Welcome to Animal World Records! In this regular feature, we’ll be looking at animals that are the fastest, biggest or smallest of their kind. Those that fly higher in the air, or live deeper in the ocean, than any other. Those with the longest tongue, or the largest eyes, or the most number of legs.
If, like us, you found yourself during lockdown being overwhelmed by day after day of increasingly grim news, you may have found solace in the Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. Madness is certainly apt. Every few minutes of this messy, captivating, and at times surreal, series yields some new surprise or jaw-dropping twist, to the extent that if I tried to explain the seven episodes in detail to someone who had never seen the show, I might be accused of making it all up.
When I was young, the first bird of prey that I was able to easily identify was the kestrel. I suspect the same is true of many other people. The kestrel’s silhouette, suspended in the sky as if by wire over some heathland or motorway, became instantly recognisable to me, for no other British bird of prey can hover in place with such utmost precision.
My favourite animal changes all the time. When I was younger, I cycled through various large, majestic cats such as tigers, jaguars and snow leopards. At one point, I considered the polar bear among my favourites; another time, the hippo. But now I much prefer stranger, more obscure, more underappreciated animals. And a weird, elusive, nocturnal creature that looks almost like a walking pinecone fits that bill perfectly – the pangolin.