“Survival of the cutest” is a term that is used to describe the seemingly inappropriate balance when it comes to conservation awareness. In other words, cuter endangered animals seem to be more likely to garner media attention, and therefore public donations, regarding their plight. “Survival of the cutest” is also a term that is sometimes used to describe how selective breeding has made domestic dog breeds “evolve” for cuteness, rather than function. However, the purpose of this article is to discuss the former definition of the phrase.
Scientists and researchers believe that the Earth is currently in the midst of the biggest mass extinction since an asteroid impact (or some other catastrophic event) wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. If they are correct, and evidence shows that they are, this would be the sixth mass extinction on Earth of which we are aware. Many people realize that we (humans) are at least partly to blame for this mass extinction. So, many people are becoming more conscious of the plight of endangered species and some are doing what they can to help. However, as stated above, there seems to be a great deal of selectiveness involved in the spreading of conservation awareness.
You’ve probably heard of the decreasing population of some penguin species, the Great Panda, snow leopards, various tiger species, polar bears, etc. Of course, some of these animals are dangerous predators, but they sure are cute, aren’t they? Have you ever heard of the decreasing populations of the Antigua ground lizard, the Wyoming Toad (listed as extinct in the wild), the Iowa Pleistocene snail (once thought to have been extinct, now listed as endangered) or the Kihansi spray toad (extinct in the wild)? You most likely have not. There are researchers who believe that the reason you have not heard of them is because of the mechanism that is “survival of the cutest.”
There are countless conservation groups out there whose logos feature cute and fluffy creatures. Many of these conservation groups are solely dedicated to saving these cute and fluffy creatures. While it is very important to save these endangered animals, it is equally important that we save those endangered animals that aren’t so cute and fluffy. Many organizations rely on donations from the public to fund their conservation efforts. If these donations are only being given to “save the pandas” and “save the penguins” type efforts, what hope do endangered snake, insect and other creepy, crawly species have?
All animals are important to their respective ecosystems and a lot of species rely on each other for survival. In other words, that cute and fluffy creature you so wish to save may, in the wild, prey on an endangered species that isn’t so aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps it may be more important to rescue what we can of the food chain than it is to just save the animals that look good in our zoos.
Rockets, Rusty, Survival of the Cutest, retrieved 2/14/10, scienceagogo.com/news/endangered_species.shtml
Mass Extinctions, retrieved 2/14/10, science.nationalgeographic.com/science/prehistoric_world/mass-extinction.html
Wyoming Toad, retrieved 2/14/10, stlzoo.org/animals/abouttheanimals/amphibians/frogsandtoads/wyomingtoad.htm