Roughly 10,000 species go extinct every year. With this in mind, deciding where to put efforts or which species to save will always be a tricky question. However, the recent attention on bee conservation has shone a light on those less glamourous animals worthy of campaigns. I thought it high time to discuss aesthetics’ place in the conservation world, and how this affects which wildlife survive.
High profile species dominate public attention, bringing in much needed funding. It makes it no wonder that flagship species are leopards (Rainforest Trust), elephants (African Wildlife Foundation) and pandas (WWF). Yet of the IUCN’s 41,000 endangered species there are still the unglamorous Madagascar Boa, Cuban crocodile and Emperor Scorpion. Simply; wildlife that aren’t visually appealing never get the recognition.
So where’s the evidence? Research of scientific papers with nearly 2000 species mentions, showed that threatened large mammals appeared 500x more than threatened amphibians. “What we decide to save really is very arbitrary — it’s much more often done for emotional or psychological or national reasons,” The Nature Conservatory’s M. Sanjayan told National Geographic. Celebrities are no exception to aesthetic bias; a graph published by the Guardian outlines 6 major celebrities campaigning for tigers with the likes of Pangolins and Blue Fin Tuna only getting 1 taker each.
Conservationists may resent that only a few species get the public eye. Each species plays an important part in the food chain amongst other factors for a worthy cause. People will often donate to animals they know and recognise, (flagship species) or that they feel sympathy for (it might be hard to relate to a snake). The result is typically cuddly and cute animals being saved, with vital little known invertebrates and reptiles disappearing. Trying to save as many species as possible, sometimes means conservationists have to rejoice in whatever media attention there is, like for Giant pandas, even if it is bias.
However, flagship species can be frogs (Rainforest Alliance) and there are efforts out there to make less ‘cute’ wildlife voices heard. The Zoological Society of London has EDGE, which recognises globally endangered animals, noting species that don’t get talked about and even displaying how much conservation attention they are getting. There’s also the Centre for Snake Conservation and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust.
Increasing awareness of non-famous wildlife is pretty crucial for species survival. Nevertheless, bottom line is that aesthetics play a huge role in what species pioneer. With enough awareness of the lesser known, we should be able to generate a sense of hope.
Let’s value all wildlife, cuddly or scaly.
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