Celebrity Animals Stealing Conservation Money From Ugly Plants
June 11, 2013

Celebrity Animals Stealing Conservation Money From Ugly Plants

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

All over the world, animal and plant species are being threatened by extinction, likely at the hand of humans encroaching on their ecosystem or affecting the environment in some other way. Fortunately there are some humans who realize this and actively give funds to conservatory efforts to rescue these near-extinct species. However, a new report has been released which finds these species can´t even count on these generous humans to save them either.

Pandas, tigers and rhinos, which the report call “celebrity species” have all the marketing and public appeal needed to earn the funds for conservation, but according to Professor Hugh Possingham, they´re taking resources away from other, more urgent cases.

All told, Professor Possingham believes there are only about 80 species which are receiving the majority of the attention out of the nearly 20,000 which need saving.

“Around 80 mammal species are used by international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to raise funds for conservation,” says Professor Possingham of the National Environmental Research Program´s (NERP) Environmental Decisions Hub and The University of Queensland (UQ).

“These flagship species, such as panda bears, tigers, lions and rhinos, are charismatic and have high marketing appeal, leading to the success of sponsorship programs.”

He blames this celebrity effect on two main factors: Appeal and location. For instance, a panda bear or rain forest monkey has a certain cute factor which compels humans to whip out their wallets and help however they can. An endangered species of fungus or plant (particularly with names like Mollinedia glaba (Sprengel) Perkins Monimiaceae), might not be so appealing.

Secondly, Prof. Possingham says humans are more likely to give if the endangered species is in their backyard, or within driving distance.

“So if you´re an obscure animal or plant in a remote place, you have next to no hope of getting conservation resources,” said Prof. Possingham.

This leads him to believe the way humans raise money for conservation efforts is deeply flawed – giving money to the attractive and close-by species while forgetting the ugly and far away. It´s nigh impossible to save every endangered species on earth, but Possingham believes a more systematic approach to handling these important resources could go a long way to prevent extinction of all manner of species.

One way he suggests to better conserve these species is to focus on a geographical location rather than a specific species, specifically a species which is already years away from extinction.

“Habitat loss affects over 2,000 mammal species. It is the greatest threat to biodiversity globally. As people identify more with a species than with a habitat, we can still choose some iconic animals or plants to ℠represent´ the area,” said the professor in the report. He also took the time to analyze those charismatic animals and determine what about them makes them so appealing to donors. By expanding this list of celebrity animals, conservation groups could save more of these species.

“Flagship animals are generally large and have forward-facing eyes, and researchers suggest that there´s another 180 threatened mammal species that have similar traits, and may have equal appeal to donors.”

Possingham's article, "Clash of the Icons," is published in the journal Decision Point.