Peace Crane by Hilary Taylor

Peace Crane by Hilary Taylor
Picture by Justin Wyatt
To read Hilary's story buy this special book...

This magical story has a touch of the supernatural. When an injured crane is found and nursed, something happens, something magical and inspiring...

Gentle Footprints launched- AS SEEN ON TV

Gentle Footprints was officially launched Fri June 4th at the Hay Festival with guest speaker Virginia McKenna and some of the authors

Buy from Bridge House Publishing by clicking on the link BUY:


Virginia McKenna at Hay Launch

Virginia McKenna at Hay Launch

Animal Anthology To Raise Funds for Born Free

Bridge House Publishing announce new book coming Spring 2010. For more about Bridge House please see their website.
This book is the annual charity book for Born Free...if you want to get involved with promoting and selling this book- email me!

Visit the Born Free Website to find out more about their valuable work...

Visit the Born Free Website to find out more about their valuable work...

Monday, 22 November 2010

A is for Aardvark

So Debz challenged me to write about the aardvark there were only three thoughts which came to me: Cyril Sneer from the cartoon The Raccoons, the blue aardvark from the Pink Panther and the fact that it is the first word in the English dictionary, though the word actually comes from the Afrikaans/Dutch for "earth pig" or "ground pig"

Blue Anteater & Cyril Sneer

My second thought was – “hang on, Cyril Sneer and the blue thing in the Pink Panther are anteaters not aardvarks.” This then led to the embarrassing realization that I didn’t actually know the difference between and aardvark and an anteater but guess what I found out…they are actually the same thing...sometimes! Some people actually call aardvarks "anteaters" and it is an accepted form of their name however the anteater is not actually related to the aardvark at all. In fact it even lives on a different Continent being an inhabitant of South and Central America. Confused yet?. Aardvarks are also called antbears, anteaters and earthpigs.

So with that misunderstanding cleared up (in a not very satisfactory fashion) my journey of anty discovery began.

An Aardvark Vs An Anteater - which is which??? (hint: the aardvark has bigger ears)

Aardvarks are found in sub-saharan Africa and are pig-like creatures. I bet you can’t guess what they eat. Oh you can – oh well. In that case I feel less clever telling you that they eat ants and small insects. I can recapture a bit of my cleverness, however, by revealing that the greedy things can suck up over 50,000 small bugs every time they eat. They do this with their long snout and tongues.
Aardvarks have powerful spoon shaped claws and can dig a hole very quickly. They use this skill to create their burrows. They have four toes on their front feet and five on their back feet.
Aardvarks gestate for 7 months and give birth to one baby which usually stays with it’s mother until it is of breeding age itself. Aardvarks in captivity live for around 24 years.
The aardvark's main predators are lions, leopards, hunting dogs and pythons. They also need to watch out for humans as some tribes use their heart, skin, foreheads and claws to create a powder which is worn as a charm to give the owner the ability to pass through walls or roofs at night.
The aardvark’s closest living relatives are (at opposite ends of the scale) the elephant shrew and the elephant.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Mongoose

•Mongooses are weasel like animals, which have long bodies and faces, combined with small rounded ears. They have short legs and long tapering tails. Most of the time they have a gray or brown streak or a pattern in gray or brown. These animals have claws that cannot be drawn back they are non-retractile.

•Some species of the mongoose class are nocturnal while others come out in the light of day. One of the species known as yellow mongoose belong to the latter group and live a community life unlike the Egyptian mongoose, which lives a solitary life.

•Mongooses live in crevices of rocks and burrows. The interesting thing is that seldom do they dig these holes themselves, most of the time they just move into burrows that have been left by other animals.
•Scent plays a very important role in case of demarcating the territories of various species and they also use it to mark the reproductive status. They have a large anal scent gland for the same purpose.
•Apart from the scent they also make a high-pitched noise, which is termed as "giggling" as a sign of mating. Giggling is a form courtship when the animal is choosing a partner.

•The Mongoose is a very fast animal and in a conflict with a snake, it can dodge the snake and save itself from the strike of the snake easily. It uses several tricks and then when the snake is tired it attacks the snake and catches it by the back of its neck. It breaks the snake’s spine and eats the snake! Quite a feat for such a small animal. Humans are such scaredy cats really!

•They have a great tolerance towards the venom of the snake,but there have been times when the mongoose has eaten the head and the fangs, the latter pierce through the walls of the blood vessels in the body of the mongoose. The venom leaks into the bloodstream leading to the death of the animal.

•Some species of mongooses use various defense mechanisms to save themselves from the bigger carnivores. Like Meerkats of them acts as the guard who keeps a watch on the surroundings and makes a loud noise that works like an alarm call for the others. Once the other mongooses hear this alarm call they rush to the nearest hole as soon as they can.
There is very little difference between mongooses and meerkats but scientifically whilst a meerkat is a mongoose a mongoose is not a meerkat. Any differences are probably reflected in small cranial structures such as the auditory bulla (a small bone in the ear) and possibly dental characteristics.

