Flagship species used to advertise conservation are usually big, beautiful, endearing animals – we love things with huge eyes and fur, things that look like us and our babies. But this might be a very short-sighted way of looking at what needs to be prioritised in conservation, and actually a lot of very important biological systems are based on contributions of things that aren’t so pretty, like worms that churn up soil and make it fertile so our cereal crops can grow.
In an ideal world there would be enough money to save everything from extinction, but unfortunately there isn’t, and we have to decide how to divide the resources instead. Plenty is already being poured into conservation action plans for large mammals: China is leading the way on captive breeding for giant pandas and a lot of NGOs in Africa are trying to help the ‘Big Five’. Very few are fundamentally committed to raising the profile of under-represented and perhaps unpopular animals. But there are some out there!
Lucy Cooke is a TV presenter, writer, filmmaker, blogger, and frog/sloth-lover (tweeting both under @amphibian_avenger and @slothville), and she is passionate about ending our obsession with cute wildlife.
In a recent blog she expresses her love for the ‘odd, the ugly and unloved’, and her new show called Freaks and Creeps is airing on National Geographic Wild this summer, which aims to bring the plight of animals like the Chinese giant salamander (the largest amphibian in the world and a top EDGE species) to the public eye.
And we couldn’t agree more: so many of the most unusual and unique animals in our world are on the edge of existence and desperately need someone to fight for their survival.
As Cooke says: ‘nature is like a game of Jenga; you never know which brick you pull out will cause the whole stack to collapse’.