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.

I will be exploring this list of species through the month of October 2022 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 Sierra Nevada Red Fox

2 Rowan Tree

3 Canada Warbler

4 Chinese Broad-headed Pond Turtle

5 Bengal Tiger

6 Azuero Spider Monkey

7 Philippine Fairy-bluebird

*8 European Oak

9 Virginia Big-eared Bat

10 Key Deer

11 ‘Ohi‘a Tree

12 Spectacled Bear

13 Zebra Shark

14 Hispid Hare

*15 Sea Otter

16 Margay Cat

17 White-naped Crane

18 Hawaiian Hibiscus

19 Eastern Spotted Skunk

20 Seychelles Wolf Snake

21 Umbrella Thorn Acacia

*22 Eastern Cougar

23 Loggerhead Sea Turtle

24 Amate Tree

25 Ornate Eagle Ray

26 Black-footed Ferret

27 Sunda Clouded Leopard

28 Common Ash

*29 Giant Golden-crowned Flying Fox

30 Resplendent Quetzal

31 Florida Burrowing Owl


*Current Challenge List*

*The Art*

*Order Art Book*



Sierra Nevada Red Fox


Vulpes vulpes necator

Status: Critically Endangered. Fox fur has been sought by trappers since the mid 19th century. This subspecies resides in the subalpine regions of the Serra Nevada mountains, and with very few individuals left, they are highly at risk of extinction.

In Miwok lore, animal spirits are the ancestors of humans. Coyote is one of the earliest culture heroes, also seen as a trickster god, and creator. In one of the creation stories, Silver Fox moved through the darkness of existence. At that time, there was only water. There was no earth yet, nor other creatures and life. She was lonely, and so she lifted her voice and wove her solitude in a song. Coyote heard her, and together they decided to sing the world. Through the vehicle of song and dance, they brought the multitudinous beauty of the world into being.


-Back to the list-



Rowan Tree


Sorbus aucuparia

Status: Over half of Europe‘s endemic trees are threatened with extinction as they are under increasing attack from invasive pests and pathogens. This is of special concern because the forests are home to great biodiversity, and planted grove diebacks hinder reforestation efforts.

The bright red berries of a rowan tree stand out against the verdant foliage, and have been symbols of protection for thousands of years. The native range of rowan trees is high up in the mountains, growing in remote and windblown locations from precarious cliffs and crevices. Due to this characteristic of habitat, it is called The Lady of the Mountains. Rowan trees were often planted near doorways to protect those inside from evil and misfortune.

According to Ancient Greek mythology, the origins of the rowan tree resulted from the actions of Hebe, who was goddess of youth and cup-bearer to the gods. Hebe was careless however and spiteful demons stole the cup from under her watch. Unable to retrieve the cup on her own, she sought the help of the other gods. An eagle was sent to battle with the demons and recover the cup, and in the ensuing battle, for every feather from the eagle that drifted on the winds to settle on the ground, and for every drop of blood coaxed by demon teeth and claws from the eagle and soaked into the earth, sprang a rowan tree. This is why rowan trees have such delicate leaves shaped like feathers, and blood-red berries.


-Back to the list-



Canada Warbler


Cardellina canadensis

Status: Special Concern, Endangered under Canada‘s SARA, due to habitat loss, declining population, and acid rain.

There is an Ojibwe legend of an endless Winter. There was a man who captured all of the Summer birds - the warblers, doves, finches, woodpeckers, and sparrows - and imprisoning them. As the year cycled around and the time came for the sun to warm the frozen ground, and for green things to grow, and the air to fill with the wings of birds and insects, all was still and cold in the land. Winter held sway through the spring and the Summer because the birds were not able to bring the warm growing season

As the people and animals shivered, and food grew sparse, they held council and it was decided that the Fisher would set forth to find what was causing the unending Winter, and to bring the Summer birds back. After a long journey, Fisher arrived at the man‘s stronghold, and found it guarded by crows. He sealed the crows‘ beaks shut with a bit of wax that was the only item he had taken with him on his journey, so that they could cry no warning, and then he found all the cages, which he tore open with his teeth. The birds lifted their wings and emerged, and one by one soared away. In their wake, the air warmed, and the land thawed, and Spring and Summer returned in a rush to bathe the land in growth and awakening.

