Conserving The Cute Ones


Carrie Arnold points out that conservationists bank on more attractive endangered species:

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are over 1,200 threatened mammalian species in the world, and over 300 are near threatened. But only 80 species are used by conservation organizations to raise funds and nearly all of them can be described as large, furry, and cute, according to a 2012 analysis by Bob Smith at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom.

The science behind why we feel extra-protective of adorable animals:

Zoologist Konrad Lorenz found that animals we consider cute share several features with human infants: large heads and eyes, a small nose and chin, and a round forehead. Lorenz named this set of features a kindchenschema, or baby schema. … Human babies lose their kindchenschema features as they grow up, but some animal species retain certain infant characteristics such as big eyes or round faces into their adulthood, a phenomenon known as neoteny. Our brain doesn’t differentiate well between our baby offspring and animals with neoteny. When we look at panda posters our reward circuits kick in and we can’t help our desire to take care of them. And this isn’t the first time in evolutionary history that we gave in to the impulse. Biologist Brian Hare at Duke University believes that the cuteness of adult dogs gave us an impetus to care for them, leading to their domestication. “We have a sort of hard-wired inborn or early taught mechanism for cuteness that is the same mechanism that processes human cuteness and dog cuteness or cats,” [researcher Daniel] Langleben says.

And yet, Arnold goes on to note, if we don’t take care of unlovelier creatures, “the cute ones will most likely disappear with them.” Enter the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, a comedic conservationist project “dedicated to raising the profile of some of Mother Nature’s more aesthetically challenged children”:

(Photo of panda cub by Marc Blickle)