Survival of the Prettiest

By Ms Baker

This post was originally published on November 23, 2007.  It has been slightly modified from its original format.

“I’m the aye-aye. According to scientists, my species has survived 60 million years on planet earth. I even play an important role in my ecosystem. But, right now I’m facing extinction from losing my habitat to humans. Some humans think I symbolize death and they kill me on sight, even though there is no scientific basis for this. Many think I’m too ugly to save. What do you think?”

Photo source: JLplusAL

While trying to find a good present for my two nieces I happened upon a website that sells endangered species adoption kits. I remembered several students mentioning you could adopt-a-manatee on a previous post and this website included manatees. It also included favorites such as penguins and polar bears. I immediately recognized it as a fun way to give my nieces a meaningful present.

As I moved through the list of available species, I noticed they were organized in the order of most to least popular. Tigers and pandas were at the top while anteaters and warthogs were at the bottom. The aye-aye was not even on the list.

Tiger is the Most Popular

Like the sympathy pains you feel when seeing the lonely dog at the pet store that no one seems to want, my heart went out to those animals at the bottom of the most popular list. I wanted to adopt those animals, but I didn’t think my nieces would like them as much.

Warthog is one of the Least Popular

This really got me thinking. Are we more likely to try to save animals that are attractive to us?

Better yet, what makes an animal attractive to us in the first place? Why are pandas, cheetahs, and meerkats at the top of our cute list while others are at the bottom?

Finally, with so many species on our planet facing extinction, is it biologically responsible to save only a select few?

Why don't you love me?? Photo source: Arno & Louise Wildlife

  • Anonymous

    This is a very interesting concept! I have never before thought about whether the attractiveness or prettiness of an animal determines it’s favorability in the environment. I think that everyone has a different opinion of which animals are cute and which ones aren’t. After all, attractiveness is opinionated. I personally think that Yorkshire terriers and rabbits are pretty, yet, I don’t think rhinoceroses and donkeys are good looking. However, that doesn’t incline me to save yorkies and bunnies over rhinos and donkeys. I think that people consider animals attractive when they are small, soft, and innocent looking. Big, vicious, and harsh looking animals are usually not considered as attractive. Nevertheless, some, like panthers and rhinos are on top of the food chain. They do better than little, innocent animals and therefore can survive to reproduce. I think that attractiveness is not a valid factor is the decision of whether or not to save animals.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Jess, and I also never truly though about why people preferred more attractive animals over others. I think are intentions are to save “cute” animals because our hearts go out to them more, but we don’t realize that there are animals just like them (maybe not as attractive) that also need to be saved. I think that people might think that cheetahs, pandas and meerkats are cuter because we may relate to them more. Just like people own puppies and kittens, I think we relate the cuter animals to pets and hold them dearer to our hearts because we see them as furry, sweet animals. Jess is right that cuteness is an opinion, but I think human nature inclines us all to save the sweeter and furrier appearance of many animals. Moreover, I think that we should save all animals because whether we think so or not, all animals are important to our society and affect us in ways we never truly think about.

  • Anonymous

    Great comment Jessica and i agree most people save endangered animals because of attractiveness. Though wrong our society is based on opinion. Our food like shark fin soup and other delicacies are endangering these animals. If shark fin hunters used all the meat from the shark then there wouldn’t be such a problem with this but its the fact that they just take the shark fins and then dump the carcass. Or like the Japanese whaling fleet who uses scientific research as an excuse for putting whale meat on the Japanese market.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, this was an amazing post! When i think of a cute animal i immediately think of a teacup dog. I agree with Jessica’s comment and how a animal is considered cute, if it is small, and soft. But, we shouldn’t just save the cute animals, because some animals are extinct and are vital to our society. For instance, the bald eagle, it represents the United States of America. If we make this bird extinct, it shows the U.S a weak country, if they can’t even maintain their own symbolic animal. Sure, the bald eagle isn’t the “prettiest,” but as i said before it is very important to ones society.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Jessica, when I looked at the plush dolls of the tiger it was cute, and the warthog was too, but for some reason we see the real things differently. I find it ironic that a fake animal can sometimes capture our hearts more than the real thing, and it really is a problem! We can’t just save our ideal animals because the death of the others might have a greater impact on those we find so appealing. Something like a warthog has evolved to fit its environment as best as it can, but we see that miracle of mutations as “ugly”. in the end, that which may allow an animal to survive might also disallow it help from us humans. I feel it really comes down to the ignorane of some, if not most, people. All living creatures have a huge impact on the environment, but each and every species has some amazing features, which even if not “cute” or “pretty” is spectacular, and it is some of our behavior endangering these animals but we don’t want to help them recooperate.

  • Anonymous

    Wow…this is really interesting. I’ve never really thought about it, but after reading this post, it is definitely clear to me that people have a tendency to favor what we consider to be “cute” animals. I personally believe that humans are more likely to save an attractive, or cute, animal than they would be to save what we might deem as an ugly or unattractive animal. To be honest, I personally would be much more likely to save what I consider to be a cute, little pig than to save an animal like an aye-aye. After thinking about the question of what makes an animal attractive in the first place, I came across a few characteristics of animals that most people are fond of. Many people love animals that seem to be cute, soft, cuddly, and small. Other people, however, like animals that are fierce and exotic, like cheetahs or lions. Although many people like different animals for different reasons and the liking of animals is completely opinion based, as Jessica began to mention in the comment above, many people do not seem to like animals that are ugly or slightly scary looking. Finally to answer the question of whether it is biologically responsible to save only a select few animals, I believe that the answer is no. No animal can control how they look or appear, and it is unfair that some animals are deemed to be more cute/attractive than others, potentially making them more likely to survive. Technically speaking, all animals should be saved no matter their appearance, but realistically speaking, animals deemed cute will be save before ugly animals are saved.

    Check out this link of the top 191 “cutest” animals:

  • Anonymous

    What an interesting post! It’s so sad to think that these poor animals, like the aye-aye, are going extinct because of their unfortunate appearance and quite frightening features. I know that if I came face to face with an animal like that I, too, would be very afraid, but I would definitely never try to do harm to the animal if it was not directly hurting me. As for your questions, I believe that we are more likely to save those animals that are attractive to us. Often, the more attractive animals are the more popular ones (even proven by your happening across that website where tigers were the most common choice for adoption) and people have never even heard of the more ugly and weird looking animals. People have a tendency to care for those animals that they find cute. That is often defined by a pretty appearance, like maybe a nice coat of fur, or maybe even a graceful way of moving. When people see animals like the aye-aye or the warthog, they think “gross” and are afraid to interact with these species. It probably is not biologically responsible to save a select few of the species on our planet because maybe the aye-aye or the warthog is doing more good to our environment than an animal that humans pay attention to.

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