Model Jerry Hall's Albatross Wins the Big Bird Race

Leon Marshall in Johannesburg
for National Geographic News
July 13, 2004

Aphrodite, an albatross sponsored by Jerry Hall, the former model and ex-wife of Mick Jagger, has won the 6,000-mile (10,000-kilometer), 11-week Big Bird Race across the Indian Ocean.

The 18-bird event was organized by conservationists and backed by celebrities to promote conservation of albatrosses. Tens of thousands of the giant seabirds are drowned each year when they become entangled with long fishing lines.

Hall's albatross was declared the official winner yesterday after the organizers detected that signals emitted by a radio collar on the bird were coming from South Africa's waters. It meant that Aphrodite was the first of the 18 collared albatrosses proven to have made the long migration from Australia.

The 18 Tasmanian shy albatrosses started the "race" from Australia across the Indian Ocean to South Africa on April 27. Like racehorses, each bird had an "owner" (a celebrity sponsor) and a "jockey" (the transmitter). Bets on which albatross would be first to cross the finish line were accepted over the Internet by Ladbrokes, a British bookmaker that sponsored the event.

Profits from the gambling are to be donated to seabird conservation.

Radio contact was lost with all but three of the birds, and it is not known how many albatrosses have survived, let alone made it all the way to South Africa.

Tim Nevard, the project director and race steward, said the celebrity sponsors were chosen from a wide variety of fields—including entertainment, sports, and the media—to attract as much attention as possible to the conservation issues which the race was intended to highlight.

Nevard is a professional conservationist from Queensland, Australia. He runs a firm that advises governments, business, and nongovernmental organizations on sustainable development.

"The idea behind the race was to create a project which would draw attention to the issues in ways and places which conventional messages do not reach," he said.

Queen Noor and the Ancient Mariner

One of the most prominent racing bird sponsors was Jordan's Queen Noor, a patron of BirdLife International. She named her "steed" Ancient Mariner after the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem about an albatross.

Continued on Next Page >>


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