Central Park’s mandarin duck, putting his surroundings to shame.

In the fall of 2018, someone special came to New York City. He was a flurrying swoop of shapes and colors, feathers and feet, two wings and one beak, and he called the waterways of Central Park home. He was a mandarin duck.

Native to East Asia, mandarin ducks are not the standard fowl you see floating about the ponds of your local park, and nobody knows exactly where the Central Park mandarin duck came from, or where he went after he flew off, in March of 2019. Ever vigilant about the unique and wonderful in their home, New Yorkers recognized they had a special visitor in their midst, and people from all walks of life flocked to Central Park to try to spot the stranger from the East.

New York City is home to nearly 8.5 million people, living in skyscrapers and shingled homes across its five boroughs. From the shining screens of Times Square to the wilting piers of the Rockaways, New York City is filled with perhaps the most eclectic and diverse community of residents anywhere on earth. That such a little duck could make such a big splash is what inspired Bette Midler to write The Tale of the Mandarin Duck, a fable for young readers that is being published next week.

Central Park’s ponds were home to the mandarin duck for about six months until, one day, he was gone.

Midler, the actress, singer, author, philanthropist, and comedian (you may know her from Hocus Pocus), has long been a lover of nature and New York alike. In addition to her career on the stage and screen, she is the founder of the New York Restoration Project, an organization that helps to conserve and maintain community gardens and parks across all of New York City.

When Midler’s friend the author, critic, and photographer Michiko Kakutani shared her photos of the mandarin duck, Midler says, the story came to her overnight: “I wanted to memorialize his visit, and let readers know that the natural world is full of creatures just like him, if we only take the time to raise our eyes and actually see them.”

Accompanied by Kakutani’s photos, and illustrations from New York artist Joana Avillez, Midler’s story reminds us to look up from our phones, to connect eye to eye, and to remember that beauty is everywhere, from the odd ducks in the pond to the odd ducks on the sidewalk. You just need to open your eyes, and raise your head, to see it.

A little boy helps a baby reindeer take his first walk, in Khövsgöl, Mongolia.
Getting the hang of it: a rhino is transported to a safer location in an effort to protect the endangered species.

Dangling rhinoceroses upside down is the safest way to move them, researchers found after tests in Namibia using a dozen of the endangered mammals and a crane.

Moving rhinos to new and often remote locations has become a key tool in safeguarding their survival; to keep them out of the reach of poachers and to distribute the animals across a range of habitats to maintain healthy gene pools. Conservationists have typically viewed upending and suspending the 1.4-ton beasts from a helicopter as a last resort, when journeys by road are impossible.

Yet, studies carried out on a tranquilized group of critically endangered black rhinos in the Waterberg National Park discovered that they fared much better with being hung upside down from a crane, to mimic a helicopter, than lying on their side as they would for a road trip.

The team from Cornell University in America had predicted that inverting the animals would exacerbate the perilous effects of the drugs used to sedate them. Horses moved upside down show signs of impaired breathing due to heavy abdominal organs pushing against the lungs and chest cavity, but the test rhinos responded quite differently, the researchers observed.

Preparing for airlifting at the Ithala Game Reserve, in South Africa.

“We found that suspending rhinos by their feet is safer than we thought,” Robin Radcliffe, an author of the Cornell study, said. “It actually improved ventilation, albeit to a small degree, over rhinos lying on their sides.”

The news, published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, has cheered conservationists since the threat to rhinos from poachers is gaining momentum and relocating dwindling numbers to safer, more isolated ranges is likely to become an increasingly necessary response.

Africa has two rhino species, black and white, and both are targeted for their horns. In Asia they fetch up to $167,000 per pound as a status symbol or for use in traditional medicines.

At the beginning of the 20th century, half a million rhinos roamed Africa and Asia. Of the African species, Save the Rhino International estimates that between 5,500 black and 18,000 white rhinos are now left in the wild.