Which species deserves to be conserved? One could argue that all animals facing extinction should be saved, as each play an important role in the entirety of the ecosystem. However, as the scientist David Stokes recently wrote in the Journal of Human Ecology, ‘human preferences will increasingly determine many species’ prospects for survival‘.
Humans are not always able to make an emotional connection with a species, increasing the possibility of that particular species being neglected. An animal’s aesthetic appeal is what generates greater interest to make it desirable to be saved. The public is able to connect with some iconic animals by finding them majestic and powerful like the polar bear, cute and fluffy like the panda bear, or cool and chill like the sea turtle. Some species have an influential visual or symbolic charisma, garnering more support from the public to further conserve them.
There have been studies exploring which visual characteristics of certain species humans prefer, and how this affects the attitudes towards its conservation. One particular study focused on evaluating which parrot species were found in captivity. The study found that there was a ‘positive association between perceived beauty and the size of the worldwide zoo population‘. Other variables analysed included the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listing, which was shown to be an insignificant variable. The study concluded that the conservation status of the particular parrot species was not the determining factor; instead it was the parrot’s aesthetic appeal.
So if a species is less desirable in the eye of the general public, how do we change the species’ future outlook? There have been recent outreach initiatives bringing awareness to the neglect of less appealing animals by conservation efforts. Will educating the public on the importance of conserving keystone species, generate a greater interest in those species previously deemed ‘unappealing’?