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Monday, May 14, 2012

The New Noah's Ark: Beautiful Animals Only, Please!

A two-part paper recently published in the journal Biodiversity is causing a stir in the conservation community. Nobody can argue humanities’ actions are not having a negative impact on the biodiversity of the planet, but even when we try to do right are we doing wrong, by giving priority to “cute” and “economically useful” creatures?

According to the paper, "Most of the world's species at risk of extinction are neither particularly attractive nor obviously useful, and consequently lack conservation support. In contrast, the public, politicians, scientists, the media and conservation organisations are extremely sympathetic to a select number of well-known and admired species, variously called flagship, charismatic, iconic, emblematic, marquee and poster species. These are extremely attractive, large, entertaining or useful, and they receive the lion's share of public and private financial support, publicity, research, conservation and protective legislation."

Noah's Ark
File:Noahs Ark.jpg
Credit: Wikipedia

The following two-part paper by Ernest Small*, explores and argues these points:

The new Noah's Ark: beautiful and useful species only. Part 1. Biodiversity conservation issues and priorities:

Most of the world's species at risk of extinction are neither particularly attractive nor obviously useful, and consequently lack conservation support. In contrast, the public, politicians, scientists, the media and conservation organisations are extremely sympathetic to a select number of well-known and admired species, variously called flagship, charismatic, iconic, emblematic, marquee and poster species. 

These are extremely attractive, large, entertaining or useful, and they receive the lion's share of public and private financial support, publicity, research, conservation and protective legislation. Such species have proven to be the best available means of increasing public awareness of the biodiversity crisis, and of mobilising financial support for conservation. They are widely touted as critical to the cause of conservation, not just symbolically, but also because preservation of their habitats, it has been claimed, can simultaneously preserve other species at risk...

View full abstract and paper**: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14888386.2011.642663

The new Noah's Ark: beautiful and useful species only. Part 2. The chosen species:

For most species, conservation efforts are being determined by qualities that humans admire or dislike, including economic importance. The most universally admired physical characteristic is size: huge creatures elicit great respect, whereas the majority of species, which are small, tend to be ignored. Glamorous appearance is critical for sympathetic attention, and there are numerous features such as colour and impressive architecture that contribute to what makes a species attractive. 

However, bizarre or ferocious appearance, if entertaining, can also be a key to conservation. We are hard-wired to admire many of the larger mammals, provided that they have features reminiscent of health and intelligence in humans, or are ‘cute and cuddly’ like human babies. Most bird species also possess many admirable traits. However, most animals distantly related to humans, particularly invertebrates, usually have few characteristics considered attractive. The majority of the world's threatened species are insects, but except for butterflies and bees, most are usually perceived very negatively.


Contacts and sources:
Taylor & Francis

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