Do you like nature? Do you like mythology? Do you have an itch to draw something and are looking for inspiration? Check out this challenge list featuring endangered creatures and the myths, lore, stories that surround them. Moon rabbits, selkies among the kelp, manatee-mermaids, the origins of Chinese Dragons: These are just some examples of the stories you can draw your inspiration from with this prompt list.

I will be exploring this list of species through the month of October 2021 and I invite any artist to join me in this celebration of nature in using these prompts and lore snippets, and tagging #UndyingTalesProject on Instagram.

100% of the profit from the sale of these 31 original drawings by Stephanie Law will be going to various environmental charities. (Scroll down for Charity List) Subscribe below if you are interested in being added to the daily mailing notification that will be sent out when each drawing is done in October. Original pieces are usually sold the day of release, and email time is randomized throughout the day to let people around the globe have a chance at claiming pieces.

 

*1 Iriomote Cat

2 Hillstar Hummingbird

3 Riverine Rabbit

4 Pampas Deer

5 Mangroves

6 Asiatic Lion

7 Two-spot Ladybug

*8 Desert Tortoise

9 Reeve's Pheasant

10 Painted Wolf

11 Amazonian Manatee

12 Large Blue (Butterfly)

13 Mao (Bird)

14 Sea Tangle

*15 Sun Bear

16 Southern Cassowary

17 Wolverine

18 Elkhorn Coral

19 Philippine Eagle-owl

20 Horseshoe Crab

21 Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle

*22 Long Whiskered Owlet

23 Gopher Frog

24 Honduran White Bat

25 Rusty-spotted Cat

26 Green Peafowl

27 Jaguar

28 Finnish Forest Reindeer

*29 Bees

30 European Rabbit

31 Muddy Dragon

 


*CURRENT 2021 Challenge List*

*The Art*

*Order Art Book*

*Oct 2020*
*Feb 2020*
*Oct 2019*
*Charities*


Iriomote Cat

 

Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensis

Status:Critically endangered, due to loss of habitat and competition from feral cat population

Japanese folklore is populated with Yōkai, supernatural spirits or creatures, and references to spirit felines in writing can be found in some early literature in the 1100’s. The spirit nature of cats is evident in their characteristics, behavior, and traits that they possess. They slink through the night, and caterwaul with sometimes human-like sounds. Their eyes glint and dilate rapidly to let them see in the dark. They pad silently on wood or dirt, slipping silent and ghostlike through their surroundings until without warning, they pounce on unsuspecting prey with claw and fang.

Nekomata are mysterious feline spirit beasts that dwell in the mountains. They slip along the hidden paths, and hide in the craggy peaks. Perhaps if a wanderer finds oneself alone on a mountain path and a youth or young maid steps out to hail traveler, beware that it might be a shape-changed nekomata. Since the Edo period there have been beliefs that ancient nekomata were once housecats, who as they became aged, ran away from their human homes to become feral and powerful spirit creatures.

 

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Blue-Throated Hillstar

 

Oreotrochilus cyanolaemus

Status: Critically endangered, with only one very small population of them in the Andes mountains.

Flitting at high altitudes, among the flowers in the remote ranges of the Andes mountains of Ecuador, the blue-throated hillstar hummingbird is a flash of deep blue and green across the landscape.

According to the Incas, the condor was once king of the skies and messenger to the heavens. It was he who communicated the supplications and prayers that the Incas had to the Creator. The condor would take the messages from humans and convey them to God, but even given this celestial charge, he had never laid eyes upon God’s visage.

The hummingbird was a much more unassuming creature than the grand condor, but she had a knowledge of the world gleaned from sipping at the nectar that was the essence of the flowers and plants. She was also a curious and creative little being.

One day the hummingbird stowed away in the condor’s feathers as the condor flew with messages to God. When they came into the heavenly sphere, hummingbird emerged and looked and basked in the radiance of the divine visage, and was transformed and elevated in that moment.