The mongoose in literature was made famous by Rudyard Kipling's Rikki Tikki Tavi. This story was about a mongoose who saved an Indian family from a dangerous Cobra.

Hope you have enjoyed this brief look at this fascinating and brave little animal!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Axolotl: the salamander that will never grow up

It’s not particularly cute or flurry, but an axolotl will never grow up. Although that won’t stop the axolotl breeding. Axolotls are neotenic due to a lack of thyroid stimulating hormone and generally fail to undergo metamorphosis so spend most of their lives in a larval state. Axolotls have external gills, a caudal fin extending from their head to the vent, have wide heads with lidless eyes and underdeveloped limbs with long, thin digits. Features that are typical of the salamander family of which they belong. They feed by suction as they have barely visible vestigial teeth and are carnivorous, favouring worms, insects and small fish. They usually breathe through their gills but can also gulp air from the water’s surface. Axolotls live and breed underwater.

Axolotls have four different colourings, varying shades of brown with spots (wildtype), black (melanoid), pink with black eyes (leucistic) or golden or pink with pink eyes (albino). On average they grow to around 20cm long and can range in length from 15 to 45cm. Axolotls are native to Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco in Mexico. Lake Chalco was drained to avoid flooding and Lake Xochimilco is now not so much a lake as a series of canals, which supplies the 18 million people in Mexico City. The diminishment of their natural habit, reductions in water quality as well as being food (Axolotls were a staple food in the Aztec diet and axolotl eggs are eaten by carp and tilapia fish), has meant they are now critically endangered. Recent surveys have suggested that between 700 to 1200 axolotls survive in six locations within the Xochimilco area. Reintroduction of axolotls is not thought to be a good idea because of the risks of chyrdiomicosis, a disease caused by the chytrid fungus which is often fatal for axolotls. However, there are programmes to create wild refuges for axolotls in their native Mexico.

Although there are no stories featuring axolotls in “Gentle Footprints”, Julio Cortazar (1914 – 1984) published an axolotl-themed short story in in 1956 which was included in his “Final Deljuego” (End of the Game and other stories). In the story, a man frequently visits a zoo and finding his favourite animals, the lions and panthers, asleep (typical behaviour for big cats), he decides to explore the aquarium and finds himself entranced by the axolotls. He makes many return visits, comparing them to figurines of milky glass with discs of gold for eyes. The narrator goes from being transfixed to being transformed, looking at himself from inside the aquarium.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The misunderstood Vampire Bat

Oh, dear. It seemed like a good idea at the time - give one another animals to blog about. I blithely threw out an idea of a creature with a bad press thinking it would be fun to see if someone could find something positive to say. Now they've given me the vampire bat. Half of us are vegetarians, for heaven's sake. The things live on blood.

Okay, they can be kind to their neighbours and regurgitate a bit if the neighbour hasn't found a meal that night, and they adopt orphan vampire bats within the colony, but still. All that blood, and they lap up half their body weight of the stuff in one feed.

To put it in context, though, that's only one or two teaspoonsful a night or every other night because they're only three inches long. Or looked at another way, the contents of the veins of a cow every four years. They have razor sharp incisors that they use to shave away a small area of fur or feathers and then make a shallow incision. Because of their solely liquid diet they don't need any more teeth.

They've got round bodies, long pointy ears and a naked snout. They have a wingspan of eight inches. See for yourself and comment at the end as to whether you think they can be called cuties or not.

They have a special sense of temperature to search out more superficial blood vessels. There's an anticoagulant in their saliva that allows them to lap (they don't suck it) for twenty or thirty minutes without the blood clotting. We call it draculin. There's also another chemical that numbs the skin of the animal they're feeding from so they don't wake up and realise what's happening.

There are three types of vampire bat, the common, the white winged and the hairy legged. The two above are white winged, this one's hairy legged:

The other two prey on birds but when they can the common stick to cows, pigs and horses. They've developed a solution to the dilemma of feeding from large land-based animals - they can walk! They have long legs with little fur on and use long thumbs on their wings for walking as if on all fours.

A scientist in the US caught some to study how fast they could walk and found that when he speeded up the treadmill they broke into a run and managed the equivalent of two and a half miles. Unfortunately this was pre-YouTube but this is supposed to give you an idea.These researchers also found the bats could remember the sound of the breathing of their victim and go back to the same animal. "Vampire bats are incredibly intelligent," this Dr Riskin said.

Yeah, it's a pity about the way they make their living but if you've ever stood in Sainsbury's unable to recall the colour of the packet of biscuits you liked so much you'll have a sneaking admiration for that ability.

Contrary to expectation, these creatures are not found in Transylvania but only in Latin America, from northern Mexico down to Argentina. This is what is intriguing because vampire mythology is present in practically all cultures including Ancient Greek and early Hebrew. Word of the bats' existence was only brought back to Europe by the Spanish in 1526, so they're not the source of the old world legends. The conquistadors saw their resemblance to the vampires of folklore, not the other way round.

