Enough with the pandas, the piglets, the cuddly polar bears and the tiger cubs. Let’s get real. Not all of life is cute, and that goes for its animals too.
The Ugly Animal Preservation Society strives to show us, if not the beauty, then at least the viability of these animals with faces that only a mother could love. Mother Earth, of course, created them, so clearly she loves them. We are exhorted to love them too.
The blobfish, which—let’s face it—looks not unlike something we might eject during a sneeze, last week received the dubious distinction of being named the ugliest animal on the planet, selected as the new mascot of the preservation society by popular global vote held in conjunction with the UK’s National Science + Engineering Competition.
But the blobfish is just the tip of the proverbial ugly iceberg. These animals, no less worthy despite their perceived shortfalls in the looks department, are as endangered as the majestic eagle, the lithe tiger or the noble wolf. Being less photogenic than their cuddly counterparts has rendered the animals’ existence, and the risks they face, nearly invisible. Given that the same factors that threaten to extinguish these lives loom over cute animals—and, ultimately, our very selves—it would behoove us not to avert our eyes.
This aversion to the un-cute extends even to the scientific community, a 2010 study at the University of Pretoria in South Africa found. For instance, more than 100 studies had been published about the meerkat since 1994, the Guardian reported, while the African manatee, a bloated-looking sea cow, had only been focused on in 14 studies.
Examining scientific papers published on about 2,000 species between 1994 and 2008, researchers Morgan Trimble and Rudi van Aarde of the University of Pretoria compared the subjects to a list of endangered animals from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which evaluates status purely on whether a creature is endangered.
"In the eyes of science, all species are not created equal," wrote Trimble and van Aarde. "A few species commanded a great proportion of scientific attention, whereas for many species, information that might inform conservation is virtually nonexistent."
This bias affects conservation funding, the Guardian said.
The countenances below challenge our notions of what needs to be saved, and why. Stripping the endangered-animal debate of cuteness brings us closer to the issues.
This fish that trolls the ocean bottom off Australia won its ugly title with 795 votes out of 3,000. In all seriousness, the comedians and scientists who used the vote to showcase this and other animals are bent on drawing attention to the plight of the not-so-perfect. The blobfish pictured above is actually expired, points out the blog Endangered Ugly Things. The living blobfish is still not the prettiest of sights but at least has some appeal, especially when you take into account its maternal instincts—carefully nurturing its eggs and babies, protecting it from predators. Since it is engineered to expend as little energy as possible, due to pressure from the 2,600 feet of seawater that would crush it otherwise, this gelatinous fish has, we suppose, a rich inner life. In death it dare, might one say, remotely resemble a Buddha.
This video is chock-full of fun blobfish facts.
This flightless giant parrot lives in New Zealand and is critically endangered. With 617 votes it was a close second to the blobfish in the international running. Though it evolved in isolation on the island nation, the bird became prey to a colonial influx of cats, rats, ferrets and stoats, which reduced its numbers to about 130, according to the website Stuff.co.nz.
What the axolotl lacks in looks it makes up for in fairy-tale appeal and superpowers. Voted the third-ugliest in the online contest, this veritable Peter Pan of salamanders does not grow up inside, instead keeping its gills and remaining aquatic. In addition it can regenerate body parts, as ICTMN noted when including it on the list of animals with super powers. It lives in the lakes of Mexico City, such as Lake Xochimilco.
4. Proboscis Monkey
The irony of this primate’s most notable appendage, and the obvious source of its name, is that the animal’s diet of unripe fruit renders it “pretty gassy,” as the Daily Mail puts it. The nose serves as a resonating chamber, the British newspaper notes, to increase the volume of mating calls—understandable since a face like this might have a little trouble getting a date.
The animal lives in Borneo and is endangered because of habitat destruction.
This tiny primate of the lemur family was once classified as a rodent, for obvious reasons. It lives in Madagascar and is on the edge of being threatened. Though not on the Ugly Animals Preservation Society’s shortlist, it certainly meets many of the qualifications.
In fact the animals are killed on sight as a bad omen in some parts of Madagascar, according to National Geographic, while in others they are held sacred. Another fascinating tidbit: The aye-aye uses its elongated middle finger to extract insect larvae from cavities in wood, much the way a woodpecker uses its beak on tree trunks, the website Arkive.org says.
There are plenty more where these came from at the National Science + Engineering Competition website.