Jul 21, 2019 | Updated: 09:46 AM EDT

Survival of the Cutest? Uncharismatic Endangered Species Receive Unequal Funding

Apr 20, 2015 07:50 PM EDT

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It seems when it comes to saving endangered species, there is a giant inequality in the investment of resources with species that aren't considered as cute or "charismatic" receiving more funding compared to species that simply aren't.

Everyone knows that elephants, pandas and rhinos are endangered, but what about other less charismatic species such as snakes and spiders? These species are every bit as important to the ecosystems in which they live as the other more cute and cuddly species, but why don't they receive the same amount of attention from celebrities and donors? The answer is simple. They just aren't cute enough.

"There are an enormous number of species that are imperiled in many ways but (they) receive very little attention," George Wittemyer, an assistant professor at Colorado State University and chair of Save the Elephants, tells the Toronto Star. "It's sad but that is how it is ... It is all very arbitrary."

He cites the massive popularity of the giant panda, who is believed to get the most attention and the biggest chunk of conservation money simply because it looks cute and its symbolism of Chinese national pride. Because it is the symbol for China, the country invests heavily in the species. However, the country spends much lest in elephant conservation.

Wittemeyer argues this pattern of selection exists in different countries and exemplifies "what the priorities are."

"Species are not equal, that's right," says Clement Lanthier, CEO of the Calgary Zoo. But "without the charismatic animals like giraffes, hippopotamus, grizzly bears, there would be no resources for the Vancouver Island marmot, the sage-grouse or even the swift fox which are not (charismatic)."

The Calgary Zoo will receive a pair of pandas in 2018, and their arrival will help with the facility's resources, visibility, and "more partnerships to address the situation of less charismatic species," Lanthier says.

Another sad truth about conservation funding? As soon as news breaks about a species impending doom, like the recent news about rhinos, it begins to receive more financial support. Cathy Dean, director of the England-based Save the Rhino International, says, "Our funding has increased from £300,000 annually in 2001 to £1.3 million in 2015," due in part to the recent news about the plight of rhinos.

Conservation of all species is important and is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed as all types of species play an important role in the environment and deserve a shot at living. Funding and aid should not be limited to those species that are cute but should also include those animals that aren't considered cuddly or make headlines day to day.

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