For endangered species, it pays to be a large mammal with sad eyes that cuddles its babies. Glamorous animals, big predators and, above all, the extremely cute and fuzzy stand a chance of getting people to protect them and their habitats.
Ugly animals — as judged by human eyes — are far more likely to be left aside when humans draw up conservation plans. Anyone care to save Ontario’s rattlesnakes?
Canadian ecology experts say such thinking means we’re in danger of re-shaping nature to beautify it according to human notions of what’s pretty, saving the mammals but letting the reptiles and amphibians disappear.
As for plants, they’re barely even on the list of candidates for protection.
He set out to describe what attributes make animals attractive to humans. The successful candidate will exhibit:
• Usefulness (providing humans with food, clothing or medicine);
• Human-like traits, such as having a high forehead and expressive eyes and being a mammal, or at least a vertebrate;
• Be large and fierce. For some reason we like dangerous animals, and are fascinated with their weapons, from teeth to horns. (Watch any kid in the dinosaur gallery.) Small thinks this may explain the fact that tigers are the kings of global conservation efforts;
• It must live above ground, preferably in a family setting showing off the mother with adorable cubs or kittens (one Toronto conservationist calls such animals “the cuddlies”);
• It should not smell bad;
• It helps to be warm-blooded;
• Bright colours also help while being covered with scales, or a slimy skin, is bad;
• Attractive animals eat “clean” food. We don’t like scavengers and carrion-pickers;
• Traits that are unhealthy in humans should be avoided. We have little urge to conserve animals with warts, bow legs, wrinkles (except for elephants), irregular teeth or a habit of drooling.
• Plants have attributes that attract humans, too — big flowers, fruit, huge size (trees), decorative foliage, and the ability to draw birds, butterflies, bees and squirrels.
Yet most animals are either too small for us to notice, and many are active at night. “Overwhelmingly, most creatures are never even seen by humans,” Small says. These are the losers in the conservation lottery.
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