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Monday February 11, 2013

Why Majorcan children don’t know their toads from their turtles

The Balearic shearwater is one of Mallorca's most treasured endemic species

A scientific survey conducted among school children in the Baleares has shown that few are familiar with the islands’ endemic and indigenous creatures, displaying instead a better grasp of more exotic species from other countries.

I can understand the disappointment felt by the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA) which carried out the online survey of 750 11-15 year olds because knowledge and conservation must surely go hand in hand? Local schools here beat the drum about recycling and sustainability – although the Balearic islands are woefully backward in this regard – but rarely seem to focus their wards’ attention on the natural splendour of the environment in front of their very noses.

Back in 1909 a formidable English fossil hunter named Dorothea Bate discovered remains of a previously unknown species which she christened Myotragus balearicus. This little ‘mouse goat’ became extinct 3000 years ago but was unique to Majorca and Menorca. At the time it put the Baleares on the scientific map and although a handsome specimen is displayed at the Balearic natural history museum in Soller, my mountain town, most Majorcan children I’ve met remain ignorant of its very existence. In the same way, there is general fogginess among them about the tiny midwife toad, el ferreret, an endemic jewel of an amphibian, that lives in the highest ravines of the Tramuntana mountains (recently declared a UNESCO Heritage site).

And on the subject of endemic species, the Baleares have two notable lizards, the Lilford and Ibiza wall lizard and at least three birds- the Balearic shearwater, warbler and spotted flycatcher. Few locals let alone their offspring seem aware of them at all. In fact when I recently invited some Majorcan children to my home for tea they seemed genuinely surprised to learn that Majorca had two tortoise species, Hermann’s and the spur-thighed tortoise, as well as the Loggerhead sea turtle which lays its eggs on the nearby island of Cabrera.

As the novelty expat my account of the genets, weasels, hedgehogs, wild tortoises and viperine snakes that we have entertained in our garden delighted them all but most admitted to being aware only of hedgehogs. It rather backed IMEDEA’s other research which showed that most children’s books focused on large identifiable mammals rather than lesser known or local indigenous creatures.

The Institute’s survey bravely strayed into even deeper waters by asking the same Balearic adolescents to identify local fish. This proved the area of least knowledge. Perhaps next time the islands’ youth should be quizzed about endemic and indigenous plant, vegetable and fruit species. Although somehow I think that might prove too hot a potato.

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  1. We have to do all we can to protect the local species of the Iberia Peninsula as well as the Balearic Islands, specially so with the development of tourism…

    * by Mandy de Azevedo Coutinho | Mar 11, 01:32 pm