Gold medalists of the natural world

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Running, jumping and diving is on everyone’s mind these days as the London 2012 Olympic Games kick off and the world watches the best human athletes compete. But humans aren’t the only ones that display incredible feats of athleticism - today IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) offers up the gold medalists of the animal kingdom.


These animal athletes, some of which are listed as threatened on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, are the fastest sprinters, the highest jumpers and the most graceful gymnasts in the natural world. The Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus),would take gold in the 100m—reaching speeds of up to 70mph in short bursts. In field events, the Common Froghopper (Philaenus spumarius) could win the high jump as it can jump 115 times its own height! In the gymnastics events, the graceful Agile Gibbon (Hylobates agilis) and dancing birds-of-paradise would wow us with their moves. While celebrating the achievements of talented athletes across the world this summer, we should also take the time to appreciate these incredible species.

Archery - Smallscale Archerfish (Toxotes microlepis) Archerfish shoot down land based insects (flying insects or insects on branches) and other small animals with water shot from their specialized mouths. The Smallscale Archerfish is listed as Least Concern on The IUCN Red List.

Boxing - European Hare (Lepus europaeus) The European Hare mating season peaks in spring during a time called “March Madness.” Females choose their partners according to their strength by “boxing” with them—when females and males stand on their hind legs and hit each other with their paws. As females are slightly larger than males, only strong males impress the females and get the chance to mate. The European Hare is listed as Least Concern on The IUCN Red List.

Shooting - Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) The fruits of the Himalayan Balsam open explosively with a popping sound, ‘shooting’ the seeds to some distance. A prolific seed producer, each plant produces about 2,500 seeds and its dispersal technique helps the plant colonize new areas. Native to the Himalayas, but naturalized in Europe and elsewhere, it tends to become an invasive species and out-compete other plants. It has not yet been assessed for The IUCN Red List.

Shot Put - Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) The Lammergeier, also known as a Bearded Vulture, is one of the largest of the old world vultures. This bird wins the prize for shot put because it drops large bones from great heights in order to shatter them and eat the nutritious marrow inside. The Lammergeier is listed as Least Concern on The IUCN Red List.

Weightlifting - Rhinoceros Beetle (Xyloryctes thestalus) This beetle is able to carry loads of more than 30 times its body mass and is among the strongest animals on earth. In comparison, the heaviest individual weight lifted by a human in an Olympic competition was 263.5kg by Hossein Rezazadeh, a weight that was about one and a half times his own bodyweight and equivalent to lifting four average-sized people. Found in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico, this species has not yet been assessed for The IUCN Red List.

From the mythical home of the Olympian Greek Gods - Zeus olympius Zeus olympius is a species of fungus that until this year was only found on Mount Olympus, the mythical home of the Twelve Olympians of the ancient Greek world. This fungus is found growing on dead branches of the pine tree Pinus leucodermis and was recently discovered in a second location in south-west Bulgaria near the Greek border. This species has not yet been assessed for The IUCN Red List.

Issues involving species survival and conservation will be discussed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Republic of Korea, from 6 to 15 September 2012.

For more information please contact:
Maggie Roth, IUCN Media Relations, m +1 202 262 5313, e maggie(dot)roth(at)iucn(dot)org;
Camellia Williams, IUCN Species Programme Communications, IUCN, t +41 22 999 0154, e camellia(dot)williams(at)iucn(dot)org
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