Zoo-notable: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

July 31 is the birthday of Harry Potter. To celebrate my favorite fandom of all time, I decided to create a Zoo-notable on a school textbook from the Wizarding World– Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Merely mentioned in the Harry Potter series early on, J.K. Rowling wrote a version as a fundraiser for Comic Relief. The fictional author, Newt Scamander, is a wizard after my own heart. As a magizoologist, someone who studies magical creatures, Newt traveled the world to create his complete volume on creatures from the wizarding world.

The popularity of the Harry Potter series prompted a continuation of the stories from the Wizarding World. In 2016, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them came to the silver screen, and Harry Potter fans flocked to see this sort of backstory on Harry Potter.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Harry Potter fans are interested in magical creatures. At conventions celebrating the Boy Who Lived, participants flock to the workshops and panels discussing cryptozoology, the study of basically fantastical beasts.

I began delving into the true connection between magical creatures and “normal” creatures way back in 2009 when I landed a job as a temporary keeper at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Caring for owls, reptiles, gorgeous and exotic birds (fwoopers and snidgets), as well as a variety of other animals showed me how special each creature is. They possess magic within themselves.

I was reminded of this connection when I watched the first “Fantastic Beasts” film. It is obvious that many of these creatures were inspired by real living animals.

And then I had a thought.

What if—and just go along with me for a moment—they WERE the same animal? What if the Thunderbird was actually the golden eagle? And the kelpie was a sea dragon? What if these magical creatures are disguised as regular “muggle” creatures to protect them from over-exploitation?

Real Magical Creatures

And so I plummeted down that rabbit hole of pairing as many Fantastic Beasts with some of my favorite (and sadly, overlooked) animals on the planet. What I discovered made me excited with nerdy geeky pride, but also a bit sad. ALL of these animals I paired with magical creatures are endangered. The Philippine Eagle is OBVIOUSLY the Augurey (look at these side by sides- tell me the Augurey is not a DEAD RINGER for the Philippine Eagle.) The jarvey, a ferret looking animal is easily the black-footed ferret, a critically endangered animal from North America.

And then I had a second thought. What if we made these pairings more popular, taught Harry Potter fans how cool these animals are, and how magical creatures are everywhere if you know where to look?

Fantastic Beasts and How to Save Them

Harry Potter fans are not like most other fandoms, at least how I’ve experienced this community. Harry Potter fans tend to take up causes and try to change the world. The Harry Potter Alliance, created in 2005, motivates people in various fandoms to change the world in the name of their favorite heroes or heroines. Wizard Rock, a fandom within the fandom, also tries to spread messages of love, tolerance, and social justice through their music about Harry Potter.

So how about helping endangered species? Could we get Harry Potter fans, zookeepers, and the community on board to save endangered species by relating them to Fantastic Beasts?

So, I created my list of Fantastic Beasts found around the world. This is Fantastic Beasts, and How to Save Them.

#10- Chinese Fireball

            The only Asian dragon species, according to Newt Scamander who studied all ten species of dragons, this is easily one of the most beautiful in the Wizarding World. To muggles, it may appear unimpressive (in regards to dragons which are thought to be monstrous) as the tiny, but still striking Chinese crocodile lizard. No one would ever guess this species is really a fierce and deadly predator.

            There are some similarities, though. The Chinese Fireball is a beautiful “scarlet color, with golden spikes around its snub-snouted face”. Shinisaurus (scientific name for crocodile lizards) are also a reddish color, sometimes with a golden or coppery tint. They are quite beautiful, and my time as a temporary zookeeper taking care of a small colony of these animals made me fall in love with them. This is easily my favorite reptile. And early on in my career, I *knew* these were the hidden form of the Chinese Fireball.

Shinisaurus are classified as endangered in their natural environment. Their main threat is habitat destruction, which is common for many animals on our list. As human populations continue to explode, we encroach on wildlands and forests to create homes, farms, and economic ventures through logging and deforestation. They are also affected by the pet trade. If you want to help save Chinese Fireballs, while they may look like fun and beautiful pets, make sure they are captive-raised and not captured from the wild. It may be best to leave this dragon to stay wild.

#9- Demiguise

            Upon first reading the description of the demiguise, it’s easy to understand and assume the hidden form of this magical creature which provides wizards with the hairs to make invisibility cloaks is an orangutan. And it doesn’t help the illustration in the new version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them perpetuates this myth. But that is what it is—a myth.

