Nature lovers urged to have a flutter on the birds
A fleet of celebrity-sponsored Albatrosses is currently winging its way over the world's harshest seas and punters are being asked to bet on the outcome in an effort to raise money for endangered birds.The Big Bird Race is an annual event where young Tasmanian Shy Albatrosses are tagged then tracked as they migrate 6,000 miles from Australia to South Africa.
Out of 17 healthy birds that started this year's race a month ago, only five are still in the running with 12 presumed dead, victims of the harsh elements in the traitorous Southern Ocean and man-made hazards such as longline fishing which claims the lives of an estimated 300,000 birds every year.
Profits from the race are donated by bookies Ladbrokes to BirdLife International, while winners are also invited to donate their winnings.
But as well as raising money and awareness for endangered albatrosses, with 19 out of 23 of the world's species in critical danger of extinction, the race provides valuable scientific data for researchers.
And this year has seen an unprecedented mortality rate for juvenile albatrosses, to some extent put down to fishing techniques but in the main due to the awful weather conditions the birds must face as they traverse the icy Southern Ocean.
Tim Nevard, the instigator of the Big Bird Race said: "This year has seen extremely poor survival rates for many species of seabirds in Tasmania.
"Juvenile Tasmanian Shy Albatrosses are left by their parents to subsist on their fat reserves whilst they learn to forage for themselves.
"If they fail to learn quickly, nature is the harshest of judges - underlining if ever it needed to be, the absolute urgency to regulate longlining, and allow enough birds to survive to reach breeding age."
Leading the pack of the birds still in the running is RSPB's Avocet (1/3), followed by the Jonny Vegas sponsored Eighteen Stone of Idiot (11/4).
Also making good progress is Marco Pierre White's, White Mirabelle (10/1) but Neither Emu (33/1), owned by Birds Australia, or Steve Davis' Romford Slim (50/1) have yet left the islands where they hatched.
By Sam Bond