The warmth melted the wax on the beaks of the crows, and they cried out, jolting their captor. In his escape, Fisher lept into the air, flying high into the sky. To this day he can be seen in the stars as the Big Dipper, with his crooked tail where the man‘s arrow wounded him.


-Back to the list-



Chinese Broad-headed Pond Turtle


Mauremys megalocephala

Status: Endangered

In Chinese lore, there is a legendary creature called the Longgui, the Dragon-turtle, who has the head of a dragon and the body of a celestial tortoise. Statues of the Longgui usually show this symbol of protection and longevity on a bed of gold ingots and coins. As a turtle that is being transformed into a dragon higher being, it is also seen as an emblem of upward social movement and transformation towards prosperity.


-Back to the list-



Bengal Tiger


Panthera tigris tigris

Status: Endangered, decreasing habitat due to fragmentation, and threatened by poaching. Very few individuals living in the wild, and the range is not large enough to support a larger population.

The Sundarbans is a region of coastal mangrove swamps in a delta formed by the Padma, Brahmaputra, and Meghna Rivers in the Bay of Bengal. In the tangled forests of mangroves, the sand dunes, and mudflats, live tigers. They are both feared for their deadliness, but also revered for being protectors and incarnations of the gods and goddesses within the bounds of the Sundarbans.

Tigers are emblematic of the tension that exists between humans who live off the land and reap the gifts and rewards of that existence, but who must as a result be at the mercy of the vagaries and sometimes cruel harshness of nature. The goddess Bonbibi is the incarnation of the forest itself, and those who venture into the swamps seek her blessing for protection. The tiger is a god who punishes those who deplete the wealth of the domain without heeding the rules which govern sustainable harvesting of the resources.


Reference: Uddin, Sufia M. ⿿Religion, Nature, and Life in the Sundarbans.⿝ Asian Ethnology, vol. 78, no. 2, 2019, pp. 289⿿310. JSTOR, Accessed 12 Aug. 2021.


-Back to the list-



Azuero Spider Monkey


Ateles geoffroyi azuerensis

Status: Critically Endangered, habitat loss from fragmentated deforestation and clearcutting, and poison by local farmers who view them as pests.

It the creation myth of the Maya, the gods went through several iterations in an attempt to make mankind. In one of these earlier cycles of creation, humans were made of wood. These people of wood were foolish. They were wasteful and ungrateful to the gods, and so the gods decided to destroy the wooden men. In some stories it is a great flood that brings about the end, and in others jaguars do the work for the gods, or statues come to life.

A few of the wooden men managed to escape the retribution however, and those were transformed into monkeys, to live on today as ancestors of mankind from a previous cycle of the gods‘ creation. Man, as we move through the world today, was crafted by the gods from maize.


-Back to the list-



Philippine Fairy-bluebird


Irena cyanogastra

Status: Near threatened. Not yet endangered, but it has been watched on the basis that population has been in decline with ongoing forest loss and degradation of habitat.

The Tagalog people of the Philippines tell tales of the Tigmamnukan as a bird of omen. The bird‘s powers of auguries was sought out when embarking on a journey or for the auspices of an endeavor, for it was thought that the Supreme Being, Bathala Maykapal would send signs via earthy messengers such as the bird, lizards, or snakes to communicate the wisdom of courses of action.

In the Tagalog creation stories, in the time before humans, the Tigmamnukan flew through the jungles and trees. It pecked open a bamboo stalk, splitting it down in half to reveal the first man and first woman.

While the Tigmamnukan is a bird of myth, it is described from sources as having a notable blue coloration, and thus it is thought that the modern real world correlating creature must be the Philippine fairy-bluebird.


-Back to the list-



European Oak


Quercus robur

Status: Like many other trees, European Oak is increasingly becoming vulnerable due to to pests, disease, and climate change. Weather stress is causing damage to the bark, which in turn leaves the trees susceptible to ravages of insects, fungi, and disease.