The animal which hides the demiguise is actually a lesser ape known as a gibbon.

Look at the film “Fantastic Beasts” and the similarities are clearer. While they do have long hair like orangutans, the coloration is way off. Color doesn’t always dictate what animal a magical creature is (as we’ll see in the next Fantastic Beast), but in this case, I saw a better comparison to a lesser known animal than the orangutan.

Orangutans and white-cheeked gibbons both face the same main threat—deforestation in their environment for timber and palm oil industry. Gibbons’ population has decreased by 80% due to unsustainable practices of extracting timber.

Demiguise can disappear, which makes their fur valuable. But if we don’t protect these creatures, they will disappear for good. You can save gibbons and other Asian species by purchasing products made from sustainably sourced ingredients or avoiding palm oil in your food (side note: this will also help you eat much healthier as most processed foods are made with palm oil or a derivative of palm oil).

#8- Phoenix

You would think this magnificent creature would be invincible, but unfortunately, the phoenix needs our protection now more than ever. Placed under the charm to disguise it as the largest eagle in the world and hidden among the Amazon rainforest, I think wizards thought the phoenix would be safe from harm. Unfortunately, as muggle (and wizard) populations continue to grow, more and more animals are facing extinction.

The harpy eagle is one of the most magnificent birds on earth. It’s a bucket list item for most birders, but their sightings are becoming rarer and rarer. Harpies are non-migratory, meaning they stay in one particular area year after year. They also reproduce slower than many other birds, having a single chick every two years. These two characteristics of the harpy eagle make them vulnerable to the heavy deforestation happening in the Amazon and along their range throughout central and South America.

Fantastic Similarities

Even though the phoenix is a stark red and gold color, and the harpy eagle is significantly duller with their grey and white, they are a perfect match in other ways. Getting a close-up of Fawkes in Chamber of Secrets, you can see the phoenix has a crest and definitely the beak of a powerful raptor. In a profile, it would be hard to tell the difference between a harpy eagle and a phoenix without the coloration.

No, the harpy isn’t the largest flying bird, but it is king of the Amazon. Harpies are at the top of the food chain, being strong enough to nab a sloth from the trees and carry more than 20 pounds as they fly. That’s crazy. And enough to sell me on the idea that this king among birds is definitely a phoenix in disguise.

To save the phoenix from going up in flames without a resurrection, we must do our part to save the rainforests where they reign. Reducing our fast food can have a profound impact on our lives, and on the environment, particularly the Amazon rainforest. Eat less meat, use less paper products, recycle, and reduce your waste will give the phoenix a chance to rise once again.

#7- Horned Serpent

In 2016, J.K. Rowling introduced Potter fans to the American version of Hogwarts, Ilvermorny. Ilvermorny has four houses just like Hogwarts, but their house mascots are magical creatures from North American lore. When I took the sorting quiz on Pottermore, I was placed in the Horned Serpent house, the house which favors scholars. Interesting to me, as I’m pretty much always sorted into Slytherin, but I have strong Ravenclaw tendencies.

Anyways, I wanted to learn more about my house mascot, and share some Horned Serpent pride.  The animal I most attribute to the Horned Serpent is a special amphibian known in the United States as the Hellbender.

Hellbenders are the largest amphibian in North America. I am particularly fond of their nickname—the snot otter. I mean, that’s obviously a magical creature if I’ve ever heard one.

Hell-Bent on Saving Hellbenders

However, hellbenders are not doing particularly well in their natural environment. Pollution and habitat destruction from damming streams and rivers are their main threat. They are also susceptible to the effects of climate change. Luckily, I’m not the only person who finds “snot otters” appealing. Many zoos in the U.S. are breeding hellbenders, both the Ozark and the eastern hellbender species, and release many of these captive-born horned serpents back into the wild. But just because there is success with breeding programs does not put us in the clear of doing our part.

Protecting waterways is key to protecting this magical creature. Reduce your waste, and get creative in reusing products to keep them out of landfills. Watershed health is important for healthy waterways and healthy hellbenders. Do your part to ensure the only liquids going down your drains are safe and non-toxic. Use chemicals sparingly, including fertilizers and cleaners. Buy organic foods from farmers who don’t use pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals.

They have a scary name, but losing this species from our waterways would be even scarier. Save the horned serpent, save the hellbender.

#6- Ukrainian Ironbelly

In 1989, Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, ventured with friend and famed zoologist Mark Carwardine in search of some of the most unique and endangered species on the planet. The adventures the two experienced first became a radio program for BBC, and then a book titled Last Chance to See.

