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Currently, the planet is dealing with a number of environmental issues. This has caused species to disappear at a pace of acceleration never previously seen in human history. Environmental problems like climate change, pollution, deforestation, agricultural runoff, and many others have an impact on people, animals, and plants. The extinction of species has the most terrible effects. Due to habitat degradation, several animal species have become endangered. Even if there are numerous conservation initiatives in place to reduce species extinction, not all species or creatures are as appealing or worthy of our attention as others. For instance, snakes, gorillas, and sharks may not get the same attention as pandas, elephants, and lions. This could be because they are simply not as cute, or due to media depictions of some species as dangerous, ugly, or violent.
This paper will explore how some species miss on critical conservation action due to lack of positive appeal, and the potential of this to increase their vulnerability. This paper will highlight sharks and gorillas as species that may not be candidates of conservation programs due to how they are perceived, both by the general public and scientists.
How Public Perceptions Influence Gorilla Conservation
Gorillas in the media and in the news are depicted as big and dangerous animals. In King Kong, gorillas are big monsters that will destroy anything in their path. Recently, Harambe, a gorilla in a Cincinnati zoo was killed after a child fell into its pen. Although it had not hurt the child, it was still shot to death. Gorillas are critically endangered species. They are under threat of extinction mainly because of the loss of habitats in their native ranges. People are increasingly encroaching into their natural habitats, and even poaching them, sometimes for meat. This increased conflict between man and gorilla will probably continue, considering that the people living around the mountains favored by the gorillas are poor. Poverty means that the people have no alternative sources of livelihood, and will keep venturing into the forests for wood and other products. They will also clear the forests for more agricultural land with less and less left for the gorillas and other mountain species (Gates, 1996).
Other gentler primates such as chimpanzees have gotten a lot of attention, which has resulted in greater conservation of the species. Chimpanzees are seen as close relatives of humans. In the news and media, they are more likely to be shown as being intelligent, almost like humans. They will be seen playing with humans and even in some cases trying to communicate. Gorillas, on the other hand, are only popular in the zoos. Considering that chimpanzees are gentler compared to their gorilla cousins, humans are able to get closer and interact with them. However, gorillas are burly and look mean. Consequently, in zoos, their enclosures are likely to be big and barricaded to prevent their possible escape and prevent them from causing havoc. Such differences in perceptions are most likely the reasons why chimpanzees get more attention compared to gorillas. Unfortunately, this means that gorillas are at a higher risk of extinction, since there will be relatively less programs dedicated to their conservation.
How Public Perceptions Influence Shark Conservation
Marine environments are not safe from environmental problems experienced on land such as climate change, agricultural-run off, and pollution. Sharks are under threat from commercial fishing, finning, pollution, habitat loss and degradation, as well as climate change. In addition, sharks are particularly endangered because of their life history traits. They grow slowly, reproduce at low rates, mature late, and have long gestation periods (Muter, Gore, Gledhill, Lamont, & Huveneers, 2011). The protection of sharks is also quite challenging because it requires the participation of very many countries that use or affect the international waters inhabited by sharks.
Sharks in the news and the media are depicted as fierce and dangerous predators. Most of the portrayals are negative or violent, making people fearful of sharks. Just like in the case of gorillas, people are not supposed to be near sharks. Although most shark species are endangered, the media is not focusing on the threats to shark survival, and how these can be controlled, but on shack attacks. For instance, a shark attack in Australia will be covered widely in the press, as far as in the United States (U.S.) (Muter, Gore, Gledhill, Lamont, & Huveneers, 2011). Therefore, attacks from sharks are more important to the newsrooms than factors affecting them such as finning, overfishing, and climate change. In addition, while bull sharks, tiger sharks, and white sharks may receive coverage owing to the incidences with humans, other more critically endangered species such as grey nurse sharks may receive no coverage at all (Muter, Gore, Gledhill, Lamont, & Huveneers, 2011). Consequently, the more popular sharks, which are known to attack people, are more likely to be researched on, even though they are not the most threatened. The media, therefore, is distorting the priorities of conservationists.