Thereafter, condor conceded that while he would the king and protector of the skies, the hummingbird would take on the mantle of messenger and spiritual guide.

 

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Riverine Rabbit

 

Bunolagus monticularis

Status: Critically Endangered. Diminished food sources. Females only produce one offspring each year, and so they are very slow to grow in population.

The Bushmen of Africa have a tale about the origin of death. The Moon wanted men to know that just as she waxed and waned, was born and died, and would wax and be born again, so too would humans. She sent Hare with this message, but Hare deliberately perverted the message, leaving out the rebirth part, saying, “As I die and perish, so shall you perish.” When Moon learned of this, beat the wayward messenger with a stick, thus giving Hare a cleft lip, and Hare kicked out at Moon and the great gouges from his claws are the dark streaks and spots we see on the moon’s surface.

 

Reference: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3818841

 

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Pampas Deer

 

Ozotoceros bezoarticus

Status: Vulnerable in Brazil. As a result of expansion of agriculture, habitat has been greatly reduced.

The Tupi people living in the Amazonian jungles of Brazil are wary and respectful of the forest spriit called Anhangá. Anhangá has the form of a white deer with glowing eyes, and is known as the protector of forest life and in particular, animals with young. When a hunter’s prey eluded him, or mysteriously vanishes just as it is about to be caught, people say that Anhangá must have been protecting the creature.

 

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Mangroves

 

Status: Mangrove forests are essential ecosystems in many parts of the world, and due to climate change and coastal development, one in six mangrove species worldwide are in danger and stark decline. Mangroves are vital in protecting coastal areas from the ravages of tsunamis and erosion, and the support coastal wildlife as a marine habitat.

The Sudarbans forest is in the eastern deltas of the Bay of Bengal. Freshwater swamps meet the mangrove forests that edge the sea in a complex tangle of waterways and mudflats. It is home to the Bengal Tiger, as well as many other mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles.

Bonbibi is called the Lady of the Forest, and is protectress of the Sudarbans. She is venerated by both Hindus and Muslims who live within the environs of her forests in eastern India and Bangladesh, and she is the guardian of all the plants and creatures in her domain. She can be protector to those who perform the proper rituals respect before they set foot in a perilous excursion into terrain that is treacherous and shaped by the ebb and flow of sea, by weather, and by the cycles of life and death, growth and decay, and filled with predators that are stronger and quicker than humans. Living within her boundaries is to accept those dangers as well as to flourish in the fertile bounty and resources. It is a contrast of the inhospitable yet rich, and an acknowledgment of humankind’s small place within that uncertain wilderness.

 

Reference: Uddin, Sufia M. “Religion, Nature, and Life in the Sundarbans.” Asian Ethnology, vol. 78, no. 2, 2019, pp. 289–310. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26845329. Accessed 12 Aug. 2021.

 

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Asiatic Lion

 

Panthera leo leo

Status: Endangered - very small population and only surviving today in India, however population is increasing.

Beautiful, regal, and powerful, lions are symbols of power, strength, loyalty, and leadership. In India, one of the incarnations of Vishnu (preserver and protector) is as a Lion God, whose role it is to destroy evil.

Although lions never ranged as far as Southeast Asia, their reputation and legend traveled across to countries whose people would have never laid eyes upon the majestic great cats. Evolving from the Sanskrit word for “lion”, the mythical creatures called singha can be found adorning palaces, temples, and guarding over gates. Some singha are like chimera with aspects from both Hindu and Buddhist influence, with wings and a flowing mane that combine the divine eagle aspect of Garuda, and the sinuous nature of a Chinese lung (dragon).

 

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Two-spot Ladybug

 

Adalia bipunctata

Status: Endangered due to habitat loss and changes in climate, ladybugs are threatened with extinction. Ladybugs are particularly sensitive to temperature changes, and will die from dehydration if they become overheated. Like most animals, the primary threat to ladybugs is the destruction of their habitat. For a while, the 7 spot ladybug was endanger by introduction of invasive beetle species, but it has since recovered. Two-spot ladybug is still endangered.

