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Program aims to save "Mona Lisas" of the animal world.

A new program from the Zoological Society of London is working to identify and protect some of the world's "most bizarre and unusual animals," according to a news release from the group. The EDGE of Existence program focuses exclusively on animals that are "Evolutionarily Distinct & Globally Endangered"--species that have few close relatives, are genetically distinct, and are extremely endangered. Of the top 100 EDGE mammals currently listed--among them the bumblebee bat, the pygmy hippopotamus, and the Bactrian camel--two-thirds receive little or no conservation attention.

The development of a taxonomic "super tree" demonstrating the relationships between different species has made the new EDGE categorization possible, according to the BBC. "This is the first global-scale programme specifically developed to focus on these one-of-a-kind and highly threatened animals," the project's lead scientist, Jonathan Baillie, explained. Of 564 identified EDGE species, the program will focus initially on the top 100 mammals, highlighting only the top 10 in the first year. The Zoological Society hopes to launch a similar scheme for amphibians in the near future.

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The project's conservation efforts include evaluating each species in its natural habitat and involving students local to these areas as "EDGE conservation fellows" to engage in research and help shape protection strategies. Dr. Baillie hopes the project will raise awareness of the many dangers the rare species face, including habitat loss, hunting, and predation by introduced mammals. "They represent entire lineages," he told the BBC. "If you were to think about EDGE species in terms of the art world, it would be like losing a Mona Lisa--they are totally irreplaceable and unique." The new program will be funded mainly by grants and through online donations through the group's website, www.edgeofexistence.org.

by Alana Herro

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Title Annotation:EYE ON EARTH
Author:Herro, Alana
Publication:World Watch
Date:May 1, 2007
Words:292
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