetlands, they are all too often overlooked in favour of more charismatic species, particularly those from forests, savannahs and coral reefs. They have been out of sight and out of mind. Partly due to this neglect and partly due to humanity’s treatment of freshwaters, freshwater fish now hold the unwelcome title of being the most threatened group of vertebrates globally. One in three are threatened with extinction.
And yet they are amazing creatures, as diverse, colourful and dynamic as anything that can be found on coral reefs, with remarkable adaptations that tickle your sense of wonder and force you to sit up and marvel at the complexity and mystery of life. Certain species of killifish, for example, live in rainy pools formed by elephants’ footprints. The leathery egg casings prevent the egg from drying out for many months or even years, and when the rains finally arrive, the fish hatch into whatever pool the rains have formed –including elephants’ footprints!
Attenborough’s killifish, named after Sir David Attenborough, is a stunning crimson and turquoise fish endemic to pools and marshes that drain into the east side of Tanzania’s Lake Victoria. It is threatened by development, agriculture and aquaculture and is a stunning symbol of how freshwater fish need much more attention if they are going to survive the many anthropogenic pressures put on them.
A rufous-headed hornbill family in Talarak’s captive breeding centre. Image © Talarak Foundation
Of course, when I asked my Synchronicity Earth colleagues which species I should pick, their suggestions were mainly based on which animals would look most absurd and spectacular to run the London Marathon dressed as.
With their large ‘casque’ or horn making their bright red bills made even more noticeable, fire-coloured necks and glossy black plumage, the rufous-headed hornbill, or talarak, was an eye-catching choice. The species is the flagship of Synchronicity Earth’s partner, the Talarak Foundation.
It is thought to be one of the rarest hornbills in the world and has already disappeared from one of the islands it was once thought to inhabit (Guimaras), and survives only now on Negros and Panay in the Philippines. As a Critically Endangered species, it is more vulnerable to extinction than the Attenborough’s killifish or Copan brook frog, mainly due to chronic deforestation. Only three per cent of Negros and six per cent of Panay remains forested, but that data is from 2007 so it is likely to be even less today.
However, the Talarak Foundation has been able to successfully breed rufous-headed hornbills in captivity (no easy task, due to their complex nesting requirements) which may one day lead to a release of captive-bred individuals to strengthen wild populations.
Copan brook frog
The ruby-eyed Copan brook frog. Image © Robin Moore
This list would not properly represent Synchronicity Earth if th