Fri. Jan 22nd, 2021

Teen’s cartoons put endangered dwarf chameleon in the spotlight

While tiny creatures are fighting for survival in a hostile world, there are heroes trying to save them.

teens cartoons put endangered dwarf chameleon in the spotlight - Teen’s cartoons put endangered dwarf chameleon in the spotlight

Faced with the second wave of COVID and the effects of “super-spreaders”, stories that might normally have been aired are more often than not being sidelined. 

Take the story of Kurk Darnell, an 18-year-old hearing-impaired artist from the Western Cape who is creating his first cartoon book about what he calls “nature’s forgotten children”.

Kurk has focused his edgy drawing talents on the dwarf chameleon. It is so endangered that, within the foreseeable future, this tiny creature which is no bigger than a thumbnail will be history.

Sadly, the dwarf chameleon is among those endangered species that could leave this planet without so much as a whisper.

Using cartoons to help kids understand nature

628b3e1c page from kurks book - Teen’s cartoons put endangered dwarf chameleon in the spotlight
A page from Kurk’s cartoon. Image: Supplied

“I thought if I could make the characters I use in my cartoon drawings to help kids understand nature better, then I will have done something good,” Kurk said.

The work in progress is an illustrated story about two young school kids who rescue a dwarf chameleon and stop a bulldozer from ploughing up land where these endangered creatures live.

“I didn’t even know these little things existed. Now I am passionate about saving them. I needed to know these things at school, so that’s why I am doing what I am doing.”

Kurk said he wanted to use the voices of his characters to support other endangered species like pangolins, rhinos, frogs and honey bees as well as to draw attention to climate change.

Kurk’s message resonates in other projects

“I know it’s not easy to get my message out there,” said Kurk, whose make-shift studio in the backyard of his Riebeek Kasteel home is alive with the hero characters he is creating for his endangered species initiative. 

Kurk’s simple message to help save the planet from further destruction resonates elsewhere in the many projects ongoing amid difficult times.

Hope for critically endangered riverine rabbit

fc1d2340 riverine rabbit - Teen’s cartoons put endangered dwarf chameleon in the spotlight
The riverine rabbit is one of the most endangered mammals in the world. Image: Adobe Stock

The riverine rabbit, for example, is among the “red book” endangered creatures being closely monitored in a secret location in the Western Cape. Until a year ago, it was thought that this long-eared rabbit – made famous in Alice in Wonderland – was already extinct.

Describing it as an “historic” discovery, Bonnie Schumann of the Endangered Wildlife Trust said more confirmed sightings represented a completely new distribution of the species not anticipated by any previous population modelling.

“It is like going back to the drawing board,” Schumann said. ”It’s a really exciting find.”

Several other small species also facing extinction

5adb94de blackfooted cat - Teen’s cartoons put endangered dwarf chameleon in the spotlight
The black-footed cat is the smallest wild cat in Africa. Image: Adobe Stock

Another endangered species having a tough time is the ancient golden mole that has existed since Biblical times. It was once protected in South Africa, but no longer is. Of the 21 species identified, no fewer than 11 are facing extinction.

Unfortunately these guys may not last much longer without protection, researchers working on a special golden mole protection project said. Agriculture, mining, urban expansion and infrastructure development have severely fragmented their range. 

Add to the list the rare black-footed cat found in parts of South Africa which is also struggling to survive. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of threatened species, the black-footed cat is “vulnerable,” meaning it is at a high risk of endangerment”.

Out of mind because of their size

The problem, researchers at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) suggest, is that because of their size and the difficulty of viewing them, there’s limited awareness and very little literature on them.

“They will move off the planet without many being aware that they were there in the first place.” 

Back to Kurk – it looks as though there are more than enough small creatures that urgently need some of his special awareness treatment.

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