An 18th century English nursery rhyme about ladybugs:

Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home,
Your house is on fire,
Your children shall burn!

There are many superstitions linked to this helpful and brightly colored little beetle, and almost all of them look upon ladybugs as omens of fortune. To an agrarian society before the advent of chemical pesticides, the ladybug was (and is) the farmer’s best ally, protecting the crops from insects who might have a devastating impact on harvests. As such, in many cultures it it is considered unlucky to kill a ladybug, even if accidentally. Farmers sometimes used smoke to rid plants of pests, and this song might have been used to gently urge the friendly ladybirds to depart before the smoke.

 

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Desert Tortoise

 

Gopherus agassizii

Status: Endangered - population decreasing due to urban expansion, mining, and diseases introduced by pet tortoises released into the wild.

The creator, called Mastamho by the Mojave people, was descended from the Earth and the Sky. He made people, crafting a son and daughter from his own body and from whom all other people were born. Along the banks of the Colorado river, he made a home for his children, giving them crops to grow: corn, tobacco, and mesquite, and teaching them how to plant and tend them.

When Mastamho created other living beings, they were much alike and very similar to humans in appearance. He didn’t know what each might specialize in. He had them compete, running, jumping, swimming, and as they did so, he determined which would run on legs, which would fly, and which would swim, and then he went among them all and gave them names: birds, dogs, fish, reptiles.

The land and its creatures are revered. The desert tortoise is one of these significant creatures, and features heavily in the song storyscapes that the Mojave tell of their origin, history, travel routes, and celestial events.

The stories tell of Spirit Mountain, from where people first came, and to where they will return upon death. The physical mountain itself is Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, and the mountain and its surrounding areas are sacred to the Mojave as well as a dozen other tribes, and it is home to the desert tortoise.

 

Sources:
* https://sacredland.org/ward-valley-united-states/
* https://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/ca/tmmi/tmmi04.htm
* Bourke, John G. “Notes on the Cosmogony and Theogony of the Mojave Indians of the Rio Colorado, Arizona.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 2, no. 6, 1889, pp. 169–189. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/534146. Accessed 13 Aug. 2021.

 

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Reeve's Pheasant

 

Syrmaticus reevesii

Status: Vulnerable - habitat loss and overhunting for their tail plumes

The Luan bird is one of the celestial birds of Chinese mythology, and akin to the Feng bird (phoenix). In bestiaries and poetry, it is described with the form of a pheasant with five-colored markings, and if sighted, is an omen of good fortune and prosperity. It can be found roosting in the branches of paulownia trees, and its voice is bell-like and harmonious.

A poem written in the 4th century by official Fan Tai told of a King of Jibin who caught a Luan. He wanted very much to hear it sing, but despite his coddling and fondness, while held captive in a cage it grew despondent and would not utter a peep. His wife suggested that perhaps it was because it needed to see another of its kind. The King had a mirror placed by the cage, and when the Luan caught sight of its own reflection, it uttered the most mournful of cries and then died.

Other legends tell of the Luan as the mount for mortals who are transcending into a divine state, and as the mode of transport for the Queen Mother of the West, queen of immortals.

 

Source: Hargett, James M. “Playing Second Fiddle: The Luan-Bird in Early and Medieval Chinese Literature.” T'oung Pao, vol. 75, no. 4/5, 1989, pp. 235–262. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4528455. Accessed 12 Aug. 2021.

 

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Painted Wolf

 

Lycaon pictus

Status: Endangered - habitat fragmentation and infectious disease.

The oldest breed of canines is the painted lycaon. They stalk through the savannahs of Africa in highly social and familial packs, hunting antelope, and have lived alongside humans for thousands of years but remains undomesticated, avoiding human contact.