There Be Dragons

On their journey, Carwardine and Adams ventured into the land of real dragons. The largest lizard in the world is found only in one place—five remote islands in Indonesia, in Komodo National Park.

The Ukrainian Ironbelly is a fierce creature. The largest of all dragons, this species has quite a reputation for destruction. They have been carefully watched by magizoologists for hundreds of years. Hiding them in remote islands in Indonesia under the guise of the Komodo dragon seemed the safest bet to protect them from muggles and vengeful wizards. However, as we’ve already mentioned many times before, human populations are encroaching everywhere.

Attacks on humans are still considered rare incidences, but as human presence increases in territory designated to the Ironbelly, incidents are on a rise. Even under its disguising charm, the Komodo is considered dangerous with a strong venomous bite and sharp teeth.

Making Them Worth More Alive Than Dead

With their habitat, and prey, dwindling in Indonesia, Komodos are at risk and considered vulnerable and endangered. There are estimated to be under 2500 left in the wild.

Fortunately, even as a disguised creature unrecognized as the behemoth it really is, the Komodo is considered quite an attraction for eco-tourism. More than 18,000 people travel to Indonesia specifically to visit sites that still support wild dragons. This tourism, when done sustainably and safely (under watchful eyes of magizoologists), provides an economic incentive for local people to protect this precious and beautiful creature.

This is an important lesson for the conservation of magical and non-magical creatures. Teaching the native culture that these animals are worth more alive than dead is essential if they are to survive our modern society.

You can help support conservation efforts by supporting ecotourism wherever you vacation. Visit a zoo or nature museum during your travels, or other organizations which protect and preserve wildlife. Don’t buy ANY animal products, which could be supporting poaching and illegal wildlife trade. Make our magical creatures worth more to the economy as living, thriving animals. And let there be dragons for generations to come.

#5- Merpeople

Stories say that when Columbus made his way into the Caribbean, he wrote in his journal that he saw a mermaid, but “it wasn’t as pretty as I had been led to believe.” Most historians assume the animal he actually saw was the manatee. Manatees are in the order Sirenia, which is directly related to the mythological creatures from the Odyssey who lured sailors to their death. Manatee literally translates to “women’s breast”, referring once again to mermaids.

Beasts and Beings

Manatees are an odd choice for merpeople, but perhaps that is just the point. Perhaps they chose an animal so far from their own appearance and demeanor that no one would suspect the animal’s true identity. In the Wizarding world, merpeople are not considered “beasts”, but “beings”. According to Scamander in Fantastic Beasts “in 1811 Grogan Stump decreed that a ‘being’ was ‘any creature that has sufficient intelligence to understand the laws of the magical community’.” Even if they cannot speak human language, merpeople are intelligent enough to govern themselves, and thus wouldn’t require wizarding charms to hide them from muggles. So, we may never know why merpeople chose the manatee as their hidden form, but the legend has stuck.

Manatees have been a poster child for endangered species for decades. And honestly, it’s sort of paid off. When I was part of the rescue and rehabilitation team for manatees in Florida, there were roughly 3000 manatees. Today, experts believe the number is up to 13,000. This is mostly due to very strict boating, fishing, and water recreation laws around manatee habitats. It may have annoyed some boaters, but in the long run, protecting manatees provided healthier rivers and waterways for water recreation.

New Threats

Things are definitely looking up for manatees, but they are still not 100% in the clear. Recently, the biggest threat to manatees, and other Florida marine life, is the red algae blooms. Sugar plantations and livestock farms are the main culprits—runoff of polluted waters empty into estuaries which lead out to the sea. The problem has become much worse over the last few years.

It’s clear that merpeople may be a fiercely independent society, but they still need our help. If you eat meat, make sure your food is sustainably and ethically raised. And consider cutting sugar out of your diet. It’s healthier for you and better for the waterways.

#4- Erumpent

            Erumpents are not a subtle creature. With a volatile horn which can pierce almost any material and the whole exploding fluid thing, these beasts are up there with dragons on the danger classification (not quite, they actually only have XXXX, whereas dragons are XXXXX). But when human populations began increasing dramatically in Africa, where erumpents live, I think the wizarding world had a conundrum. From a distance, people would assume these were just regular rhinos, but more and more were getting closer to wild erumpents, and the dangers increased.

