To Save Animals From Extinction, They Have To Be Sexy

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Image: anekoho/ freedigitalphotos.net

Charisma is all in the battle for survival. In a report published under the name, Clash of the Icons, Hugh Possingham, a professor at the University of Queensland, stated that 80 “celebrity” endangered species are the ones that attract money for their conservation. Pandas, lions, tigers and rhinos rake in cash, but other species verging on extinction, such as Australia’s largest bat, the grey-headed flying fox, are seen as unsexy and are being ignored. This underlines the basic principle that to save animals from extinction, they have to be sexy,

Professor Possingham remarked, “Well they’re bats aren’t they. I love them but a lot of people find them creepy.” But bats are, he cautioned, vital to the pollination of flowers and dispersal of seeds, which are necessary for an ecosystem to function. The Professor provided a reminder that while some animals possessed “marketing appeal,” there are another 1,000 threatened mammal species while 19,000 insects, reptiles, birds and plants are in danger.

One factor that makes a species more appealing is looks. Hence, pandas and rain forest monkeys compel people to wish to fund them, but rare species such as a fungus or a plant known as mollinedia glaba (sprengel) perkins monimiaceae do not. Another consideration is how close the species is to home – the ideal is within driving distance. In practice, what Professor Possingham called “flagship animals” are large and have forward-facing eyes. He lamented that an obscure animal or plant in a faraway land had virtually no chance of securing conservation resources.

The Professor said that habitat loss is the greatest threat to the world’s biodiversity, affecting more than 2,000 mammal species, so efforts should concentrate on locations. People, however, identify more with specific animals than with habitats, so iconic animals or plants could be chosen to represent areas.

Professor Possingham added that a more systematic approach to the aid of species is required. Sometimes, much money is expended on species on the brink of demise, although less would be sufficient to save other creatures and plants.

Professor Possingham and the other researchers of the National Environmental Research Program have developed a method to allow governments to evaluate how much money it would take to preserve a particular species. The governments of New Zealand and New South Wales already employ the technique.

Professor Possingham said there should be debate over why one living thing should be saved but not another, because current levels of funding were not enough to “save everything.”

About the Author Timothy Chilman

Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”

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