In Egypt’s Predynastic period, lycaon were found engraved and carved on objects and jewelry. By contrast, in later Ancient Egypt imagery, domesticated dogs and wild wolves were instead depicted. It is thought that the lycaon imagery symbolized the chaos of the wild, that later was replaced by the tamed and domesticated canine partners of humanity.

In Enno Littman’s Publications of the Princeton Expedition to Abyssinia he recounts a tale “Of the Debbi”. The debbi is described as a wild animal, smaller than a dog, and the story he relates is of a man who goes down to a river to fetch water. Before he reached the river, he noticed a great number of animals gathered around, drinking. Suddenly, the debbi approached, and there was a wild scrambling as all the animals, great and small, fled, leaving the debbi to drink alone, and eventually leave.

The man was puzzled by this, and when he wandered down to the river at last, he found a hair of the debbi, which he tucked into his cloak. When he returned to his village, just as the animals had fled from the debbi, his fellow men and women fled from him, and he was frightened and puzzled. At last, a brave man purchased the strange hair from him and created a talisman of it.

It is said that when a man is a great warrior whose enemies fear him, that “he must have the hair of a debbi about him.”

 

Source: https://archive.org/details/publicationsofpr02littiala/

 

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Amazonian Manatee

 

Trichechus inunguis

Status: Vulnerable and decreasing in population. They are slow moving creatures and often are victims of boating collisions during their migrations.

These strange and gentle ocean herbivore mammals have long been thought to be the origin of sailors’ stories of glimpsing mermaids. In ancient Greek mythology, siren were beautiful and deadly creatures who lived in the sea. They looked like women and sang the sweetest of songs. Any sailor who heard their music became lost in the seductive magic and leave their tasks so that their ships would smash into the rocky coasts of the sirens’ island.

In the earliest depictions of sirens in Greek art they were shown to have women’s heads and a bird’s body. In later art, they had female human forms, but bird’s legs, and were shown playing instruments and singing. By the tenth century, a Byzantine bestiary claimed sirens were woman from the waist up and avian below, and by the Middle Ages they had transformed further into our modern idea of a mermaid with a fish tail from the waist down.

When European explorers came across the dark humanoid forms sliding as shadows beneath their ships, or glimpsed them in the distance basking in the sun, they remembered these ancient myths and their eyes reshaped the unfamiliar forms into that of a siren.

In Tupi mythology in Brazil, Iara is a freshwater mermaid who lives in the rivers of the Amazon Basin. Iara was once a beautiful young woman, but because she was admired and respected by all, her brothers grew envious. Treacherously, they plotted to kill her, but she defended herself and accidentally slew them. For that crime, she was punished and drowned in the river. Her spirit rose up as a mermaid, and beware to those who come to her river unwary, for she seeks revenge. In other tales she is seen as a protector of the waters and the creatures who live beneath the surface.

 

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Large Blue (Butterfly)

 

Phengaris arion

Status: Endangered, unknown factors causing population decrease, possibly pollution, insecticides, collectors. Many species of butterflies that are not currently threatened are under close watch as predicted climate change models put them in danger of sharp population declines.

In Greek, the word for butterfly is “psyche”, which is also the name of the goddess of the soul. Psyche was born a mortal woman who was so beautiful that Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, became envious. Other mortals started worshiping Psyche instead of Aphrodite, and so the goddess became wrathful and sent her son Eros, god of love and desire, to make the mortal girl fall in love with an ugly monster. Instead, Eros fell in love with her himself. After many trials and tasks set upon her by Aphrodite, and through which Psyche persisted, she eventually won divinity, and toke her place at Eros’ side.

 

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Mao (Bird)

 

Gymnomyza samoensis

Status: Endangered, declining population endemic to Samoan Islands

A Samoan creation story:

Tagaloa, the chief of all the gods and creator, had a son named Tuli. As a bird, Tuli flew from the heavens to the world but all was sea, and at last he returned to Tagaloa and complained that there was no place for him to land and rest. There was no dry land. In response, his father threw a stone into the vast sea, and this became an island, the first land. With successive visits by Tuli to Tagaloa, earth, plants, and humans were brought about upon the world.