So, wizards moved erumpents off the great plains of Africa and moved them to remote areas in Indonesia. They disguised them as the elusive Javan rhino. Unfortunately, this rhino is the most endangered of the five rhino species, with only an estimated 67 left.

The range of the Javan rhino has significantly declined over the years. Once found all throughout southeast Asia, they are now relegated to the Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia. They are well protected in the region by dedicated magizoologists and rangers, but unless they are reintroduced to broader ranges, they are in danger of becoming biologically extinct. The area is much too small for the long-term survival of the species.

Saving the Erumpent

What will save the erumpent from going extinct is proving once again that they are worth more to the economy as a living and thriving species. Poaching has long been a threat to the rhino species, as well as habitat destruction. But shifting our mentality to serve rhinos and help them thrive is a simple task. What we buy matters, both for food consumption and any other product.

While we would probably never buy something made from rhino horn, we often buy products which contribute to further fragmentation of rhino habitat, such as palm oil. Palm oil is in more than food products, it is in our health and beauty products, our household products, and even pet food and automotive. Making choices that clearly state we value the environment and all the creatures which call it home helps support the message that rhinos and erumpents, are important. We want them around for generations to come. Today, tomorrow, and forever.

#3- Centaur

 Centaur are quite magnificent. They are the only creature who was granted “being” status, but preferred to remain “beasts”. Regardless of their preferences, centaurs demand wizards’ respect. Highly intelligent, well-versed in magical arts of healing, divination, and astronomy, centaurs do not view wizards in high regard, and tend to stay out of wizards’ affairs.

When it became clear though that centaurs needed added protection from muggles, centaurs agreed to hide under the guise of the last wild horse species, the Przewalski’s horse. Living along the Mongolian steppes of the Gobi Desert, these horses are affected by climate change, habitat degradation (mainly due to illegal mining and military disturbances), and low genetic diversity. They are extinct in the wild except for a dew reintroduction sites in Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan. If it were not for zoos stepping in to save the species, they would have been wiped out in the 1960s. Because of muggle zoo breeding programs, there are now roughly 1,900 Przewalski’s horses alive.

Since climate change can affect the environment of wild centaurs, it is important to do what we can to reduce our carbon footprint and support protecting the earth as much as possible. If you are able to ride broomsticks or portkey with other wizards instead of driving or using floo powder, which has a high carbon footprint, you can make a positive impact on your health and the health of Przewalski horses. Reducing your meat intake also helps cut down carbon emissions, and being responsible energy users—turn off lights as you leave the room, and turn off all electronics before going to bed. The centaurs may not like us and humankind, but in this instance, they do depend on us for their survival.

#2- Niffler

When the niffler scurried onto the screen in the film version of Fantastic Beasts, he scurried into people’s heart. And ever since, fans have tried to peg their non-magical counterpart. And yes, the platypus is really close, as is the echidna (both, ironically are monotremes, meaning they are the only mammals that lay eggs).

But after doing some digging, I have found the true non-magical disguise of the adorable niffler. There may be little physical similarities, but then again, merpeople look absolutely nothing like manatees. So looks aren’t everything.

Instead of physical characteristics, I found a different and much more intriguing comparison between nifflers and one of the most heavily trafficked animals on the black market, the pangolin.

Treasured Animal

Pangolins are a smallish mammal found in Africa and Asia. There are eight species of pangolins, and all of them are critically endangered. Their biggest threat is also their link to the wizarding world. Nifflers are known for detecting treasure, as they are attracted to shiny objects. This makes them incredibly valuable animals. Pangolins don’t find treasure, but their scales are considered highly prized in many Asian countries. Their meat is also considered a delicacy in Asia, and pangolins are believed to have healing properties.

A Magic That Can Only be Touched Through Protecting Them

As I’ve mentioned to many people in the past, especially when discussing “magical” animal, pangolin scales—just like rhino horns and bear bladders—don’t hold special healing properties. Their scales are made of keratin, the same material as our nails and hair. The magic that these animals possess is only in their unique fit in the ecosystem, and the magic that is within any animal, including ourselves. To understand, appreciate, and respect all creatures and environments is to see their true power and magic. They only possess that magic as long as they are alive.

Unfortunately, we don’t even know how bad things might be for pangolins. Seizures of illegally trafficked animals found an estimated 233,000 pangolins in 2013. Experts believe this number is roughly 10% of the actual volume of pangolins in illegal wildlife trade. The irony surrounding pangolins is they’re the most trafficked wild mammal, but most people don’t even know they exist.