Effect of Inequality in Conservation
There are species that seem to be special in the eyes of the public. These include lions, pandas, dolphins, tigers, and elephants. They are associated with charisma, strength, intelligence, or just plain cuteness. They have great aesthetic value. On the other hand, other species like snakes and crocodiles do not draw as much interest from both the public and scientists. Sometimes the media or researchers give too much or disproportionate attention to a single species to the point of rubbing other people the wrong way. For instance, tortoises from the Galapagos Islands receive a lot of attention owing to their large sizes. Although they might draw tourists to visit such areas to raise awareness on their conservation, it might lead to conflict with locals who are unable to fend for themselves but are strongly urged to keep habitats undisturbed for the sake of other creatures (Constantino, 2011). Again, in Indonesia, orangutans are very popular with tourists. However, the locals who share habitats with these animals may increasingly feel like the orangutans are valued more than they are. Such sentiments may prompt locals to deliberately scuttle conservation efforts. Consequently, it is critical to refrain from giving certain species disproportionate attention, or consider the communities in which they are found.
Funds for conservation are always limited. Consequently, policymakers and researchers often have to settle on a few key species or the most vulnerable. However, some conservation programs will still focus on cuddly or aesthetically valued species since these are likely to attract more funding and support. Consequently, in most cases, conservation efforts are mainly influenced by availability of funds. Some researchers argue that it may be more prudent to find ways of conserving species that are not under threat, in order to ensure that their status does not change, rather than focusing on already endangered species that will go extinct in the near future. This dilemma may be addressed, however, by seeking to conserve ecosystems rather than single species. However, programs that are designed to conserve whole ecosystems require more specialized skills, knowledge, in addition to much more funding compared to when focusing on a single species (Trimble & van Aarde, 2009).
Flagship species have been used extensively in campaigns to raise awareness or fund for conservation programs and to rally communities to participate in the programs. Flagship species are often selected based on aesthetics. They bring focus to greater conservation or marketing campaigns based on their possession of one more characteristics that appeal to the target audience (Smith, Verissimo, Isaac, & Jones, 2012). This means that there are certain species that are regarded as being able to appeal to the public to act favorably towards conservation campaigns. Any funds a body raises through flagship species may be used in the conservation of that single species in-situ and its habitat. The funds raised may also be used for conserving other associated ecological processes or projects. Nevertheless, focusing on one species, mainly due to its aesthetic value or cuddliness may leave out more vulnerable species from critical conservation programs. Consequently, policy-makers and researchers should come up with more objective mechanisms of selecting candidates for conservation. Alternatively, they should attempt to carry out programs that address ecosystem-wide issues, although such may be much more expensive to run.
Conservation programs require funding to run. However, it is easier to fundraise for some species rather than others. One effect of this is that some species will receive less attention, even when they require much more, simply because humans may not perceive them to be cuddly or having a certain degree of aesthetic value. Sharks and gorillas have been depicted as unfriendly monsters or sensationalized as kings of their habitats in movies, without any other attention towards their conservation status or the status of their habitats. They remain interesting but without as much conservation effort as other species like tigers and chimpanzees.
Constantino, J. (2011). Tortoise Soup for the Soul. In G. M. Sodikoff, The Anthropology of Extinction (pp. 89-102). Indiana University Press.
Muter, B. A., Gore, M. L., Gledhill, K. S., Lamont, C., & Huveneers, C. (2011). Australian and U.S. News Media Portrayal of Sharks and Their Conservation. Conservation Biology, 187-196.
Smith, R. J., Verissimo, D., Isaac, N. J., & Jones, K. E. (2012). Identifying Cinderella Species: Uncovering Mammals with Conservation Flagship Appeal. Conservation Letters, 205-212.
Trimble, M. J., & van Aarde, R. J. (2009). Species Inequality in Scientific Study. Conservation Biology, 886-890.
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