 

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Sea Tangle (Kelp Forests)

 

Laminaria hyperborea

Status:Unsustainable commercial harvesting of the kelp beds is harming the ecosystem, as well as rising ocean temperatures and heatwaves, and invasive other seaweed species like Golden kelp that are taking over territory. Kelp forests are major strongholds for ocean life diversity, shelter, and food. Giant kelp whose range is in warmer waters of the Atlantic and Pacific ocean are now listed as an endangered ecological community.

The swaying long fronds of kelp forests are food and shelter for thousands of species of sea life. The ocean floor is protected from erosion and the destructive power of storms. Fish dart about and hide in the towering fronds, and invertebrates live and feed at the base, while aquatic mammals, and seabirds use the thickets to shelter their young from storms and predators, and to hunt for fish.

Along the Scottish and Irish coastline at low tides, dense beds of Cuvie, or Sea Tangle hug the sea floor. The blades surge with the ebb and flow in the tide, green-brown and glistening with salt spray. It is not uncommon to see seals diving in those tangled forests, or floating buoyed by the fronds. And perhaps if one looked closer it might not be a seal, but a selkie of Celtic lore, one of the seal-people who live dual lives as a seal when in the water, and shedding their skin to take on human form when they are on land.

 

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Sun Bear

 

Helarctos malayanus

Status: Vulnerable from heavy deforestation, and illegal hunting for food.

In Vietnamese mythology, the ruler of the divine pantheon is Ngoc Hoang. While Ngoc Hoang’s father created the land and sea and sky, he created the animals and people, crafting each form and face with the love of an artisan. Among his children are the goddesses of the sun and moon.

Mat Ga Trong is the sun rooster, bearing the sun across the sky and bringing light and life to the world. Her moon sister is Trang Chim, the moon swan, and she bears the moon across the sky to bright light to the dark hours. The two sisters share their marriage bed with Con Gau, the bear god. He is a lusty husband, and when a solar or lunar eclipse happens, it is said that Con Gau is with one or the other of his wives.

 

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Southern Cassowary

 

Casuarius casuarius johnsonii

Status: Endangered

Large and flightless, the cassowary is an icon of Australia and Papua New Guinea. The Rainforest Aboriginal people have a cultural relationship with the birds, revering them in songs, story, and dance, and respectfully hunting them for food. One of the Aboriginal Dreamtime stories tells of how the cassowary got its unique looking casque atop its head.

Long ago, the animals all lived together. They would gather at watering holes to drink, but cassowary was shy to join because he was self-conscious of his small wings and inability to fly. When the other animals saw and taunted him, he charged in a rage, missing his target and instead bashing his head into a large rock, part of which broke and stuck to his head.

That night, the animals were attacked by snakes, and as cassowary ran into to the fray. When the snakes laughed at his flightless wings, he once again flew into a rage, and charged about, scratching at the snakes and smashing them with his stone-topped head, until the snakes were defeated.

After that, the other animals no longer teased him, and he became their protector.

 

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Wolverine

 

Gulo gulo

Status:Conservation groups are attempting to get wolverines on the endangered list but struggle against lawmakers. Wolverines are widespread and have a worldwide population, however there are concerns that the currently stable populations will begin to decrease as climate change endangers and diminishes the necessary habitat of boreal forests, alpine and subarctic tundra.

The Innu know Wolverine as Kuekuatsheu, a mischievous trickster whose pranks are sometimes inappropriate but conducted with humor.

In one story it is told that Kuekuatsheu created the world. Long ago, before our world, he built a great boat, and brought all the animals aboard while a torrential rain poured across the land. It rained and rained, and when this had continued and all the old was flooded, he instructed Mink to swim down to the bottom and fetch some of the muck and rocks. Mink did so, diving deep and coming back with some mud in his paws. From this sticky ooze, Kuekuatsheu fashioned an island, and this then became the world we know now.

