Dame Ellen McArthur takes on Johnny Vegas in 6000-mile albatross race

Professor David Bellamy last night launched Ladbrokes' 2005 Big Bird Race - an innovative conservation project using interactive betting to highlight the impact of harmful fishing methods and encourage more countries to sign up to the international Agreement for the Conservation of Abatrosses and Petrels (ACAP).

The race uses satellite tags attached to 17 Tasmanian Shy Albatrosses, to track their progress on the 6,000 mile course from Tasmania to Cape Horn on the interactive website. Each of the birds has a celebrity owner, from Johnny Vegas and Dame Ellen MacArther to Olivia Newton-John and Frankie Dettori, and punters can use the website to study their form, including fitness, attitude and nesting habits, before placing a bet.

All proceeds from the betting are donated to seabird conservation charities, and last year’s race raised over £200,000. So forget the Grand National – in the words of the Evening Standard, “It’s time to put a pony on an albatross”. In fact, why not tell all your colleagues to have a flutter too!

The publicity from last year’s race helped to persuade another five countries to ratify the ACAP, bringing the current total to 11. However, over 300,000 seabirds still die every year as a result of irresponsible longline fishing. “19 species could go extinct by 2022, all as a result of longline fishing,” Tim Nevard, of the Conservation Foundation, told edie.

“If we don’t make this happen, we are gambling with the future of the world,” warned Professor Bellamy as he launched the race. “Without these birds, the southern ocean cannot survive”.

Tim Nevard, the instigator and project director of the race said: “The Ladbrokes Big Bird Race will provide expert researchers in the area of albatross conservation with a wonderful opportunity to make discoveries of real conservation importance. Ladbrokes.com has helped make the Big Bird Race a reality through technology and innovation that gives us the opportunity to make a real difference to global conservation.”

Johnny Vegas opened the betting by placing £500 on his bird, 18 Stone of Idiot, and stands to win £6000 in the unlikely event that she crosses the finishing line first in 20 weeks time. Edie is backing the 7/1 favourite, Johnnie Walker’s Fleetwood, as she seems to have flown a lot further than all the other bird put together (although not always in the right direction!).

To place your bets, visit http://www.ladbrokes.com/bigbirdrace

By Carl Myers

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