8-year-old’s penguin project makes splash at TWS Conference

By Julia John

(left) Mikail Bakhtiyarov stands by his research poster at the Albuquerque Convention Center. ©Akshin Bakhtiyarov (right) Mikail Bakhtiyarov takes a photo op with Past President Gary Potts.

Like many 8-year-olds, Mikail Bakhtiyarov likes swimming, playing basketball and reading. Unlike most kids his age, however, he has a reference library containing hundreds of wildlife books on everything from elephants to tigers, and he presented his research on emperor penguins during the poster sessions at TWS’ Annual Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

What this young wildlifer, a third-grader at Deep Run Elementary School in Maryland, lacked in height and experience, he made up for in his sharp black suit and precocious passion for wildlife. Reading piqued Mikail’s curiosity about animals when he was 4 years old, said his father Akshin Bakhtiyarov, so his parents bought him more books to answer his questions and nurture his interest in wildlife. After discovering the conference on TWS’ website, he decided to participate and share his projections for near-threatened emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) populations for the next 35 years, based on data documenting their decrease over the past six decades.

Bakhtiyarov discusses his poster with 2017 TWS Conference attendees.

“Emperor penguin populations have been declining for 60 years, since global warming started affecting Antarctica,” Mikail said, before grabbing and flipping through a book for more background on penguin species. “There are 17 kinds of penguins. Six are in danger of being extinct.”

To boost their populations and control global warming, he said, “we should stop using cars, airplanes and boats because those are what caused that. And turn off the lights when you’re not using them.”

From attending a workshop on tracking migrating birds and marine species to telling former TWS president Gary Potts that he wanted to follow in Potts’ footsteps and be president when he grows up, Mikail said he “had a good experience” at the conference.

“I had many visitors, and I liked other people’s exhibits,” said the boy, who is possibly the youngest attendee in the history of the conference.

“He was tired but kept going,” his father said.

What motivated little Bakhtiyarov to keep standing and talking about penguins for 10 hours at a time at the convention center?

“I love animals,” he said. “I want to help wildlife. Some species are in captivity because that’s how endangered they are. I’m afraid there could be more and more and more species having this.”

An aspiring veterinarian, Mikail is already brainstorming and taking notes for 2018’s Annual Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, where, inspired by a project he saw this year about wild pigs (Sus scrofa), he plans to discuss another invasive species, the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris).

“I’m excited for next year’s conference,” Mikail said.

Julia John is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at jjohn@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article.

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