Source: http://www.native-languages.org/kuekuatsheu.htm

 

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Elkhorn Coral (Coral Reefs)

 

Acropora palmata

Status: Critically Endangered. 22 coral species are threatened, and three are endangered. This status continues to change as climate change affects ocean temperatures and pollution increases.
Some other threatened corals: Elegance coral, crisp pillow coral, horastrea coral, pillar coral, elliptical star coral, mushroom coral, parasimplastrea coral, pearl bubble coral, ctenella coral.

Coral reefs are sometimes called the rainforests of the ocean, and tropical coral reefs support a huge amount of biodiversity and ocean life.

The ancient Greek myth of Perseus tells of the origin of coral. To rescue Andromeda, the hero petrified that great sea monster by using Medusa’s head. The beast shattered and crumbled to vanish as silt and pebbles beneath the ocean waves. As Perseus set Medusa’s head upon the riverbank to wash his hands, some of the blood seeped down and into the water. Where it touched seaweed, the reeds and fronds were hardened to stone as well, and this became the first coral.

 

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Philippine Eagle-owl

 

Bubo philippensis

Status: Vulnerable

In the pantheon of the Visayan people of the Philippines, is the omniscient goddess Dalikamata. She is depicted as a beautiful woman, with thousands of eyes on her body, each of which is gifted with clairvoyance. She sees the past, present, and future, and she sees each person and knows all actions. At night she weeps for the ill actions that she sees humans doing to one another. It is said that the dew drops on the plants in the morning are the tears that she has shed, and that these tears can be a powerful ingredient for medicines. As an intermediary between the human and spirit world, she takes her charge of watching over human souls seriously, and so she put eyes on the wings of a butterfly to remind humans of goodness during the day, and she set the eagle-owl to watch over the night.

 

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Horseshoe Crab

 

Tachypleus tridentatus

Status: Endangered, due to habitat loss — sea level rise and coastal erosion, and over-harvesting for biomedical use. They are harvested because their blue colored blood is a critical for testing of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Their blood contains a unique substance that coagulates when contaminated by bacteria.

Horseshoe crabs are “living fossils”, unchanged for millions of years as other creatures evolved and died and sprang forth and the world churned and changed. In Japan, the horseshoe crab is called kabutogani, warrior’s helmet crab. According to Shinto doctrine of reincarnation, they are the reincarnation of samurai warriors who fought at battles along the shores of Japan.

 

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Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle

 

Rafetus swinhoei

Status: Critically Endangered. Once widespread in the freshwaters of China and Vietnam, they are near extinction due to loss of habitat and hunting. There only only a few individuals left.

Vietnamese legend:

In the fifteenth century, Lê Lợi became emperor of Vietnam by rising against the Ming Dynasty and driving them out of the country. Breaking the chains of that thousand-year-rule was the beginning of the establishment of his own Lê Dynasty.

Legend says that the deity, the Dragon King, provided Lê Lợi assistance in the form of a magical sword called Heavens’ Will. Upon Lê Lợi’s victory, the Dragon King sent an emissary, the Great Turtle God, called Kim Qui, to retrieve the sword.

Lê Lợi gratefully handed over the divine weapon to Kim Qui, and the spot where this exchange occurred became called “The Lake of the Returned Sword”.

To this day, some of the last survivors of a critically diminishing population of softshell turtles inhabit that lake, and they are seen as being the mortal incarnations of the Great Turtle God.

 

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Long-whiskered Owlet

 

Xenoglaux loweryi

Status: Endangered, due to rarity and deforestation of the limited range.

In many of the Andean societies, birds were an important part of their culture. Feathers were used for beautiful adornment, and their likenesses were carved on friezes, ceramics, jewelry, and weapons. The various qualities of birds carried through from the mythologies about them and had power to imbue the wearers or bearers of such artifacts.

The Moche, pre-Incan society in Peru, believed that owls carried fallen warriors from the battlefield to the world of the dead. The owls bore their charges away in their claws, sweeping with their silent wings beyond the reach of the mortal cloud forests of the Andean mountains.

