Do cute animals get better protection?
August 15th, 2011
10:52 PM ET

Do cute animals get better protection?

Worms have been denied, wolves could be cut out, but some sea turtles could be added to the U.S. Endangered Species List.

A push to add the loggerhead sea turtle is bolstered by several studies that say they could be extinct in the middle of the century. Besides natural predators, boat strikes, fishing and dredging, baby loggerheads have to contend with humans who see them and illegally take them home, thinking they can take care of them. The Tybee Island Marine Science Center in Georgia says it hears about this happening often.

“(People take them) because they’re so cute," said Lauren Broome, a marine biologist at the center. "When they’re hatched, they’re about … 2 inches."

But do cuter animals like the loggerhead have an easier time getting on the endangered list than creepier or more menacing creatures?

Patrick Gallagher, director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program, says cute or charismatic animals can have an easier time, politically, getting protections from federal officials.

“Decision makers feel more protected when they have a charismatic animal at issue as opposed to something more obscure,” Gallagher said. “But the fact is science should drive all the decisions.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is one of the federal administrators of the Endangered Species Program. The FWS is charged with ensuring proper development in areas where endangered animals live, as well as habitat restoration. FWS has consistently stated the list is maintained in accordance with scientific findings.

The program has had great success in the past with certain animals, including bald eagles, which were taken off the list in 2007 after eagle populations increased. Yet some environmentalists say other animals, like wolves in the Colorado region, are removed because of political pressures from developers, farmers and other interest groups.

“The pressure to remove something from the list comes from a variety of sources, including political pressure brought by the opponents,” Gallagher said.

Many environmentalists say they're concerned that key animals and plants are not protected simply because they aren’t popular. Other environmentalists say that the U.S. government should move quickly to come to a determination for some 750 species - many of them, like the wolverine, not exactly known for being cute and cuddly.

Click the audio player to hear the rest of the story from CNN Radio's John Sepulvado:

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Filed under: Animals • Nature • Politics • Turtles
soundoff (84 Responses)
  1. nunyabidness

    in Canada we have an exploding seal population that gets a lot of attention from the sea sheppards society, they bring their boat and start rammng hunters who try to make some money during the winter... something seals eat, Atlantic Cod, is a species at risk (legislated) and is still fished commercially, but you dont see any sea sheppard society boats out ramming the cod fishing boats. Cod dont bring in the donations, whales and seals do.

    TL;DR version, what a waste of someones time to write this.

    August 16, 2011 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
    • I wanna work with the dolphins!

      And all the kids who get into marine biology so they can, "work with the dolphins" while something as benign as sea grass gets overlooked as a massive natural pollution filter and nursery habitat. I thought grass was cool with college students?

      August 16, 2011 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
    • MrMufasa

      Is this a joke? You actually think seals could be decimating the cod population? Wow. Well, now I at least understand your "reason" for standing behind those poor, abused hunters who are just out tryin' to make an honest living, right? Granted. Only humans are stupid enough to destroy entire ecosystems in pursuit of an honest day's wage. Ultimately we'll lose at this destructive game, and that's the really sad part. I for one believe in doing all that we can to preserve healthy, diverse ecosystems to promote the health of that which sustains us, but I am among a dwindling, educated minority that understands this simple, simple point. The only thing I've since learned is to not try to influence the minds of people who miss this simple, simple point, for what should be obvious reasons–though perhaps I assume too much.

      August 16, 2011 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  2. real fernace

    Thanks KLee for fighting the good fight for endangered animals at this hr.! As I posted yesterday, I love wolves, they are beautiful, majestic animals with strong family bonds & loyalties! Yet they have been vilified & hunted because humans keep invading their territories! The fact that they are being taken Off endangered lists for political reasons is attrocious! They are not naturally dying out, they are being Pushed out & killed if they don't comply! This is happening to the brown & Kodiak bears, as well! I hate to see what will happen to migrating Polar bears, whose landmass is shrinking due to climate change! We've been entrusted with the well being of the planet & all its inhabitants, but if we play favorites influenced by $$ we're doing a poor job & all earthly creatures will suffer for it!!

    August 16, 2011 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
  3. nick

    Its the same issue with killing invasive species. Try to kill a mute swan, and the animal rights activists are all over it. Kill a pond worth of snakeheads, and not a peep. I think the uglier animals need a better publicist.

    August 16, 2011 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Bates

      Really? They hold contests for the "ugliest" dogs and other animals. I think they are ok in that field right now.

      August 16, 2011 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
    • EKIA

      Snakeheads arent indigenous to the US. They should be killed. They eat everything in site and when the food source dries up, they just walk to some other pond or river or lake and do the same thing. The only good snakehead is a dead one.

      August 16, 2011 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
  4. Crack

    Like women, cute animals are also afforded more luxuries than others. It's human nature to coddle the cute.

