What about ugly stick insects?

22:00, Nov 21 2013
Dryococelus australis
ENDANGERED: Dryococelus australis, or Lord Howe Island stick insect.

My six-year-old came through to the kitchen the other day just as I was about to cook the kids some tea.

I had some pieces of steak on the bench and he asked me what we were having for dinner. I told him they were having steak whereupon he screwed his face up and made some noises. Then he asked what it was.

I showed him the meat and reminded him he had eaten it before and he liked it. His eyes grew wide and he looked at it and asked, "Where does that come from?"

I replied that it was from a cow. "They're cute," he said, "I don't want any."

I explained that this now meant no sausages, spaghetti and meatballs or hamburgers which stopped him in his tracks.

He then wanted to know which cow it came from so I told him it was the adult father cows which seemed to satisfy him.


He then asked if he could have bacon instead.

For a moment there I did have a bit of a panic that I was going to have to deal with a reasonably large moral dilemma and a few years of lentil soup with falafel on the side.

But it actually turned out to be less of a principled position and more of one based on naivete and how nice he thinks the animal is based on a cuteness scale.

This naivete from a six-year-old is to be expected but it is actually a phenomenon that tends to breed some pretty radical protest from adults.

Much high-level protest about animals is driven by the type of animal it is and where it sits on the attractiveness scale as opposed to its actual status as an endangered species.

According to the WWF, which is committed to stopping the degradation of the planet's natural environment and conserving the world's biodiversity, there may be as many as 10,000 species that go extinct each year.

But it is the charismatic mega fauna that attracts the attention.

That is not to say someone shouldn't be out there championing their plight, but one of the higher profile protest events is the stand-off between Japanese whaling boats and Greenpeace in the Antarctic waters.

I understand that the arguments are convoluted but when you consider the Antarctic whale population is conservatively estimated at 515,000 and that well less than 5000 are slaughtered annually then the problem appears less serious and not about their endangered status.

Compare that with the tree lobster or Dryococelus australis, which is a mighty ugly stick insect the size of a grown man's hand.

There only 700 remaining and they are all in captivity with a view to reintroducing them to Lord Howe Island soon.

Their primary predators are rats and the tree lobsters could be easily wiped out in a short time as there is still a rat problem on the island. If the same amount of energy was put in to saving an ugly insect as was put into rescuing an unendangered marine mammal then they would have a much greater chance of surviving.

It was admirable that so many people were prepared to fight for our native snail as it certainly fits in to the category of an ugly, endangered and easy-to-forget- about wallflower of the natural world.

The protest theme of the moment is offshore drilling, although there appears to be much less resistance than I expected to see.

On the news the other night the few boats off Raglan were given the rather grand title of a flotilla but it was only a dedicated few making enough media noise to garner some attention.

This Government is certainly committed to a dedicated exploration of our mineral resources so I suspect the protest numbers will ultimately increase.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world the first Greenpeace protester arrested in the Arctic waters has been released.

Back on the topic of naivete, I have been a little surprised at the levels of indignation about the arrests and charges being laid.

They did illegally board an oil rig and this is Russia.

I have to ask the question what did they think was going to happen?

This is a country where many basic freedoms that we take for granted remain illegal.

It is all very well to stand up for what you believe in but if a law is broken then there will be consequences.

Don't forget that they have locked up an outspoken girl band for criticising the president, so they certainly aren't going to muck around for too long with people actually trespassing on private property.

The original charge of piracy has been reduced to hooliganism but I still suspect the sentence may be that they have to snow-wrestle bare-chested with Vladimir Putin and post the video on YouTube.

The Press