Learning more about our wild and wonderful world is the best way to protect our favorite magical creatures. Appreciating all animals, both magical and “regular” is key to making the world a better place for them to live. Simply reading about pangolins being nifflers in disguise, and becoming intrigued by this fascinating animal will bring awareness to the issue, and can be the start of something truly magical—making a difference in our world.

Nifflers are a treasure to behold, and we can’t let them disappear without a fight. What will you do to save your favorite Fantastic Beast?

#1- Crumple-horned snorkack

I’ll admit, I cheated here. Crumple-horned snorkacks are not even mentioned by Newt Scamander in his Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. But that is what makes this story so incredible. This is a mythical creature within a realm of mythical creatures. Scamander never found a Crumple-horned snorkack, and thus he didn’t include them in his book. Most wizards don’t believe the snorkack exists.

But it does. And I think I know WHY no one could find them. The animal which protects the magical form of the crumple-horned snorkack is a rare species of antelope that is extinct in the wild. Typically found in the northern desert regions of Africa, the scimitar-horned oryx was last seen in 1980. For 35 years, the only place to see the scimitar-horned oryx was in zoos. Muggle zoos, where most witches and wizards don’t normally venture.

Fantastic Beast Conspiracy Theory

Here’s my theory: Crumple-horned snorkacks are actually one of the most valuable creatures to wizards. They were so heavily exploited though, that magizoologists hid them after a huge decline in population, much like many of our favorite creatures are threatened today. I think disguising the snorkack was what inspired the wizarding government to extend similar protections to other magical creatures. But by disguising the snorkack as the scimitar-horned oryx, they didn’t keep careful track and muggles started hunting the oryx for their horns. Muggle zoos started taking in oryxes in hopes of breeding them and displaying them, never realizing they had a magical creature in disguise.

It makes sense that we haven’t heard about the most recent developments from the wizarding world. The Harry Potter books essentially end the action in 1998. It wouldn’t be for another 18 years before the wizarding world would realize the story of the crumple-horned snorkack. In June 2016, scimitar-horned oryx were released in the wild deserts of Chad—the first in over 35 years. These 23 individuals were all captive-bred by muggle zoos, but I believe it wasn’t just muggles attending this historic event. By 2016, magizoologists became aware of the existence of snorkacks in muggle zoos disguised as the oryx. So there were definitely wizards there to oversee the release of the snorkacks back in the wild.

Bringing Both Stories Together in Reality

To bring this story full-circle to both the Harry Potter series AND Fantastic Beasts, I believe there were two specific wizards attending that release—Luna Lovegood and Rolf Scamander. Not long after the release of Deathly Hallows, naturally, Harry Potter fans wanted some details on the lives of our favorite characters. J.K. Rowling obliged by giving fans a document of who married whom. Luna Lovegood, our beloved favorite Ravenclaw was the character who introduced us to the idea of the crumple-horned snorkack. And who does she marry? The grandson of the author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Coincidence? I think not.

These two were destined to end up together. I think it was meant to be to witness the reintroduction of a fantastic beast the wizarding world forgot existed.

Now, just because snorkacks are back in the wild doesn’t mean they are completely in the clear.  They are still considered vulnerable and we must do what we can to protect them. Again, awareness and education are key to their survival. The regions of Africa oryx are found are highly susceptible to the negative effects of climate change. Doing our small part to reduce our carbon footprint ensures the snorkack doesn’t become a myth once again.

Many More Fantastic Beasts to Discover

So, those are my picks for my favorite Fantastic Beasts that “actually” exist. What do you think? Are these truly magical creatures? Let me know your thoughts, and connect to animals in a fun and positive way.

And if you enjoyed this note, I recommend the illustrated version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. You can make more connections on your own from the hundreds illustrated in the book. There are billywigs and mooncalf, graphorns, and so many more. If you are a fan of Harry Potter, and an avid animal lover, this book is for you. It can change the way you view animals in our lives, and how we can use our geeky, nerdy love for Harry Potter to save the planet.

As always, take care of yourself so we can take better care of our community, our animals, and our planet. I’ll see you next time.

One Comment

  1. I really do love this idea. All of the animals on our planet are interesting and magical and to match it with a beloved series is inspiring. This is a perfect example of Hedonic Eudaimonia where what we love can be our work for the betterment of our world. My favorite are the Niffler and the Erumpent. I’m wondering what small thing I can do to help save my favorite magical creatures.

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