The Celtic word for Oak is daur, the origin of the modern English word door, and thus the concept of doorways to otherworlds was bound into the very meaning of oak trees for the Ancient Celts. The Tree of Life (Crann Bethadh) is an tree in a graphic representation of harmony and balance, nature‘s power coming together in an intertwined lacework of beauty, symmetry, and resilience. Oak trees, with their impressive size, longevity, and strength were worshipped and seen as sacred beacons for the gods. The Tree of Life embodies the interconnected nature of the world. The branches spread in a canopy of sky, while the roots reach down into the earth, and both meet in the trunk as well as the boundaries of the symbol in a singular weaving.


-Back to the list-



Virginia Big-eared Bat


Corynorhinus townsendii virginianus

Status: Endangered - They are very sensitive to disturbance of their nesting sites. Human spelunking disturbs the caves inhabited by bats, also deforestation, and fungal infection has greatly impacted their population.

In Iroquois lore, the Jogah are a race of miniature nature spirits. They normally move about, invisible to human eyes, but sometimes they manifest for children, elders, or medicine people. There are different types of Jogah, but one subset, the Gandayah are called Drum Dancers because they are so seldom seen that the only sign of their approach is the rhythmic beat of their drums. They tend the flora, protecting against disease and pests, and if given offerings, they assist respectful Iroquois farmers with the benefit of flourishing crops. Strawberries are symbols of blessing, ripened sweetness of springtime sunlight kissed within a lush red fruit, and the Gandayah have a special affinity for the fruit. They guide the runners along the ground and arrange the leaves the benefit the most from the life-giving sun. The Gandayah occasionally reveal themselves in the different animal form as an omen: a robin to indicate good news, an owl for warning, and a bat for a mortal struggle.


-Back to the list-



Key Deer


Odocoileus virginianus clavium

Status: Endangered - due to poaching and habitat destruction

Living in the Florida Keys, tiny key deer run through the pine forests, mangroves, and freshwater wetlands. They roam in search of freshwater, swimming across the stretches of water to small islands.

Before the arrival of Spanish missionaries, the southern part of what is now Florida was inhabited by the a native tribe called the Calusa. Through the two hundred years that followed those first incursions, the Calusa resisted Spanish missionaries and colonists, but eventually were decimated and the small remaining population mostly fled to Cuba. Very little remains about their cultural heritage, but beautiful wooden figureheads and masks have been excavated by archaeologists, submerged in flooded plains that protected their integrity and bright colors. Many of these uncovered relics have been of animal masks, and deer in particular. In some of the few writings about what those first missionaries saw, Father Juan Rogal wrote in 1567:

...they attempted to climb up to our fort to hold a procession with their masks, coming from a little hill, where they had their houses, to the hill on which our fort was located. Between these hills there was a little valley where they were accustomed to promenade in view of the people... And the women adored them and sang their praises.




-Back to the list-



‘Ohi‘a Tree


Metrosideros polymorpha

Status: Status: not currently endangered, but under watch because the habitat for this tree is disappearing. Disease has further decimated the population, and fungal infestations that attack this species. Many birds rely upon the ‘Ohi‘a tree for nesting and food, including several endagered bird species: ‘Akepa, ‘I‘iwi, Hawaii Creeper

One of the rare and important qualities of the ‘Ohi‘a Tree is that it can grow in proximity to the toxic gases of volcanic lava flows. It is one of the first plants that begin the colonization process after a new lava flow has hardened.

This affinity for the tree to the landscape of volcanoes ties the tree to the lore of Pele, goddess of volcanoes. In one tale, Pele fell in love with a youth named ‘Ohi‘a, but he loved a woman, Lehua. In a fit of jealousy and anger at the rejection, Pele turned him into a tree. The other gods took pity upon Lehua for her loss, and transformed her into a flower for the ‘Ohi‘a tree.


-Back to the list-



Spectacled Bear


Tremarctos ornatus

Status: Vulnerable They are only found in the cloud forests of the Andes mountain, and their habitat has become fragmented from human development and destruction, and hunting of their population.

In Peru, there are stories of the Ukuku. They are trickster bear beings who are born of bear father, and human mother. They possess supernatural strength, and though mostly well intentioned, their unexpected power can catch even themselves by surprise and wreak havoc.

