Survival of the Cutest
The pygmy raccoon and the Mindoro dwarf buffalo don’t capture our attention as much as lions, tigers, elephants, and pandas. But they should, according to a recent paper in the journal Conservation Letters (and noted by the New York Times Green blog and Mongabay.com). Our penchant for caring about large, furry critters with forward-facing eyes has skewed how we spend conservation dollars, says the study.
Researchers found that only 80 of a possible 1,098 “flagship” species were the subjects of 59 international wildlife campaigns. “Critically endangered” species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Red List of Threatened Species” were no more likely to garner human support than “vulnerable” species, and 61 percent of wildlife conservation funds raised go to protect a species itself rather than its larger habitat.
Hoping to prompt interest in overlooked (but still charismatic) species, the researchers came up with a list of 183 critically endangered primates, carnivores, and other mammals that they hope will become “Cinderella species” – lifted from obscurity by human princes. They highlighted five: the African wild ass (pictured), the Talaud bear cuscus from Indonesia, the Pennant’s red colobus of West Africa, Mexico’s pygmy raccoon, and the Mindoro dwarf buffalo from the Philippines.
“Now that we have a list of species,” study author Robert Smith, a conservation biologist at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent, told the Times, “Maybe some N.G.O’s will say, ‘Oh, we didn’t really think of that species, but it would fit in with our plans.'”
Photo by iStock/haylocka
Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked at the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas Ever Thus.”