Extinct Galapagos tortoise has just been hiding

A species of Galapagos tortoise – thought to be extinct for over 150 years – may, in fact, be alive and well. This finding – made by geneticists at Yale University– is particularly surprising when you consider that this reptile is of giant proportions, measuring more than a metre from the front to the back of its shell and weighing more than 200 kg. How could such a behemoth have gone unnoticed for so long? The answer, it turns out, is simple. They’ve been hiding. When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Island of Floreana in 1835, he found no sign

A black and white Christmas

“The pandas are coming!” announced Edinburgh Zoo’s press office on Monday morning. The reason, I discovered, was not to proclaim the transfer of seminal fluid from male to female panda (cause for celebration as that might be), but because the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) finally has a date set for the long-awaited arrival of a pair of giant pandas. When the FedEx Panda Express touches down in Edinburgh on Sunday, Tian-Tian and Yang-Guang will be the first giant pandas to set foot in Britain for 17 years. I’ve thought a lot – probably too much – about giant

WWF at 50

If you ever get the chance to sift through Max Nicholson’s archive (which, I’ll grant you, seems a little unlikely), it’s something quite astounding. Throughout his long life, which spanned pretty much the entire 20th century, ornithologist, author and administrator Nicholson had a hand in organising or leading dozens of environmental initiatives and organizations, several of which sit right up there at the forefront of the modern conservation movement. When it came to organisation and leadership, Nicholson was quite simply second to none: he was instrumental in setting up the Oxford Bird Census in 1927 (which provided the foundation for

Is the panda really endangered?

Weird isn’t it, but we still don’t know how many giant pandas there are. So it’s time for another census of this curious beast. The final figure, when it comes in a few years time, is really rather important. For it’s this estimate that will inform where the giant panda sits on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species and this matters to a lot of very influential people. Last week, for example, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (the most powerful man on earth?) confirmed the imminent arrival of giant pandas to Edinburgh Zoo, trading on the pull that their Red

How have conservation brands evolved?

I have an opinion article in today’s Nature that I’m quite pleased with. It’s called “The art of conservation”, which could make it the first time that a title I proposed at pitch has not mutated en route to publication. I have been thinking about conservation imagery for many years, making a brief survey of it in my first book Lonesome George and again in The Way of the Panda. With the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s panda logo 50 years old in July (almost certainly 16 July if you want to be precise), it seemed a good moment to reflect