Each year, the Qoyllur Rit‘li festival is a celebration of the stars as the Pleides constellation comes into view in the night sky. Dancers, musicians, and a procession of indigenous people from the region climb high into the mountain, to be touched by the first rays of the Winter Solstice sun.

Climbing even higher, the Ukukus, celebrants who take on the role of the trickster bears, proceed up to the glaciers, and return with blocks of ice to be melted and used for medicinal and healing ceremony. Sadly, with the receding glaciers, this final portion of the festival is no longer performed, and the diminishing ice is left for the glacial heights.


-Back to the list-



Zebra Shark


Stegostoma tigrinum

Status: Endangered In colonial Philippines, Spanish lore and culture was woven into the fabric of local folk traditions. One such myth was about guardians of the water, called Sirena (female) and Sireno (male), who have the head and torso of a human, and the tail of a fish.

Sirena have sweet voices that they lift in song to enchant fishermen and sailors. When an unfortunate soul falls victim to the hypnotic cadences of the bewitching sea creatures, they are drawn into the embrace of the water. Some stories say these unfortunate ones are sacrificed to sea gods, but on rare occasion the tables are turned and a Sirena or Sireno becomes enchanted instead with a human, falling in love, and discarding their vicious games.

At the end of the summer, the pre-colonial Bikol moon diety, Bulan, is said to swim in the silver-lit waves of the oceans, protected by Sirena against sea monsters.


-Back to the list-



Hispid Hare


Caprolagus hispidus

Status:Endangered due to fragmentation of its habitat in the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal, Bangladesh, and India

In Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha was a paragon of selflessness throughout his many incarnations and lives. In his sixth life, he was reborn as a rabbit.

As a rabbit, he was possessed of great virtue and goodness, and he gained as friends and followers other forest creatures, living well, and teaching the other animals how to behave with generosity and kindness. The god Indra heard of rabbit, and disguised himself as an old man, coming to visit upon a holy day when rabbit had taught all the animals that they must offer alms to anyone who passed through the forest.

The old man tottered through the woods, and begged for food, and presently a monkey appeared and gifted him with nuts from the trees. A fox bore a fish he had caught and presented to the hungry elder. But rabbit had not found anything with which he could gift and feed to the man, for the dried grasses that he himself ate would be of no fit consumption.

At last, empty-handed, the rabbit hopped forth, and as the old man sat before a fire to warm himself, the rabbit hurled his own body into the flames as a sacrifice to the unknown stranger. Indra was so stricken by the unexpected offering, that he gathered the dead rabbit in his arms and laid him to rest in a palace on the moon, so that today when one gazes up to the sky, the rabbit can be seen there in the shadows on the moon‘s face.


-Back to the list-



Sea Otter


Enhydra lutris

Status: Endangered Ranging throughout the Pacific, their thick fur has made them a target of hunters for centuries. They are also vulnerable to oil spills, pollution, and in conflict with fisheries. Due to recent conservation efforts, their numbers have rebounded slightly from the extreme low of 1000 individuals in the early 20th century, but they are still at low enough numbers to be endangered.

The Tlingit, an indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest, tell stories of Kushtaka, who are shapeshifting man-otters. When one comes across the Kushtaka, they often appear like any man, and through trickery lure unwary souls astray. Their motivations are inscrutable. In some of the stories, they are malevolent, drawing poor Tlingit to their death in the cold sea or to be lost and alone to freeze. Other times they save a stranded man or woman by turning them into an otter to survive the harsh frozen climate. In some stories they play with a lone traveler‘s perceptions in a wily prank, or steal a woman away from her family for a time, ensorcelled to be a wild creature living under the influence of the Kushtaka, running naked under the starlight, sleeping in the roots of trees, and eating raw salmon, only to be returned months later to her family otherwise unharmed.


Reference: Teit, James A. Tahltan Tales (Continued) The Journal of American Folklore 34, no. 134 (1921): 335 56.


-Back to the list-



Margay Cat


Leopardus wiedii

Status: Near Threatened, Hunted until the late 90s and so population was decreased, and even now is still decreasing due to loss of habitat from deforestation in their native habitat of central South America.

