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Down In The Mouth: Mildlife Conservation

Snap! Not the sound of a surprise general election, but the last remaining synapse of my brain as it snaps apart like a cerebral twiglet. To say the narrative of contemporary politics has become labyrinthine in scale would be a gross oversimplification at this point. You’d have better luck explaining all five seasons of The Wire to a household pet.

Theresa May’s decision to hold a general election on 8 June, the latest in the seemingly never-ending trend, may prove fatal to one of Britain’s most endangered species. This may explain why I have spent the preceding hours engaged in an exhausting trek across acres of countryside for my latest assignment.

Pausing to regain my breath, I gaze across the sprawling meadow below, its acres of trembling daffodils stretching out into the periphery. A crude scarecrow hangs nearby. Tatters of unfashionable clothing hang off its sickly frame, its beady button eyes exuding an all-too-familiar dejection. I continue to scrutinise the mannequin, before realising I am in fact looking at my own reflection in my smartphone screen.

A short while later, I meet with Professor Stanley Hancock, the principal ecologist at The Commenticius Institute. He has agreed to not only discuss the dwindling numbers of this particular species, but also for me to accompany him during his conservation effort, in the hopes of glimpsing this elusive creature for possibly a final time.

“Their habitat has become too fragmented to sustain a healthy population,” admits Hancock. “Recovery is still possible, but their docile nature makes them susceptible to predators. This, coupled with the recent rise of populism would indicate the current decline is likely to continue unimpeded.”

With dusk only a few hours away, we start down the hillside towards the reserve. Following a muddy trail, we briefly pass a loinclothed and heavily-bearded wild man, manically scooping honey from a fallen beehive. Hancock later informs me the individual was in fact Ken Livingstone, recently exiled from the Labour Party, now living pollen-stained and quasi-rabid in the wilderness. Sad.

Hancock continues to discuss the importance of conservation: “Given the current widespread dissemination of misinformation and proliferation of climate denial, we find ourselves in a uniquely precarious position as a species. As Émile Zola once said, “The fate of animals is indissolubly connected with the fate of men.”

“Yeah, I love animals. Even the rubbish ones.” I say, stepping over a stile. Arriving at the den, Hancock removes a bag of crushed shortbread from his coat pocket and scatters handfuls of crumbs onto the ground. We then retreat to a safe distance and await nightfall. We spend the ensuing hours scanning the vicinity with night vision goggles for any sign of movement to no avail. It is then that I notice a tuft of white hair slowly popping up from the sett. Freezing in anticipation, we get our first glimpse of Corbyn as he emerges cautiously from his underground citadel. He sniffs the air for potential threats, then having presumably deemed the area safe, proceeds to groom himself. The professor begins to frantically scribble in his notebook.

A moment of madness strikes, as I begin treading softly towards the Labour leader, placing each footstep delicately onto the leafy ground. I misstep and break a twig, startling Corbyn. He stares wide-eyed as I continue my approach, raising my hands in a non-threatening display, slowly reaching out to stroke his beard. It is soft. Corbyn smiles and paws affectionately at my shoe.

“Fascinating!” exclaims Hancock, continuing to take notes. “However, we must leave lest we attract predators.”

Corbyn whimpers.

“Don’t look, it only makes it harder,” says Hancock.

As we make the journey back to civilisation and the glittering internment of pop culture, I wonder whether our furry friend’s habitat will be wiped out in a landslide come 8 June. Much like the endangered panda that refuses to mate, efforts at conservation may ultimately prove futile.

I take a final glance back across the moonlit contours of the valley. Corbyn’s silhouette stands meerkat-like against the bleaching moon, before scampering off into the night to an unknown fate.

Next article in issue 42

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