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Have a flutter and help save the albatross

By Tom Whitehead, PA News

The Scotsman

27th April 2004

Punters can have a flutter with a difference after the launch of a unique bird race tonight to help save the iconic albatross.

Celebrities have teamed up with ecologists and bookmaker Ladbrokes for a novelty betting treat and hope to ruffle a few feathers over the plight of the world’s mightiest seabird.

The Ladbrokes.com Big Bird Race will track the progress of 18 young Tasmanian Shy Albatrosses as they migrate from islands off Australia to South Africa.

Gamblers can follow the 6,000 mile “race” on a special website and bet on which winged athlete will cross the “finishing line” first by reaching its destination.

A host of stars from stage, screen, music and sport have joined the fun to become “owners” of each bird, which have genuine odds.

Jerry Hall, Olivia Newton-John, Brian May and Queen Noor of Jordan are among those to nominate and name a bird and the winner will receive the Duke of Edinburgh’s Challenge Cup.

More than 100,000 albatrosses are unintentionally killed each year through poorly executed, and often illegal, longline fishing practices.

Of the 21 species of the massive but graceful creature, 19 are facing extinction.

Environmentalist David Bellamy said: “We hope all the runners complete the course safely, but the truth is they face a gruesome death from badly executed longline fishing practices.”

The race website – www.ladbrokes.com/bigbirdrace – was officially launched at a glitzy event at the Royal Geographical Society in west London tonight.

Zac Goldsmith, editor of the Ecologist and son of the late Sir James Goldsmith, has named his bird after the magazine and pledged a 1,000 bet.

He said tonight: “This is a huge issue and I am delighted it is being opened up.

“I think this event is a stroke of genius.”

The race was thought up by Conservation Foundation member Tim Nevard who approached Ladbrokes.

He said: “This is now the largest seabird tracking project ever carried out so there are potentially great benefits to science as well as highlighting the plight of the albatross and having a bit of fun.”

Mr Nevard said he hoped all the birds make it but any deaths, especially by long-line fishing, would raise the awareness of the problem.

Longliners set a single line up to 130 km (80 miles) in length behind their boat. Attached to it are thousands of baited hooks and an estimated 1 billion hooks are set annually by the world’s longline fleets.

Albatross and other ocean birds swoop down and swallow the bait ... and the hooks, which drag them under water till they drown.

Organisers called on relevant countries to sign and ratify the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), which requires them to take specific measures to reduce “seabird by-catch” from longline fishing by deterring the birds chasing from the bait.

Only six countries have done so to date – Australia, New Zealand, Ecuador, Spain and South Africa, plus the UK earlier this month.

Any income generated from the bets will be fed directly back into seabird conservation projects determined by a committee of experts.

The birds will depart from three different stables (islands) – Pedra Branca, Albatross Island and Mewstone off the Tasmanian coast – and each will have a jockey (satellite tracking device).

They will be allowed to leave their islands on their own accord and as the website went live tonight an early leader was revealed.

Golfer Sam Torrence’s bird Daniphobouska (10-1) had travelled the furthest, with Monarch of the Glen (8-1 and for actress Susan Hampshire) and Aphrodite (8-1 and for Jerry Hall) in close second.

Owners and birds:
Zac Goldsmith – The Ecologist;
Sam Torrance – Daniphobouska;
Sir David Attenborough – Ocean Spirit;
Clare Francis – Homeland;
Susan Hampshire – Monarch of the Glen;
David Campese – Demi;
Queen Noor – The Ancient Mariner;
Jerry Hall – Aphrodite;
Sir Ranulph Fiennes – Ginny;
Jeremy Vine – Douglas;
Phil Tufnell – Paragon;
Olivia Newton-John – Styx;
Brian May – We Will Rock You/Rocky;
Richard Johnson – The Booster;
Jono Coleman – Harriet;
Frankie Dettori – Lucky Seven;
Nicholas Coleridge – Xanadu;
Ronnie O’Sullivan – The Rocket.



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