Saturday, November 30, 2013

Depicting Endangered Species

Does the public care about saving endangered and threatened species?

Yes and no.

Certainly, we say that we do, but our actions certainly tell a different story, as most of us go about our lives as if anywhere from 200 (on the very low end) and 100,000 species are not becoming extinct every single year, according to estimates from the World Wildlife Fund.

Unlike the previous five major extinction events in the world's history, what we are living through, according to most scientists, is caused primarily by humans. And yet most people do nothing to slow down the climate change which is largely responsible for many of these extinctions, for example, nor do they think about where the exotic wood that their furniture came from and what animals may have once lived in the rainforest from which it came, nor do they worry about the seafood that they eat and whether those fishes are being fished to the point of extinction, for example.

What would make us care, and more importantly, do something?

Studies (see for example Gunnthorsdottir 2001) show that people care more about animals that are attractive than those that are unattractive. So this article from January 2013 on the threatened nature of four arctic species highlights how "adorable" those animals are. As ridiculous as the headline seems, most readers really do care more if the animals are adorable, and thus may take some action to save them.

Artist Justin Steinburg took a similar approach. In a series of illustrations that he did for the World Wildlife Fund, he represented a number of endangered animals as sugar skulls that are used on the Dia de los Muertos--the Mexican Day of the Dead. This is the day when people through out much of Latin America pay respect to their dead ancestors. According to Steinburg's website, "we must learn to celebrate the beauty of these endangered animals while they are still alive."

Steinburg's illustrations, in borrowing the iconography of the Day of the Dead, highlights the fact that these animals are themselves on the brink of death, spurring the viewer to take action to help save them.

But it's worth noting that he also highlights their beauty, and that the animals he picks--a gorilla, a panda, and a tiger--are all among the most charismatic of the large animals, and thus, already those that we would feel most drawn to, and most likely to want to save.

If pandas, arguably one of the "cutest" of all of the animals (if you don't believe me, check this out), are on the brink of extinction, then what hope is there for an "ugly" animal like the Rabb’s fringe-limbed tree frog?

In fact, the fastest growing group of endangered species, with 1,895 out of 6,285 species in danger of extinction according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, are amphibians, one of the least-liked of all animals.

That spells bad news for the tree frog.

No comments:

Post a Comment