|Select portion of Haeckel's Evolution of Man|
Learning more about wildlife and seeing animals in action, whether it's in a zoo or the wild, is the easiest way I can think of removing these biases. By learning that chimpanzees appear to mourn for their dead, we realize we're not so different. Going on a whale watch and seeing humpback whales with your own eyes is hard to forget and makes these aquatic giants seem more than just another species we need to protect. Learning that the aye-aye's creepy pointed finger has a unique and important function helps us understand that this weird primate is worth saving despite its oddities. Reading about animal intelligence and understanding the tremendous diversity of adaptations animals have to their environments makes it clear that there are multiple ways of measuring importance and worth of a species. One species isn't better than another but each species is different and has its own value. Just because an ant doesn't create art doesn't mean that we should ignore them. Ants wage wars, they are one of the strongest animals in relation to their size, some ants can swim, and some can reproduce asexually. They're more than just an annoyance at a picnic and they're a lot of things we're not. Who are we to judge if they're "better"? Ants aren't humans and humans aren't ants. Different doesn't mean we need to undervalue them.
|Monteseny brook newt|
How do we make newts, frogs, insects, snakes, spiders, and other animals more attractive compared to pandas, tigers, orcas, and gorillas? Well, I'm not sure we can. Pandas look good on tee-shirts and there are more tv and movie documentaries on pandas than on newts. Our best bet is likely educating people about how important those less desirable animals are to our world and how interesting they really are. (To learn more about the Montseny brook newt, click here.) This may be one instance where it makes sense to spend more time educating adults than it does children. I'd hope adults are more susceptible to listening to the facts rather than basing their donations and interest solely on the charisma of an animal, but who's to say?
Drumming up support for local species is also a good idea. You're more likely to protect a species that you see in your own neighborhood than one that you'll probably never see because it's on another continent far away. Take for example the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus). This is not a cute species, yet it has rebounded from only a few individuals living in the wild to more than four hundred due to captive breeding programs initiated by the US government. Protecting condors started out as a government initiative, but condors have found their way into our hearts (or at least found their way onto our radar) despite having bald heads and feathers. You can easily donate online to help reintroduction efforts.
Food for thought: What makes a species worth protecting? How should we judge which species deserve our attention?
Links of interest:
Valuation of species and nature conservation in Asia and Oceania
Science Video: Why do we value some species more than others?
Ethics for Wildlife Conservation: Overcoming the Human-Nature Dualism
TED Talk on bringing the condor back from near extinction