Among the folktales and legends of oral tradition that were collected by folklorist Elsie Eusebia Spicer Eels in the early 20th century, was the tale of Domingo‘s Cat.

Domingo was a very poor man, and at one point his circumstances were so reduced that he had to sell all his belongings and had no home or food, but he could not bear to part with his beloved cat.

So the cat ran off into the jungle and dug through the dirt, and in the flying debris, flashes of silver caught the light. He gathered up the silver and brought it home to his master. He then similarly gathered some extra silver and brought it to the king. When asked where it came from, he told the king it was a gift from his master, Domingo. The next days, the cat dug up gold, and then diamonds, and each time brought to the king as a gift from Domingo. The king decided Domingo must be very generous and rich indeed and decided his daughter must marry him.

With his wiliness, the cat acquired a precious wedding suit, and defeated a giant by transforming him into a mouse and eating him, thus gaining a castle estate for Domingo, who married the king‘s daughter and lived happily. And the cat wandered off into the jungle to find some other soul to benefit.


-Back to the list-



White-naped Crane


Antigone vipio

Status:Vulnerable. 10 of the 15 crane species are currently threatened, mostly due to habitat loss.

In Chinese mythology, cranes are a symbol of longevity. They appear as design and art motifs. Their outstretched wings bear the deceased to heaven. They also transport immortals through the seams of the mortal and divine realms. One of the other Chinese symbols of longevity are peaches, which grow in the orchards of the goddess, the Queen Mother of the West. Together, cranes and peaches are often used in depictions of the Queen Mother‘s lush paradise isle. Etched in clay or sewn with shining silk threads into a tapestry, those symbols evoke the enchantment and divine aura of the immortal domain.


-Back to the list-



Hawaiin Hibiscus


Hibiscus brakenridgei

Status: Critically Endangered habitat loss from human development, and competition from invasive species.

A Micronesian folktale:

A chief had a beautiful daughter, and he proclaimed that whoever was able to bring him the moon would be able to marry her. A boy took up this challenge, and his mother instructed him to go to heaven first, where he was given gifts of two plovers, two roosters, a pandanus fruit, and a hibiscus stick.

The moon belonged to Yalulep. The boy went to Yalulep‘s house, and using his wiles, he blended in with the guards until everyone had fallen asleep, and then he stole away with the moon, running as fast as he could back to earth. When Yalulep sent pursuit, the boy threw his gifts behind him one at a time. The plovers fought and caused the pursuers to pause and watch. The roosters also fought and again pursuit halted to watch. The pandanus grew into a great jungle thwarting passage, and the hibiscus grew into a dense forest. At last the final remaining runners got caught in the tangled branches of the hibiscus, and the boy reached home with the moon. He presented it to the chief and married the chief‘s daughter.


Reference: Mitchell, Roger E. The Folktales of Micronesia. Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 32, 1973, pp. 1276. JSTOR, Accessed 18 Aug. 2021.


-Back to the list-



Eastern Spotted Skunk


Spilogale putorius

Status: Vulnerable

The origin of skunks, from the Winnebago Tribe: There was once a young girl who was born exquisitely beautiful. She had long hair that was pure white, and of which she toke great vanity. Many suitors came to call upon her and seek her favor, but she disdained them all, preferring instead to admire her own reflection in the water, and to rub sweet smelling flowers into her skin to perfume her body.

One day, yet another young man came to her, and she immediately turned her nose up to him. She laughed and mocked his unbecoming looks and his wrinkled, ugly skin. Unfortunately for her, it was no ordinary man, but Turtle in human guise. The spirit shed the human form and stood before her as Turtle. He declared that as she had rejected one of the great spirits, all while thinking herself holy because of her beautiful appearance. As punishment, she would now be what she had mocked.

As he spoke, she shrank into a small furry body, covered with black hair but for white streaks as the only trace of her once glorious hair. The scent of flowers faded from her to be replaced by an odious scent that sent all those nearby to flee her approach.


Reference: Keeley Bassette (Waterspirit Clan) and Rita Sharpback (Buffalo Clan), "How Skunks Came to Be," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 93.


