Spare a thought for the blobfish. This gelatinous creature looks like something I sneezed up on the weekend, but does that make it any less deserving of protection?*
When it comes to the protection of our endangered species, the cuddliest animals reign supreme. That is why pandas, dolphins and orangutans are easy to get protection (and payment) for, while the not-so-adorable animals miss out. These big, cute and cuddly wildlife examples are known as charismatic megafauna, and, worldwide, they gain the lion's share of funding and attention for conservation causes.
The cuteness factor has recently been the subject of scientific analysis, through which it was determined that cute animals always trump their more modest-looking fellow species when it comes to conservation. Mammals are at the head of the queue, probably because they are similar to us (and have big-eyed cute babies, which humans naturally react to sympathetically).
This creates problems for New Zealand because, at first glance, New Zealand appears to be a bit of a desert (though even a desert has camels) when it comes to elegant, majestic-looking wildlife. In fact, many of our native species look as though they just walked down from the Mountains of Mordor, with several boasting body armour, spindly limbs and bizarre nocturnal habits. Our Lord of the Rings oddities even extend to the native "Gollum Fish", named for its homely "precious" wee face.
I've been sticking up for New Zealand's nature for a while, and to my constant dismay, according to some people I speak to, "all our wildlife is really boring".
So for a conservationist like me, how on Earth do you get people excited about the little things?
We have some of the most ancient and unique plants and animals on Earth - author Jared Diamond described New Zealand as "the nearest you can get to studying life on another planet", but for a generation raised on the big cuddly creatures on Animal Planet, how do we get them interested in things like the night-hunter, Peripatus, an ancient creature that seeks out its prey, shoots it down with toxic slime from the turrets on its head, and gorges itself on both prey and the net of slime, recycling its weapon for another day's hunting?
Just because we don't have furry, large, cuddly beasts doesn't mean our wildlife is any less important or amazing. I personally think that the kakapo, tuatara or even gollum fish tell a wonderful story about our lives, but not being four-legged furries, they're m difficult to "sell". What about you? What's your favourite native species and why? Do you really think our wildlife is "boring"?
*Oh and about that blobfish. Greenpeace has turned the bizarre looks into an advertising ploy, offering adoption for blobfish on its UK website.
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