I have been working as the EDGE Programme Co-ordinator at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) since July 2005. Prior to this I worked as a researcher, studying the ecology and behaviour of wild orangutans in Central Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo. I was amazed by the diversity of the wildlife that surrounded me here. Until recently, tropical peat swamp forests, such as the Sebangau catchment in which I worked, were thought to have a much lower biodiversity than montane tropical forests.
Although, utterly enchanted by the orangutans – the Sebangau ecosystem is home to an estimated 6,000 individuals, making it one of the largest populations of orangutans surviving in the world – I was also fascinated by the countless species of invertebrates, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles present in the forest, many of which I had never heard of before. They all played a vital role in the ecosystem, and I was inspired to raise awareness of them amongst the people back in the UK.
When I returned from Borneo, I was delighted to have the opportunity to work on the EDGE programme – and highlight some of the world’s lesser-known animals. My first task was to find out detailed information on the life history and threats facing each of the top 100 EDGE mammals. The work was incredibly interesting, but at the same time rather depressing. So many of the mammals I was studying are being adversely affected by human activities, which frequently result in the destruction and fragmentation of their habitat. Human populations are expanding so fast that it is clear we need to work together with local people to find solutions that will benefit both the communities and the species they share their home with. That’s when we began to develop the EDGE Fellows programme. What better way to do this than to provide training and support so that local people can help themselves and their wildlife?
The EDGE of Existence website began to take form during the latter half of 2006, as we finally all agreed on the look and feel of the site (this was an extremely long and painstaking process!). The next task was to pick the ten focal species. These are the species we would ensure received conservation attention during 2007/8. It was very difficult to choose just ten species, but we decided early on that we would focus on the mammals that tended to be overlooked by other organisations – the underdogs, or ugly ducklings of the animal kingdom. After short-listing these species we then looked carefully at each one to determine whether we could realistically do anything to help with conservation efforts.
Our final list of ten includes species as diverse as the bumblebee bat (the world’s smallest mammal), the pygmy hippopotamus, and the golden-rumped elephant-shrew, a cat-sized mammal with a long snout that inhabits forest fragments in eastern Kenya. Elephant-shrews are, incidentally, distantly related to elephants!
Some of our focal species are receiving limited conservation attention, but none have been in the international spotlight before, despite being as precious and threatened as tigers and rhinos. We feel proud to have raised awareness of EDGE species and are looking forward to implementing research and conservation actions for them over the coming months.
Next week, ZSL will be hosting a scientific meeting to explain the methods used to identify EDGE mammals, outline the progress made since the programme’s inception, and introduce our plans for the conservation of the species highlighted. We hope that you can come to the meeting, but if not, be sure to check out the EDGE blog on Tuesday for news of our forthcoming expeditions.