-Back to the list-



Seychelles Wolf Snake


Lycognathophis seychellensis

Status: Endangered, and endemic to Seychelles

Among the indigenous coastal peoples of Nigeria, Senegal, and Zambia, and in the African diaspora of South America, there is lore of Mami Wata water spirits. Mami Wata have the upper body of human (most often female), and the lower body of a fish or serpent, and she is often depicted accompanied by a snake, which is a symbol of divination. The snake is coiled around her body and rests its head between her breasts.

There are stories where Mami Wata entrances her devotees when they are immersed in her waters, or boating, and she draws them into her watery spirit realm. There they reside in a paradise for a time, and upon their return to the human realm, they are blessed with spiritual and material growth and wealth. Mami Wata‘s nature is a duality of physical power, death, destruction on the one hand, and spiritual reflection, life, and creation.


-Back to the list-



Umbrella Thorn Acacia


Vachellia tortilis

Status:A once common tree throughout southern Egypt, however over-harvesting as a food source for livestock, and firewood has depleted population within the native range. The decline is cause for concern because the tree is a resource for the regional fauna, in particular bats that are endangered.

In Ancient Egyptian lore, the first gods were born under the thorny branches of the Tree of Life, the sacred acacia. The thorny trees were known as a tree of life and death. While the brewed leaves and the sweet flowers have many beneficial healing herbal uses, as a natural defense to being over-grazed, acacias release a poisonous tannin in their leaves that can cause death.

Lusaaset the was the feminine aspect of creation, with Atum being the male. The pair were worshiped in the city of Heliopolis as primordial beings, and acacias stood at the entrance to Lusaaset‘s sanctuary. In an early story of Osiris, god of the underworld, he was tricked and killed by his brother Typhon. Typhon put the body to rest in a large sarcophagus and set it into the Nile. The waters washed the chest away and it finally came to shore at the base of a large acacia. The tree's roots and branches grew around the sarcophagus, enveloping the box and its contents, and immortalizing Osiris within death.

The tree also has Biblical significance, for when God told Moses to build the Tabernacle, the instructions included the Ark of the Covenant made of acacia wood, and it is thought that Christ‘s crown of thorns was woven from acacia.


-Back to the list-



Eastern Cougar


Puma concolor couguar

Status: Extinct, 2011. Bounty hunting, and habitat loss contributed to sharp decline of their population during European settlement of North America, eventually leading to their extinction in 2011. However, in the vacuum of their presence in the ecosystem, there have been efforts to introduce western species into the regions where they once lived.

Among the Anishinaabe tribes in the Great Lakes and Northeastern Woodlands region, there are many tales of Underwater Panther. Underwater Panther is a powerful underworld being, and holds sway over aquatic creatures, all manner of fish and snakes. They are complimentary in their dominion from Thunderbirds, who rule the upper world and skies, and these opposite beings are continually at war. When these forces battle, then humans also experience strife, and when they are in a calm spell, then humans are peaceful.

Underwater Panther lives in the dark cold waters in the deepest parts of waterways and lakes. It is described as an enormous being with fur or scales, a copper tail, and horns of a stag or bull. In some tales they are protectors, or they are fearsome beings who must be petitioned for safe passage over waters, or sometimes they are malicious monsters causing men and women to drown. Although often seen as an evil creature, Underwater Panther is both feared and respected.


Source: Howard, J. H. (1960). When They Worship the Underwater Panther: A Prairie Potawatomi Bundle Ceremony. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 16(2), 217 -224.


-Back to the list-



Loggerhead Sea Turtle


Caretta caretta

Status: Vulnerable. Sea turtles play a vital role in grazing on sea grass and maintaining healthy sea bed habitat, but of seven species of sea turtles, 3 are endangered, 3 are vulnerable, and the last species does not have enough information gathered about it to assess. Their populations are at risk because of poaching, marine debris, beach development, climate change changing sand nesting temperatures, and bycatch.

In ancient Polynesia, sea turtles were seen as divine navigators offering guidance from the gods. They are creatures who are of both land and sea, and so were seen as intermediaries to humans (creatures of land) with the otherworld and afterlife (the unknown depths of the sea). The prosperity of islanders was so intimately tied with the sea and its bounty, for their livelihood, food, shelter, and safety from storms, and they looked to the movement of turtles between land and sea as an omen for their own fortunes. Each year, the turtles return to the lagoons and it is seen as an indication of the health and peace of those waters.


