Spellbinding work! Leeds academics say a kind of magic could help save our wildlife

Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the film based on Harry Potter author JK Rowling's book of the same name.
Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the film based on Harry Potter author JK Rowling's book of the same name.

Fans of Harry Potter and JK Rowling have long wondered about fantastic beasts and where to find them.

One answer, it seems, is that they are lurking in the research papers of experts from the University of Leeds.

A new study produced by academics at Leeds in partnership with Cardiff University looks at the impact that people’s spiritual, magical and cultural beliefs can have on wildlife conservation.

The study highlights the case of Madagascar, where a superstitious fear of touching the critically endangered radiated tortoise has helped save it from extinction.

By way of contrast, some people from the island nation regard the aye-aye – a type of lemur – as a harbinger of evil and killings linked to that belief are classed as a key threat to the survival of the species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Mythical creatures can even get in on the act, with a court case in 2013 hearing arguments that a proposed new road in Iceland should be blocked because it would cross the habitat of elves known as the Huldufolk.

The study’s lead author, Dr George Holmes, from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, said: “Current views of magical animals within the field of conservation are inadequate, as they are unable to deal with what many would see as irrational beliefs and behaviours.

“What we need is a more interdisciplinary approach to conservation that helps us to understand the interactions between humans and both living and magical biodiversity.”

The Leeds and Cardiff study, entitled Fantastic Beasts And Why To Conserve Them, was published today in the academic journal Oryx.

Martin Fisher

Scarborough teacher jailed for sexual offences