 

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Gopher Frog

 

Lithobates capito

Status: Critically Endangered.

Frogs are ubiquitous little amphibians, swimming through freshwater streams and ponds, marshes and wetlands, yet frogs cast a long shadow in the imaginations of many cultures. Sometimes they are associated with the bringing of rain, sometimes with the cessation of rain. They sing from the reeds and mudbanks in a hypnotic rhythm that is like a chant of power.

In Cherokee lore, solar and lunar eclipses happen when the great frog in the sky is trying to swallow the sun or moon. The tribe would come together and beat their drums to frighten off the great frog so that the celestial light could once again emerge.

 

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Honduran White Bat

 

Ectophylla alba

Status: Near Threatened due to habitat loss and deforestation for agriculture and urban development, and no official conservation programs yet aimed at them. Populations are declining.

As flying creatures, bats were associated with the ancient Maya gods of the sky, but also as nocturnal, cave-dwelling creatures, who also found roosts in the hollows of tangled tree branches, they entered the domain of the Underworld and the spirits. Bats serve as pollinators, and as they disperse the seeds of the fruits they ate, bats also are linked to new growth that comes from the earth and from the old.

Flying along waterways, paths out from the Underworld, bats were seen as messengers between the living and spirit realm, and when they slumbered in the daytime, it was thought that they hid among the roots of the sacred tree of life, called Yaxche.

 

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Rusty-spotted Cat

 

Prionailurus rubiginosus

Status: Vulnerable

A Hindu allegory:

When Lord Ganesha (an elephantine god of beginnings) was a mischievous youth, he love pranks and to play in the mountains. One day he saw a cat, and thinking it would be entertaining, he crept up to the cat and pulled its tail. As the cat yowled in pain and leapt in the air, Ganesha further poked and teased the creature until it scampered off into the rocky slopes.

Ganesha realized then than he had hurt the cat and felt remorse. As he made his way home his mother, Parvati, came to him. He was shocked to find she had scrapes and injuries across her body that mirrored those he had inflicted on the cat. At this, he understood that though his mother was a great protector, creator, and destroyer of life, and though she held the embodied of the universe, she was also one with all of the life in the world, and so when he had hurt the cat, he had hurt her as well. And so Ganesha learned empathy.

 

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Green Peafowl

 

Pavo muticus

Status: Endangered. Habitat in tropical southeast Asia is fragmented and destroyed. Wild population is declining and limited to small areas of Thailand and Indonesia.

The Dai people of southeast Asia, combine many shamanistic beliefs and practices into Buddhism, something that remains from their background of being animists before Buddhism became the dominant religion. Peacocks were revered as being messengers and embodiments of compassion, beauty, and peace.

The ancient monarchs of Burma used the green peafowl as their royal emblem, and it remains a symbol of anti-colonial movements.

In Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and other countries of southeast Asia there is the peafowl folk dance. It is a traditional performance where the dancers are dressed as peacocks and their movements are inspired by the elegant peacock fan of feathers and beauty.

 

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Jaguar

 

Panthera onca

Status: Near Threatened. Decreasing population because of perceived conflicts with livestock, and being hunted for trophies.

Jaguars are the largest North American cat, and third largest in the world; stealthy carnivores who stalk the jungles of the Amazon and range across the mangroves, grasslands, and streams.

As the dominant predator within their ecosystem, agile, deadly, and beautiful, jaguars were the subject of reverence in the mythology and legends of all of the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations.

The Maya integrated many of the physical characteristics of the jaguar in their deities. Daytime is the realm of the living, and night is for spirits. Jaguars are mostly nocturnal, but in the dense thickets of the Amazon they also are active in the day. For its nocturnal aspect, jaguars became associated with ancestors and the underworld. But for its daytime jaunts, it is also known as a creature that can move through the worlds of the living and the dead.

