If that were true, the world would have lost a truly wonderful seed. The largest member of the squirrel family, the woolly flying squirrel stands two feet tall and sports a bushy two-foot tail. Despite their size, they are very adept at using gliding covers to navigate their habitat in high-altitude coniferous forests effectively. They are known to live in caves and other inaccessible places on steep rocky slopes. Calling of this species is believed in some local cultures to portend the death of a loved one, or that their urine is an aphrodisiac.
If they were indeed extinct, we would not have discovered much of what we now know about the woolly flying squirrel. But the species was rediscovered in northern Pakistan in 1995, exciting scientists and wildlife enthusiasts.
The woolly flying squirrel is not the only animal whose extinction has been greatly overstated, of course. Species are always rediscovered — and a new project called Lost & Found aims to tell the stories of those species.
The project is the brainchild of Diogo Veríssimo , a David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow at Johns Hopkins University. Veríssimo studies the relationship between human behavior and biodiversity conservation, especially conservation marketing. He started the Lost & Found project to try to change the way we talk about conservation.
“Too much talking about nature has been about extinction, decline and loss,” said Veríssimo. “At Lost & Found, we aim to turn them into hope, determination and passion.”
In addition to text, Veríssimo and team also plan to tell the story of Earth’s rediscovered species in comics and videos. The Lost & Found project was officially launched at the Earth Optimism Summit on April 21st by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.
What was the initial inspiration for this project? Who came up with this project and when did you officially start working on it?
The idea for this project came to me as a result of my strong interest in rediscovery of species and my research into conservation marketing. When I was a kid I read about species like the thylacinus cynocephalus, which is still believed to live in the Australian outback, and how wonderful it would be to rediscover these species. I have a strong memory of thinking about it. These stories and mysteries of loss aroused a strong feeling in me to tell through the stories of the Lost & Found project. Finally, my professional interest in conservation marketing means that I am in the business of creating effective messages to promote biodiversity conservation. What always surprises me when we send out messages as conservationists is that most of them are negative. Now is the time for us to make our messaging more inspirational so people don’t become indifferent to what we’re working on.
As for the official kickoff date, I came up with the concept behind this project a few years before receiving the first funding from the British Ecological Society in July 2014. I think that’s when this project officially started. A lot has happened since then and progress has been very slow. Part of the reason was that our commitment to this project was voluntary, but we also struggled to find additional sources of funding to support this effort.
Who funded this effort? And who is creating this creative material?
This effort is (so far) funded by the Society for Conservation Biology and the British Ecological Society. I am very grateful to these two professional societies, as it is often difficult to find funding opportunities for outreach activities. That said, we are currently seeking funding to animate our story and translate our content into multiple languages. So if you can help, please get in touch!
It’s really a team effort when it comes to materials and I was lucky to have such a talented group of people around this idea. In the UK we have illustrator and comic artist Amy Gallagher. The person in charge of the comics that draws each story. We have seminal writer Sam Needs in Australia who writes most of our stories. We have our web design team in Portugal, Zé Martins and João Dábrio are responsible for our website. Finally, in the US Laure Cugnière leads the research behind seed selection and I lead the entire project.
How long does the basic research take? How did you find the ‘extinct and rediscovered’ species you featured?
To select the stories that are not only the most exciting, but also cover a diverse range of species and continents, we use online sources, books and, where possible, direct access to those involved in the rediscovery. It combines the interviews of Investigating this project is the most time-consuming stage, as many of these stories are undocumented and contradictory in the popular press and scientific literature. This made us work harder than usual and only focus on stories that clearly outline what happened.
Do you look at the researchers who have rediscovered these species as well as the wildlife? In other words, are you trying to tell the story of the scientists working in the field to document the world’s wildlife? Or is it just telling stories of rediscovered animals?
We made a conscious effort to focus on the human side as well as the species. That’s why our tagline, for example, is “adventure” and not seeds. We realized that this was the key to reaching a broader audience than those already interested in nature and biodiversity. Not everyone is concerned about bats found in Papua New Guinea, and that’s not a bad thing. I understand that no matter how much I love biodiversity, there are topics that are more appealing to other people. Moreover, as evidenced by our celebrity culture, all people are interested in is about other people. The heroes of these stories, like those of many other popular stories (dramas, TV series, movies, etc.), embody courage, determination, and passion. I believe that focusing on people will make our content more exciting for an audience that may not be into content about nature, but simply a good story.
Why do you think it’s important to shed light on the stories of these ‘lost and rediscovered’ species and the researchers who found them?
Our goal when looking at these human characters is to see them as more hopeful conservation agents that we hope will emerge from efforts such as the Ocean Optimism and Earth Optimism activities that have taken root around the world. was to show By focusing more on people, I hope to show the hard work conservationists are doing around the world and raise awareness of how difficult this task is. Also, to provide my colleagues with a repository of hope that they can come back to when they want to remember that depletion, threats and extinction are not everything, even in the face of great difficulty. I hope
One of the most interesting things about this project is the use of multiple media to tell these stories. Can you tell us a little bit about how this works? Do you put each story in narrative, comic, and video format so that you can enjoy it in whatever medium you prefer, or do you have to use all three media to know all the stories (i.e., 3 are the two formats used in combination)?
In terms of how to access content, using multiple media is a strategy designed to provide options for different target audiences. By giving people choice, we want to not only offer a different experience, but hopefully make our content interesting to a wide audience. Additionally, people are increasingly using the Internet on mobile devices and in a variety of contexts. By having different content formats, we make stories easily accessible for a variety of situations, such as different bandwidths, times, screen sizes, or attention spans.
What do you ultimately want to achieve with the Lost & Found project?
We want to change the conservation conversation. Nature conservation should not be “tragedy and depression”. This can be transformed into hope, grit, and audacity. Only by making this narrative more positive can we hope to engage broader sectors of society and make the environment a broader societal priority. If the Lost & Found project can play any part in that role, I’d consider ourselves accomplished.