Which Endangered Species Would You Save?

Carrie Arnold in Nautilus:

1024px-NacktmullYou have just been appointed Conservation Czar. But there is a catch. You can only save three animals…After you make your choices, you will learn about the endangered status of each animal.

If you chose to save the cuter animals rather than those less attractive, you are not alone. You are part of a conservation trend spotted by Simon Watt, a British evolutionary biologist, science writer, and founder of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, a regular comedy show “dedicated to raising the profile of some of Mother Nature’s more aesthetically challenged children.” When it comes to saving species, Watt has found, humans choose the cute ones over the ugly ones, the panda over the stick insect, the tiger over the blobfish. While Watt has given conservation an injection of humor, the numbers support his message.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are over 1,200 threatened mammalian species in the world, and over 300 are near threatened. But only 80 species are used by conservation organizations to raise funds and nearly all of them can be described as large, furry, and cute, according to a 2012 analysis by Bob Smith at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom.

Cute species get more research attention—and more studies are published about them. Between 1994 and 2008 over 100 studies were published on the cute and cuddly meerkat, but only 14 studies were published on the less cute African manatee, found ecologists Rudi van Aarde and Morgan Trimble. Maria Diekmann, founder and director of Namibia’s REST (Rare and Endangered Species Trust), whose conservation efforts focus on non-charismatic animals such as the Cape Griffon vulture and ground pangolin, says it’s hard to compete with the more majestic rivals for money. “These aren’t the dynamic, large, fundraising-appealing animals,” she says. “I wouldn’t say that other conservation organizations are rolling in money, but in general, if you’re working to save elephants or rhinos, you’re doing okay.”

Human impulse to preserve animals based on their aesthetic appearance is not a frivolous choice driven by an overload of panda posters and Facebook leopard pictures. Our desire to save the cuter creatures is caused by the illusion that we are assuring our own species’ survival. “The reason we are so attracted to cute animals appears to be the same mechanism that drives us to protect our babies,” says Janek Lobmaier, a psychologist at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

Read the rest here.