-Back to the list-



Amate Tree


Ficus insipidaa

Status: While usage of the tree‘s bark for clothing and paper was used by Maya, the propagation in the 20th century of mills for and commercial creation of amate paper (bark paper) and modern techniques involving caustic soda and industrial chemicals has made harvest of the trees detrimental to the regional environments and water supplies in particular.

The Amate tree begins as a vine, but can grow to enormous size as a mature tree, bearing negligible flowers and edible though unflavorful small figs that the local fauna feed upon. In El Salvadore, there is a legend about the Amate tree. It is said that the tree bears no flower or fruit (as far as humans take interest in), but that it does bear an special ornate and extraordinarily beautiful flower. This flower can only be seen by children and deaf people. If one is lucky enough to find the flower, it can be captured with a white handkerchief, and the owner will then be bestowed with luck, even after the elusive flower vanishes.


-Back to the list-



Ornate Eagle Ray


Aetomylaeus vespertilio

Status: Endangered, low reproduction rate, and victim of fisheries in their range that have no protective conservation efforts in place.

For the Maori, stingrays are symbols of wisdom and protection, for they glide through the waters with grace, and so serenely peaceful. Yet when they are threatened they can use the spines of their tails to great and deadly effect. They move swiftly, while camouflaging with the ocean floor, and they are not to be underestimated. Some communities of Maori still believe in ancestrally linked guardian spirits, and among those that are spoken of are shark, and stingray, and owl. These guardian spirits are deities that have entered into an animal and thus elevated it to an immortal status. Their role is to guide and protect their descendants, and also to punish them if they stray to ill actions.

Kaitiaki is a person or conservator over some precious element of the natural world, and the concept weaves disparate elements of ancestral beliefs, community, and environmental stewardship together into modern practical purpose. Stingrays are seen to be kaitiaki of certain shores and beaches to ensure that shellfish are harvested in a way that does not hurt the web of the ecosystem, thus ensuring that there is always plenty of shellfish and other resources when needed.




-Back to the list-



Black-footed Ferret


Mustela nigripes

Status: Critically Endangered. Population suffered due to loss of their primary source of food, prairie dogs, by farmers waging battle against the rodents that are considered an agricultural pest. Poison used to kill prairie dogs also wiped out black-footed ferrets. Adding to the problem, an imported plague wiped out thousands more prairie dogs. However, due to conservation efforts, the wild population is stabilized and breeding, as well as a secondary captive population, and progress is made on salvaging the plains ecosystem, so the outlook is optimistic.

Historically, plains tribes in North America snared and and their pelts of weasels for rites, ceremonial regalia, and war bonnets. The fierce fighting skills of the creatures was recognized, with their lithe body and coiled power. They have keen eyesight in the dark and a keener sense of smell. To impart some of those qualities and their fearless spirit upon the warriors, representations of weasels were inscribed upon the ends of their weapons. The black and white coloration made them emblematic of the cycles of life and death.

Because of the loss of their primary food source of prairie-dogs, black-footed ferrets are endangered. Modern tribal conservationists have dedicated themselves to preventing the extinction of the species, working with sparse wildlife funds to revitalize the prairies and grasslands and the intricate ecology that black-footed ferrets are a flagstone species for. To bring them back from the brink is to bring back the overall health of the interlinked ecosystem.


* Underfunded but passionate native american conservationists call for more support (article)


-Back to the list-



Sunda Clouded Leopard


Neofelis diardi

Status: Vulnerable as their tropical forests are being cut down for logging, and illegally hunted for their skins.

In the lowland rainforests of Borneo the Sunda clouded leopard is a secretive spotted shadow amongst the trees, solitary in its hunting habits along the ground and using their arboreal skills to climb trees to avoid danger. Iban mythology tells of feline spirit creatures called remaung, warrior spirits that were believed to weaken the souls of enemy warriors. Remaung is usually in reference to tiger beings, however tigers went extinct in Borneo centuries ago and so clouded leopards have since then taken on that mantle. They are also the largest of the smaller cats of Borneo and can be mistaken for a small tiger.


