Monday, May 02, 2005

Animal of the Week May 02, 2005 -- Phoenix woodpecker

Dear Friends,
This week's animal of the week is Campephilus principalis (ivory-billed woodpecker). You've probably all heard a lot about this species, and I'm sure you followed with great interest the story of its rediscovery in the Big Woods of Arkansas last week, but I am so excited about this I can't not have it as AOTW! Indeed, one put-upon recipient is hearing about this from me for the second time. Anyway, ivory billed woodpeckers were thought to have become extinct on the North American mainland as a result of habitat destruction in the 1940s; the Cuban subspecies was last sighted in 1986 and is also feared extinct. However, the rediscovery of its mainland cousin gives hope that the Cuban is still hanging on in remote forests. Ivory-billed woodpeckers are the third largest woodpeckers and are predominantly black and white, males have a red crest (presumably the Cuban subspecies is more red). Numbers and range of the birds in North America are unknown, but for them to have survived the past 60 years there must be a short-term sustainable breeding population. The latin name Campephilus does not mean "lover of drag acts", rather "lover of grubs". I like to imagine that the pair in this picture by the father of American natural history, John James Audobon, are planning where they can hide out for a century or so before surprising a naturalist or a naturist.
Other notable mention: while we are on the subject of phoenix like reappearences, Hippotragus niger variani (giant sable) deserves a namecheck. Thought to have been killed off by local hunters 30 years ago it has been rediscovered recently in an area of Angola only reachable on foot (there a tasteless joke there, but I'll let those of you with such minds come up with the punchline yourselves).
This week, Animal of the Week reaches Outer Mongolia and Cornwall.


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