A whale of a time with presents great and small

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For those facing the traditional Christmas and birthday dilemma of what to get the person who has everything, help is at hand in the form of Valerie the watervole - or perhaps something a little larger, such as Kev the killer whale.

For pounds 15 a year you can adopt one of these endangered animals, read six- monthly reports on their progress and receive your own adoption certificate.

The schemes are becoming big business for animal charities and this autumn are set to get even bigger as organisations cash in on the latest trendy idea for imaginative gifts. Tusk Force, which promotes conservation schemes in Britain and around the world, is to launch wild-animal and conservation adoption schemes for the first time next month.

There is plenty of scope for more exotic, larger beasts to "adopt". Tusk Force offers Boo the bear from Ontario, though, reflecting its size, the fee is a heftier pounds 25. Care for the Wild has run a scheme for some time for elephants, tigers and more recently for chimps, raising tens of thousands of pounds for conservation. The director, Chris Jordan, said that with wildlife appeals dropping by more than 30 per cent since the introduction of the national lottery, adoption projects were the answer in the future.

"We believe the way forward is to have a product to sell such as adoption packs, thus giving the customer an unusual present and at the same time being able to help wildlife."

In Bath, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society estimates that nearly 40 per cent of its pounds 1.5m annual income comes from supporters sponsoring dolphins and killer whales.

The naturalist Sir David Attenborough said he supported increased fund- raising for animals, but was sceptical about how involved the adopter could feel with some species. "What are they supposed to do with whales - buy a bucket of krill to throw to it?"

The favourite adopted animals include (in no particular order, as there are no figures): Tigers, dolphins, whales, elephants, bears.