* B. Sellato: The Other Tiger Temasek Working Paper No. 1: 2019


-Back to the list-



Common Ash


Fraxinus excelsior

Status:Once common, but due to outbreaks of Common Ash Dieback, Common Ash has been experiencing rapid decline of population and concern for risk of extinction. In Europe, over 40% of the trees that are native to the continent are threatened.

In the Norse epic poem, Havamal, the world tree Yggdrasil, is a giant ash tree, eternally green, at the center of the cosmos. The mighty trunk rises to the heavens, and the roots reach deep to pierce the nine realms.

Yggdrasil has three roots, each at a well. The first well, Hvergelmir, is deep below thick ice, the well of poison, but also the well of life, and from which the first living beings were created. A dragon lies here and chews upon the root. His foil is an eagle who lives at the top of the tree, and the two communicate enmity via messages carried up and down Ygdrassil‘s vast trunk by a squirrel. The second root lies at Mimir‘s well, the well of wisdom, and the third root is tended to by the three Norn fates (past, present, future), Urd, Verdanai, and Skuld, at Urd‘s well.

In his persuit of higher knowledge, the god Odin sacrificed himself, wounded with a spear, to hang from the tree for nine nights. On the final night, just before he fell from the tree, Odin acquired the secrets of the runes. The story is a reminder of how knowledge and self-transformation is never attained without personal sacrifice.


-Back to the list-



Giant Golden-crowned Flying Fox


Acerodon jubatus

Status: Endangered due to deforestation and poaching for bushmeat

As the largest bats in the world, giant golden-crowned flying foxes inspire both fear and respect. As pollinators, they are a vital cog in the machinery of the rainforest ecosystem, dispersing the seeds of the fruit from which they feed.

One of the most feared mythic creatures of Filipino lore is the Aswang. The Aswang masquerades in the daylight as a beautiful maiden, but the reality is a vampiric witch who shapeshifts at night to the form a bat. She glides under the moon and stars, and with her long proboscis reaches through the roof of the house of her victim and consumes their heart and entrails. Because an Aswang looks like any other human in the light of day, the way to discern their true identity is to gaze into their eyes, and if one‘s reflection is upside down, they are one of these supernatural beings.

Ironically, the fearsome stories inspired by the impressive size and wingspan of flying foxes is unsupported by the reality of their gentle fruit-eating diet, and their vulnerability with having their roosting places disturbed. There are some fishermen who do not fear flying foxes, and instead when they find the creatures roosting in the tangled mangroves above their fishing grounds, see them as an omen of a prosperous excursion.


-Back to the list-



Resplendent Quetzal


Pharomachrus mocinno

Status: Near threatened and with decreasing population, due to being hunted for feathers or capture to be sold as pets. They are unable to survive in captivity, so such a fate is death to a quetzal.

The resplendant quetzal, with its beautiful shimmering train of metallic blue-green feathers, was sacred, precious, and divine to many Mesoamerican civilizations.

The ancient Aztec diety, Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, was inspired by the quetzal. Its serpentine body is adorned with iridescent green feathers, and the snaking, long body that is like the quetzal‘s whipping train of feathers when in flight. Quetzalcoatl was a god of vegetation, earth, and water, and controlled the winds.

In Guatamala, the quetzal is a symbol of freedom, because its nature does not allow for it to survive captivity. If captured and kept in a cage, the bird will spurn food and water and die rather than live as a prisoner.


-Back to the list-



Florida Burrowing Owl


Athene cunicularia

Status: Threatened and decreasing population due to disappearing habitat

The Stikini are found in the lore of the Seminole tribes of Florida. They are shapeshifter witches who look no different from the Seminole people they live amongst, but under the cloak of the night sky and under the light of the moon, they discard that mask of humanity. Deep in the woods, they manifest into their true nature as an owl-creature by expelling their souls, organs and blood and transforming into a winged nocturnal monster that feeds on human hearts. Among some, it is dangerous to even speak the name aloud, for it attracts the attention of the Stikini and the speaker is at risk of becoming one. Only powerful medicine people can speak their name.


-Back to the list-