18th May 2018 at Kongara, Hyderabad nearly 100 street dogs were killed and dumped in a local forest. This gruesome incident made headlines on nearly every leading news channel and saw nationwide support that the perpetrators deserved a severe punishment. However, every year we lose over 10,000 pangolins to poaching. Now you may be wondering what is a pangolin and how come the media or our education system makes a big deal about this species that we are rapidly pushing to the brink of extinction.
Pangolins are ant eating mammals with an entire sub-species found living only in Asia. They have large, protective keratin scales covering their skin giving them their characteristic appearance andare the only known mammals with this feature. While poaching does threaten this species, heavy deforestation of their natural habitats also contributes to the decline of this species making it one of the most trafficked mammals in the world. So how come we do not hear much of the pangolin?
Even in wildlife conservation charisma is important. There is a known trend that if an animal is cuter, has an established name in lore and is popular it tends to receive more attention. Conservation efforts for an animal as popular as the Bengal Tiger, which is endangered, receives massive support, attention and funding whereas the similarly critically endangered Gharial hardly receives any since it isn't as appealing. Animal names also play an important role in deciding the amount of importance a species receives in its conservation efforts. Some examples of this is the renaming Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphin to the ‘Hong Kong Pink Dolphin’ and and the renaming of the African Wild Dog from Zimbabwe to ‘painted dog’ was enough to give conservation efforts a new lease of life, helping these species, if not marginally, to make a recovery in numbers.
We have many instances all around the world where media depictions have negatively or positively affected conservation. A common example is the hippopotamus, the world's deadliest large land mammal that kills an estimated 500 people per year in Africa, while the media has helped give them a non-dangerous vibe this makes us forget the fact that in fact they are aggressive creatures with very sharp teeth and weighing at 2,750kg they can crush a human to death. This may be a common fact in Africa, but in Colombia, a place where the hippo is a recently introduced invasive species, the hippo is much loved. The problem is hippos in Columbia have started moving into towns and locals aren't aware of the threat these hippos pose due to their appearance. According to biologists these hippos are a ticking time bomb and it won’t be long before an accident, the people however who consider hippos warm cuddly animals are unaware of the threat they pose and conservation efforts have received massive backlash from the Columbian people.
All these incidents do tell us a lot about human psychology and conservation and how they impact each other. Creating awareness regarding prioritising conservation efforts towards animals and plants that need it the most is necessary. Steps like renaming/rebranding the image of organisms can also be an effective tool in conservation efforts.