Size really does matter — just ask a whale. A new Canadian study indicates their remarkable bulk is a big reason whales attract fervent conservation efforts. Being cute and cuddly works, too,
for species in need of protection. It helps to be worth some money. And a “bizarre or ferocious appearance, if entertaining, can also be a key to conservation,” writes researcher Ernest Small in the journal Biodiversity.
That adds up to bad news for endangered creatures that happen to be little, plain and decidedly un-cuddly, like Ontario’s snuffbox mussel. Sorry guy. You’re too clammy for us to care, even though your population in Canada has dwindled to perhaps a few hundred living in just one Ontario river. When God was handing out attributes, you should have asked for a mane.
Unfair? Of course it is. But people seem hardwired to respond to certain characteristics. Cute and cuddly beasts are reminiscent of human babies; that’s why there will be cooing crowds when pandas come to the Toronto Zoo. Physically imposing animals are an embodiment of power — another attribute appreciated by humans. And it’s easier for us to bond with fellow creatures that are warm-blooded, have vertebrae, and possess eyes we can interpret as soulful.
Small’s article, titled “The New Noah’s Ark: Beautiful and useful species only,” makes the point that ecosystems benefit from broad and diverse preservation efforts. “Unfortunately, numerous animal groups in dire need of conservation, such as frogs and snakes, are decidedly handicapped by both their appearance and behaviour.”
Insects are among the most threatened of all. But except for butterflies (beautiful) and bees (valuable), “most are usually perceived very negatively,” writes Small, a scientist with Agriculture Canada.
The lesson here is that human perception seems remarkably fixed. Popularity goes to the big, bold and beautiful, to the cute, and those worth money. In short, the rules that apply in high school extend to the rest of the animal kingdom.
The above news item is reprinted from materials available at the Toronto Star. Original text may be edited for content and length.
(Source: The Toronto Star, 23.04.2012)