For the love of creatures almost gone

Armstrong’s Tony Walkden devotes years of research towards book on endangered animals, With a Dying Breath.

Armstrong’s Tony Walkden

Armstrong’s Tony Walkden

The picture of the little black-eyed creature that once lived on the grasslands of the Canadian prairies looks out from the page.

With its habitat continuously turned into farmland, there were fewer than 50 black-footed ferrets left in the wild, and only 18 in captivity by 1985.

That number has since increased more than 10-fold, thanks to captive breeding, but it is still one of many North American animals on the endangered, or red, list.

Tony Walkden knows all about the plight of the black-footed ferret as well as about hundreds of other endangered animals from around the world. The 20-year-old Armstrong resident, who has high functioning autism, has spent years carefully researching their every move.

They are now the subjects of his recently published book, With a Dying Breath,  which features some of the most endangered animals from each of the continents.

“I like making lists of animals… I watch a lot of nature documentaries,” said Walkden. “I found out the Philippine eagles are very endangered like so many other animals, but some are doing better like the black-footed ferret. I also found one unusual problem. Some creatures that were endangered have been taken off the endangered list — some of them after the book came out, but we did manage to catch a few.”

Published by Writers AMuse Me Publishing, Walkden had help writing the book from his mother, Mary Cote Walkden, also a published author who writes adventure stories, many of them with an environmental angle. Tony’s older brother, Greg, also contributes by designing all the cover art for his mom’s books.

“Tony helps me with the information on the animals. He’s my little Wiki,” laughed Mary, referring to the online encyclopedia.

The idea for the book came through a home schooling assignment Mary gave Tony four years ago.

“His eye-hand coordination was a bit of an issue and penmanship is one of his biggest disconnects. He has a hard time writing or printing. I gave him an assignment geared around his passion, which is animals, so it would give more meaning to him. It definitely helped us with the writing and doing the research. It also strengthened his learning in geography, history and culture.”

After hitting the books and the Internet, Tony returned with a list of three different animals endangered on each continent, why they are endangered, and why we should care they are endangered. He later dictated the information to his mom, who then typed it up.

“It grew into so much more than that,” said Mary. “It now has 10 endangered animals from each of the continents, including five from Mesoamerica, 15 from Africa, and I believe 20 from Oceania. He kept pushing the limits. Instead of one whale, he put in three whales under one category. Asia has been separated into north and south Asia.”

“If we had used all of it, (the book) would have been three times thicker,” added Tony.

After extensive editing, With a Dying Breath was published in both print and digital form.

“We had over 70 photographers internationally who contributed photos to the book,” said Mary.

The Walkdens also sent copies to some of Tony’s “heroes,” including conservationists and wildlife experts. The author even dedicates the book to one of them, along with his family.

An admirer of Steve Irwin (the late “Crocodile Hunter”), The Walkdens sent a book to the Australia Zoo, where Irwin’s foundation is based, along with copies to David Suzuki, Jeff Corwin, Jane Goodall  and others.

One of them even responded.

“Jack Hanna’s assistant at the Columbus Zoo contacted us and said he was waiting for Jack to get back from being away over summer,” said Mary, in regards to the director emeritus of the Columbia Zoo, host of TV’s Into the Wild, and a regular guest on David Letterman’s talk show.

“He was excited and wanted Jack to see it. He said it was well-researched and complete. He was impressed and so they gave us an endorsement.”

And the accolades continue.

With a Dying Breath has been nominated for a 2012 Independent Book Publishers Award (IPPY) in the environment/ecology/nature category as well as for an Eric Hoffer Award.

All royalties from book sales are being donated to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the organization that monitors, classifies and identifies animals that are threatened.

“They maintain the red lists of critically endangered animals. The money will be funneled down to agencies in different countries where it is most needed,” said Mary.

In the meantime, Tony is already thinking about his next title.

“I want to make another version on extinct animals,” he said.

The Kindle edition of With a Dying Breath is only available in black and white, whereas full colour digital editions are available for download at the publisher’s website,