Unusual among felines, jaguars enjoy water and can be seen near streams and in wetlands as such, they also are associated with the growth of vegetation, abundance, and fertility.

 

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Finnish Forest Reindeer

 

Rangifer tarandus

Status: Vulnerable, due to climate change, shifting vegetation patterns, and ineffective land use.

The Sámi people of Sápmi have an intricate relationship with reindeer. They are semi-nomadic reindeer herders, moving through the inhospitable environments and treeless tundras alongside the migratory reindeer. They, and other reindeer-herding indigenous people in the Siberian sub-arctic regions maintain a delicate balance and harmony in their relationship to the creatures.

For the Koryak people in Far Russia, reindeer are also respected, sacred, and an integrated part of their daily life and survival. The Koryak have a legend of how Raven, the creator and first-ancestor, flew out into the stars, and returned bringing reindeer to the people.

Sources:
* Jochelson, Waldemar. “The Mythology of the Koryak.” American Anthropologist, vol. 6, no. 4, 1904, pp. 413–425. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/659272. Accessed 13 Aug. 2021.
* https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.559.6027&rep=rep1&type=pdf

 

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Bees

 

Status: While the folklore tradition of the world is rich with stories and beliefs about bees, they often focus on the domesticated honeybees, which play such a crucial role in their connection with humans for agriculture, as well as in our use of honey and wax. We often forget, then and now, that the bees that truly need our attention and saving though, are the wild native bees that live in all regions, hurting for pesticides, lack of native flora, and habitat destruction.

The Hindu divinity Bhramari is the “goddess of black bees”. She earned this name and title when she defeated the renegade demon ArunadAnava, who invaded the heavens with his demon accomplices, and attempted to dislodge the gods from their abodes.

The wives of the gods plead and supplicated Lord Shiva and the goddess Parvati, at which she answered. Swarms of black bees flew from her hands. Their humming filled the air, and blocked out the light of the sun so that the sky went from blue to black night. As the demons were defeated and driven away, the bees flew off into the world, living emblems of Bhramari’s protection of the world.

 

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European Rabbit

 

Oryctolagus cuniculus

Status: Endangered. While it has been introduced to other continents and spread across the world, sometimes with disastrous invasive species results, they are Endangered within their native range of Europe because of hunting and habitat loss, and the gap they leave in the ecosystem results in decline of the native predator animals that rely upon them for food.

Across many cultures of the world, the rabbit is associated with women and female deities, lunar cycles, fertility, and rebirth. The power to bring life to the world is the power of creation and regeneration. To the ancient Romans, rabbits represented love, lust, and fecundity and was a favored icon for both Venus (goddess of love) and Diana (goddess of the hunt). Misconceptions about reproduction were put forward by Aristotle, among others, and led to a kind of mystical apprehension of rabbit reproduction. In later medieval times the rabbit was an outright symbol of the feminine, and can be seen in this thinly veiled guise in carvings and illuminations.

Sources: Abraham, Claude K. “Myth and Symbol: The Rabbit in Medieval France.” Studies in Philology, vol. 60, no. 4, 1963, pp. 589–597. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4173435. Accessed 10 Aug. 2021.

 

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Muddy Dragon

 

Alligator sinensis

Status: Critically Endangered, habitat fragmentation and loss, and extreme population declines

The Chinese mythical dragon (called a loong) is a fantastic celestial creature that is depicted as a chimerical conglomeration of attributes from a variety of earthly creatures. It has the serpentine body of a snake, the scales of a carp, the mane of a lion, antlers of a deer, claws of an eagle. They are majestic symbols of power and tied to the elements and the land as spirits and guardians.

The inspiration for loong was once thought to be snakes, or lightning, but modern archaeologists now speculate that the original prototype for the loong imagery was very likely the Chinese alligator, based on findings of depictions of the alligators on ancient relics. Over the centuries, the muddy dragons of the Yangze River evolved in the minds and hearts of people to become the celestial loongs.

 

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