Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: marie delaplanche
Tuesday, 13 July 2010 14:27

All species are not equal

 

 

In our modern societies, appearance and beauty is hugely important. Women always think they should be prettier and men worry about baldness. While this is sad, it is not the saddest aspect of the beauty dictatorship. Even animal species are subject to our aesthetic whims and some risk disappearing because they are not attractive enough.

 

If you connect to the WWF or IUCN websites you will see pictures of well known and charismatic animals such as tigers, whales, polar bears and pandas. Of course we all admit they are beautiful and all need our protection, but these animals eclipse other lesser known species. Have you heard about the almiqui or the turkey vulture? They are threatened species too but they have a huge handicap when seducing potential supporters: they are ugly.

Scientific studies have shown that a few charismatic and cute species command a great portion of our attention. Specially, threatened large mammals such as elephants or chimps monopolize the attention of conservation organizations and people. Certain groups are overrepresented so the endangered species protection is skewed. To be honest, we are less aware of a small lizard that dies because of deforestation rather than the orangutans that share the same jungle. Most people do not care about the fate of a small, seemingly insignifiant reptile.

For many years now only, a few species have had our attention and donations but maybe it is time to focus on less charismatic species. Thus, the EDGE ( Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) of Existence program, part of the London Zoological society, was founded in 2007 and focuses its efforts on unheard-of species. The work of this program is totally different to how other conservation organizations work. A lot of organizations think that saving charismatic species will benefit every species in their ecosystem. But this theory is too simple: for example, the worldwide protection of whales has no positives consequences for sharks. Even small or ugly species have their role to play in the ecological chain and their extinction is very problematic as well, despite their unfortunate appearance.

Interistingly, the most famous protected species all have common features: most of them are mammals, they are big ( or if not, they are at least cute) and they are considered as active and intelligent. Of course all the famous species do not have all these specificities - pandas are cute but they are by no means active.

Besides this beauty/cuteness criteria, the fact that most popular animals draw in more research funding to scientists is another factor that explains why they are better protected and have a high visibility. Who can blame a scientist for seeking funds to continue his or her research? Another important factor is to offer a chance for species to become popular is the commercial potential of these species. For example, thanks to the recent movie ‘March of the Penguins', the Emperor penguin became very famous in the United States and one can now find various products such as coffee mugs, books or notebooks emblazoned with pictures of this cute penguin. We can not deny that if we want to buy a coffee mug for mothers’ day we will choose the one with a lovely picture and not the one with some ugly, weird animal. After all, we are human: we prefer beauty to ugliness.

Almiqui

But in this beauty contest of endangered species if the winners are mammals, the losers certainly are snakes, insects, arachnids and amphibians. Because most of the time they are ugly and small - and sometimes very poisonous - people do not tend to consider them as useful species. Thus in the protection of threatened species we should start considering ecosystems as a whole and not only the most charismatic species in an ecosystem. If we want to protect our beloved tiger or our cousin the chimp, we have to protect their whole habitat. Once again, there is a long ecological chain which needs all of its links to work: from the smallest, most ugly insect to the cutest, the most appealing mammal.

Among some of the most ugly species on earth, the eRenlai team elected the purple frog and the almiqui as the ugliest endangered species. According to the EDGE top 100 of most endangered amphibians, the purple frog ( which can only be found in western India) is at third place with a limited conservation attention. The almiqui, which can only be found in Cuba, currently has no conservation attention.

While you are reading this article you can look at some photos that could scare children, or even you! But please do not look away from these species, it is time to face the ugly part of our ecosystem and maybe even to appreciate it.

So from now on, when you watch a cute baby tiger on a wildlife TV show, I hope you will also think about all of the small and ugly threatened species that the cameraman was not willing to show you.

 

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From left to right: Helmeted hornbill, long-beaked echnida and turkey vulture.


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