Sunday, March 9, 2014

Champion of the Underdog

Executive summary by darmansjah

Two fuzz balls cuddle under a towel. They yawn. One hugs a plus giraffe, then topples over. Kittens? Actually, they’re the inhabitants of Costa Rica’s Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary and the stars of a 90-second video titled. “Meet the Sloths.” Now meet that viral hit’s British mastermind, Lucy Cooke-zoologist, TV host, author, and explorer. Whether tweeting about dung beetles in Kenya or swimming with pink dolphins in the Amazon for her Nat Geo Wild show, Freaks and Creeps, Cooke broadcasts the delights and plights of the ‘uncharismatic micro-fauna.’

Why do you love ‘ugly’ animals? Freaks of nature tell fascinating stories of evolution, but they don’t get enough attention.

What are the weirdest of the weird? In South Africa you can see the pangolin, an anteater covered in large scales that work as armor. It looks like a walking pinecone, or like an extra from Star Trek. Then in Borneo, not far from where everyone goes to see orangutans, there’s a sanctuary in Labuk Bay for proboscis monkey’s, which have potbellies, what looks like Donald Trump’s hair, and big dangling noses that amplify their barks.

You love sloths. Where is the best place to see them? Costa Rica has a famous sanctuary, but just as wonderful is one near Medellin, Columbia, called Aiunau.

Favorite places to travel? On islands, animals evolve in isolation. Tasmania is like a Noah’s ark for lost freaks, from the duck-billed playtypus to the Tasmanian devil. You can walk among creatures that walked alongside the dinosaurs.

Did any place change you? Brazil’s Pantanal wetland is like (naturalist) David Attenborough on acid. Virtually all the animals are oversize-jaguars, anacondas, flightless birds, the capybara rodent. The landscape is surreal.

What advice do you have for travelers? Do your research. Visit sanctuaries. Remember that the place is often as good as the guides: A great one can bring a place alive.

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