Most of the myths have it that a vampire can only be created by another vampire. One legend tells that in ancient Greek times a human man called Ambrogio fell for a woman Apollo fancied and was cursed by Apollo so that his skin would burn in sunlight. Later he gets cursed by Apollo's sister Artemis so that his skin would burn if he touched silver. Artemis then felt sorry for him and made him immortal and gave him god-like hunting skills. The blood-sucking link seems to be that Ambrogio shot swans and used their blood to write poems to his love.

Our view was always defined by Bram Stoker following the publication of Dracula in 1897. Based on information he came across on vampire bats he introduced the idea of his vampire transforming into a bat.

However, it's now being shifted again by the present generation of young charismatic beings that are prevalent in modern culture. They're sexually attractive, powerful and immortal so especially fascinating to teenagers. This batch, though, have emotions and a conscience and don't turn into bats.

Meanwhile in deserts, scrubland and rainforest, the real thing continue to hang upside down in caves and tree hollows by day and feed in the darkest part of the night. They live in colonies of a hundred or more, breeding females and their offspring with one male. They are mutual groomers and have strong social bonds. Gestation is six to eight months, females have about one pup a year and they can live up to nine years.

Are they endangered? Not at present. In fact they've done rather well over the last three hundred years with the introduction of domesticated horses, cattle and pigs. So where a lot of rainforest animals have suffered because of the way people have altered their habitats, it's been to their advantage. They are, however, widely blamed for spreading rabies and so farmers look to kill them.

On balance, I think I judged too soon - despite their distasteful way of making a living they don't kill their prey, they're kind to one another, are adaptable and intelligent. Ted Hughes wrote a book about them that I'm afraid we overlooked in our house while we were busy reading Herb the Vegetarian Dragon:

What do you think?

I'd say misunderstood, and pretty amazing.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The amazing Duck Billed Platypus!

Welcome to a lottery of posts by the authors of Gentle Footprints. We are randomly selecting animals (not in the book) but to raise awareness! Feel free to add your comments. And there will be a sequel to Gentle Footprints we hope so this is all food for thought!

This amazing critter is endemic to Eastern Australia including Tasmania and looks like an odd mixture of a duck and a mammal- perhaps something Disney night have created? Or God after a glass of vino or two!

But that aside this semi aquatic mammal is a total, albeit unlikely cutie!

Just look at this:

Together with the four species of echidna, it is one of the five extant (as in not extinct)species of monotremes, the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young. It is the sole living representative of its family (Ornithorhynchidae) and genus (Ornithorhynchus.)

But is it as cute as it looks. Actually this animal is one of the few venomous mammal!( Although I reckon I can think of a few!) The male Platypus has a spur on the hind foot that delivers a venom capable of causing severe pain to humans.

This critter has appeared as a mascot at national events and is featured on the reverse of the Australian 20 cent coin. The Platypus is the animal emblem of the state of New South Wales!

The body and the broad, flat tail of the Platypus are covered with dense brown fur that traps a layer of insulating air to keep the animal warm.

The Platypus uses its tail for storage of fat reserves (an adaptation also found in animals such as the Tasmanian Devil and fat-tailed sheep). It has webbed feet and a large, rubbery snout. The webbing is more significant on the front feet and is folded back when walking on land.

Unlike a bird's beak (in which the upper and lower parts separate to reveal the mouth), the snout of the Platypus is a sensory organ with the mouth on the underside. The nostrils are located on the dorsal surface of the snout, while the eyes and ears are located in a groove set just back from it; this groove is closed when swimming.

Platypuses have been heard to emit a low growl when disturbed and a range of other vocalisations.

But hey all this science stuff is boring to read- why not look at this:

The platypus is officially classified as "Common but Vulnerable" in Australia. As a species, it is not currently considered to be endangered.

However, platypus populations are believed to have declined or disappeared in many catchments, particulary in urban and agricultural landscapes. In most cases, the specific underlying reasons for the reduction in numbers remain unknown.

Platypuses in Literature (a very well known genre as you will all be aware!)

Not sure sure there are many examples of platypuses in adult fiction... maybe we have found a gap in the market!!!

And poems!

Old Man Platypus

Far from the trouble and toil of town,

Where the reed beds sweep and shiver,

Look at a fragment of velvet brown -

Old Man Platypus drifting down,

Drifting along the river.

And he plays and dives in the river bends

In a style that is most elusive;

With few relations and fewer friends,

For Old Man Platypus descends

From a family most exclusive.

He shares his burrow beneath the bank

With his wife and his son and daughter

At the roots of the reeds and the grasses rank;

And the bubbles show where our hero sank

To its entrance under water.

Safe in their burrow below the falls

They live in a world of wonder,

Where no one visits and no one calls,

They sleep like little brown billiard balls

With their beaks tucked neatly under

And he talks in a deep unfriendly growl

As he goes on his journey lonely;

For he's no relation to fish nor fowl,

Nor to bird nor beast, nor to horned owl;

In fact, he's the one and only.

by A. B. "Banjo" Paterson

In fact there is a whole website of poems!

Check this out:

And to end:

Some cute pics:
I so want this cuddly toy.. Dear Santa...