Photograph: Blobfish wins ugliest animal vote,
http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-24040130. Web (12/18/2015)
Almost everyone has heard of at least one animal listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as an Endangered Species. There are many famous species in their ranks, ones we have recited since elementary school; the Siberian Tiger, the Giant Panda, the African Elephant, etc. These iconic animals are favorites of people all over the world. But how many species, out of all the birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish and more, actually make up this list of endangered species? I was idly curious, so I went on a research spree. I was shocked at what I found. Over two thousand species make up the list under the Endangered Species Act. As I scrolled through, most of the names were unfamiliar. More research led me to a site that inspired thoughtful critique of our society, one I wanted to share. It is called “Ugly Animal Preservation Society.”
The name is probably self-explanatory. This organization works to save and spread awareness about animals that do not fit our standard ideas of beauty and cuteness. Although the organization approaches the issue with a comedic touch by hosting a competition for the “ugly animal mascot,” they bring awareness to these species by touring schools, theatres and festivals with a comedy show. The idea for this production is actually based on a book by Simon Watts, entitled “The Ugly Animals: We Can’t All Be Pandas.” This is a serious issue that gets very little media coverage outside of academia. Many of these animals are hovering at the brink of extinction and receive little help because they are virtually invisible to a world where cute and fluffy gets most of the attention and resources.
Simon Watts and his touring “Save the Ugly Animals Show” has several animals on the agenda to advertise. Decorating the cover of his book is the blobfish, a fish that does admittedly look ridiculous. It is aptly named, resembling a flesh colored, slime covered blob with an enormous mouth and a snout that unfortunately resembles Squidward’s nose from the Spongebob cartoon. The blobfish lives on the bottom of the ocean in the waters surrounding Australia. It is rare for humans to encounter this fish, although they are occasionally caught by fishermen. Scientists fear it to be close to extinction. Also listed under the website is the Bald Uakari, a primate native to the forests of Peru, Brazil and Colombia. It too has an unfortunate physical appearance, with a tomato-red face, bald head, bulbous eyes and a hulking form. Also called the Red Uakari and the Scarlett Fever Uakari, this small primate faces extreme habitat loss and a plummeting population due to human activity in its forest home. These are just two examples out of many, each species facing serious survival challenges.
Some of you may have heard of this organization or at least be familiar with the idea behind it. Although I hadn’t, I am not surprised at the situation it is trying to rectify and bring awareness to. Observing the culture that we live in, it is no secret that we idolize beauty. Our standards of beauty are unrealistic because they only focus on a small segment of a given population. This is reflected in pop culture, advertisements, television, and the Internet that we interact with and are exposed to every day. I wonder if most of you thought of people when reading this. Rail-thin fashion models, doe-eyed young girls and perfectly chiseled young men. But if you think about it, this applies to the animal kingdom as well. If you see a commercial for pet food, you will likely see adorable fluffy puppies and kittens of exactly the “right” breeds, or those breeds that society has taught us are the cutest and therefore more acceptable breeds. In other words, you will more likely see a golden retriever or perfect lab featured in commercials, rarely a mixed breed cat or a pit bull. Our beauty standards for ourselves have long since translated into our perceptions of the animal kingdom. Therefore, when we see ads to save animals, it is likely a mystifying tiger or adorable Giant Panda. And why not? These animals attract positive attention that will lead to donations and hopefully a solution. That is not bad. I think this way of thinking becomes harmful when animals that do not fit our beauty standards do not receive any help. They are dying in silence, with the people that have the power to save them rarely noticing.
Now I will ask the golden question: does our society automatically rule these animals out? Do we subconsciously focus on the animals we can consider to be adorable and loveable or at least visually pleasing? Or is it a coincidence? Are those animals that are being saved and getting the aid relief simply in the right place or do they have a better claim to those resources? The argument for this can be made to some extent. However, I believe this is more than a coincidence. I believe our subconscious beauty standards have become so ingrained in our perspective that it is affecting how we interact with the world around us on more levels than we realize.
Now if I am right, does this kind of organization have a future, or is it doomed along with those it is trying to save? Can we realize this subconscious discrimination and change our perception of the world around us? Change our priorities? There is no reason a cute fluffy animal should be prioritized over a wrinkly slimy one. Sure, the blobfish looks different and is not as beautiful as, say, a dolphin. But they share an equal right to life. I have yet to read Mr. Watt’s book, but I am including a link to the website if readers would like to do their own research. The website is small and has a light-hearted tone, but underlying is a much greater purpose and seriousness. The animals Watt presents inspire interesting questions, questions that should not be left unspoken.
Link to Save the Ugly Animals website: http://uglyanimalsoc.com/
Clemens, Danny. “Meet the Blobfish.” DSCOVRD: Exploring the Web for the Best Stories on the Planet. http://www.discovery.com/dscovrd/wildlife/meet-the-blobfish/. August 30, 2015.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Endangered and Threatened Marine Species.” NOAA Fisheries. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/esa/. August 30, 2015.
The Animal Files. “Bald Uakari.” The Animal Files. http://www.theanimalfiles.com/mammals/primates/bald_uakari.html. August 29, 2015.
Ugly Animal Preservation Society. “About.” Ugly Animal Preservation Society.” http://uglyanimalsoc.com/. August 2, 2015.
 Danny Clemens, “Meet the Blobfish,” DSCOVRD: Exploring the Web for the Best Stories on the Planet, http://www.discovery.com/dscovrd/wildlife/meet-the-blobfish/, (accessed August 30, 2015)
 The Animal Files, “Bald Uakari,” The Animal Files, http://www.theanimalfiles.com/mammals/primates/bald_uakari.html, (accessed August 29, 2015)