Tuesday, October 7, 2008
If we're lucky, we might see a banker
Welcome to another programme in our series Conservation Alert With Me, Prue Denim. As you know, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has just published a Red List of endangered species and we were going to devote the programme to the elephant shrew, or grey-faced sengi, as it is also named. Then we learnt of another species that faces even more imminent extinction - the whey-faced banker.
The elephant shrew is vulnerable but not as endangered as the whey-faced banker
"I'm out here, just as dusk is falling, with my microphone and with naturalist Don Corduroy, who is an expert on this shy and timid creature. So, Don, what are the chances of catching a glimpse of a banker this evening?"
"Well, Prue, as you know, they are very timid and shy and inclined to panic at the least sight or sound. That is why we are both speaking in this special naturalist's whisper. This is certainly a good desolate area to look for them. They usually build their nests in tall glass structures, using large, shiny desks for protection. They feed on marble, mostly, and a kind of regurgitated coffee-like liquid."
"Why are they threatened with extinction?"
"Basically, it's a loss of habitat and a loss of confidence. A sudden drop in habitat prices caused an epidemic among them, known as portfolio tremens, or the jitters. We don't yet know if this disease can be passed on from bankers to humans.
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Bankers are gorgeous little creatures with big round, yearning eyes and sleek, stripy coats, but they faint at the slightest thing. I don't know if we'll spot any this evening. Just keep a sharp eye out for their droppings."
"Shhh, Don. What's that over there? There's something moving in the shadow, just outside the Pret a Manger. Do you see? Now it's scurrying along the street towards the traffic lights, dodging past the parking meter. Here, take a look through my binoculars."
"Yes, I see it now. No, that's just an economist. There are thousands of them around here. There's no danger of them dying out; in fact, they thrive in these conditions and they also breed like accountants. I know, Prue, let's just stand very still in this doorway for a few moments and we might hear the characteristic cry of a banker - it's a sort of well-bred whimper."
"Was that it? That swoopy hooting noise that goes on and on?"
"No, that's the alarm call of the Peston owl. That is likely to panic the whey-faced bankers and send them dashing to their burrows. That other cooing sound, which seems to be saying 'We're all doomed the noo', over and over again, is the Darling bird."
"What does the Darling bird do, Don?"
"It just flaps about, Prue."
"What can be done to save the banker from extinction?"
"The world needs to wake up before it's too late and establish a massive programme of reassurance. It may cost billions of pounds to build up their confidence again, but that is the only thing that will save them being wiped off the planet - which would be an absolute tragedy and a huge loss to our wildlife heritage.
Wait a minute, I think I heard one whimpering just then. Maybe if I rustle this £20 note it might just lure the little chap out into the open."
"To hear one is great, but to see it would be a real bonus."
"Don't say the word 'bonus', Prue. It upsets them dreadfully. Now it has probably gone back into its burrow."
"Well, it has been an absolutely fascinating evening, Don, and even though we didn't see a banker, I feel I've learnt a great deal more about its plight as an endangered species. Brrrr, I don't know about you, but I'm beginning to feel chilly in this economic climate and I think we ought to make tracks back to the studio for a nice mug of cocoa."
"Great idea, Prue."
"Oops, I just trod on something squelchy in the darkness."
"Nothing to worry about, Prue. Just the world's last surviving elephant shrew. Now, where's that cocoa?"