    August 16, 2011 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Badonkadonk!

      someone's bitter.....

      August 16, 2011 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Bates

      No someone is right. Dead on right.

      August 16, 2011 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
  5. Tom

    Of course they do. Even evolution shows the difference – look at baby birds that nest in trees (mockingbirds, for instance) versus baby birds that nest on the ground (ducks). The ones that are stashed mostly out of sight up in trees are horrific looking things with too little skin stretched over too big a beak and bones. The ones that nest on the ground are cute little yellow fuzzballs.

    August 16, 2011 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  6. Phil

    Who cares....

    August 16, 2011 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
  7. usgiorgi

    I still don't get one thing. People want to save the cute seals and the polar bears... That's like owning a Hummer and being in greenpeace.

    August 16, 2011 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Josie

      It is about letting seals and polar bears live their lives according to their own wills and not under our oppression. And most importantly, it is about saving our humanity which is under peril from all this senseless killing.

      August 16, 2011 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  8. RK

    If you truly love animals or love a living creature then please stop eating them and become a human who are not suppose to eat animal and giving them pain.Realize their pain while killing them.

    August 16, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
    • 11bravoPapa

      You really should have stayed in school.

      August 16, 2011 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Bates

      You are so right I am going to change my meat eating ways... *smells bacon* Yea I'll start my crusade against meat tomorrow.

      We are not suppose to eat meat? Where the hell did you learn that? I love animals, but I love me some bacon even more. I'll punch a pig to death to get me some pork! I realize their pain, but my watering taste buds take priority over everything! Take your nonsense somewhere else, we ARE suppose to eat meat, it's a choice not to eat it.

      August 16, 2011 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
    • ThatOneDude

      We're omnivores, mate. Look at our closest living relatives, and watch how they treat prey animals. Now, if you are arguing about being humane, or about some of the nastier farming conditions, I'm with you. But saying that we aren't "not supposed" to eat meat is simply ignoring basic biology and ecology. Death is a part of life, and animals don't act humanely when they rip each other apart in the wild. Get used to it.

      August 16, 2011 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
  9. Dee

    But cute animals are at more risk too!!

    August 16, 2011 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jeff

    Apparently sea turtles are the new Natalee Holloway. The cute animals are definitely more valued.

    August 16, 2011 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  11. AnimuX

    Unfortunately, one of the longest running straw man arguments from industry goons is that people only care to protect the cute animals. However, the real problem is the flagship species are merely the most easily recognizable animals.

    The Save the Whales movement is a great example of this. It wasn't until the 1960s that the public was really informed about whales and dolphins. Thanks to Cousteau, "Flipper", and many other sources in popular culture, people became very familiar with these animals and were therefore extremely upset by the fact that the world's whaling industries had driven nearly every large species of whale to the brink of extinction. They were also shocked by the massive amount of bycatch in the commercial fishing industry (leading to dolphin safe tuna campaigns).

    The more recognizable in popular culture the animal is the more protection it tends to get, but there is nothing illegitimate about protecting flagship species. If anything, this proves that raising awareness is extremely important for the protection of threatened species.

    August 16, 2011 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  12. hecep

    That's it! I'm gonna start walking around in my baby seal costume and hope for the best.

    August 16, 2011 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. Kyser

    RK, your vegan non-sense does not apply to the endangered species, which are not killed to provide us with subsistence. Humans have evolved as Omnivores, thus why we have a taste for meat. It's called domestication for a reason.

    Wolves are being taken of the list because they are actually thriving in the wild currently and actually establishing a new species in places they were never before, which is actually good for keeping the Elk and Deer population in check. Wolves may no longer have Federal protection, but State protection will transfer over, and it will still be illegal to hunt Wolves. Any animal which is treated by extinction should be afforded protection, though some will be harder to save then others.

    August 16, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  14. Michele Bachmann

    ** poot ** Oops, excuse me. That one just kinda slipped out.

    August 16, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  15. Tim

    It's obvious the general public is far more concerned with a particular species if it just so happens to be cute and cuddly (the key word being, "the general public"). Most ecologists and biologists, on the other hand, are more likely to see the value of a species based on its ecological niche as opposed to its aesthetic value. In my opinion, this problem of focused protection on one species versus another comes from environmentalism having developed into a business itself. Marketing specialists are careful to choose which animal they'll place on a poster–thus taking into consideration the likelihood that the public might respond with an "awwww" and dig into their pockets for a few bucks. Those selected as being cute and fuzzy are going to get more public attention than others who are less than appealing. Imagine, which animal are you more likely to see on a "Save the Wildlife" poster? A panda? Or an alligator snapping turtle? Consider this: Both of them are on the world's top endangered species list...

    August 16, 2011 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
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