"Weird" Animals Need Protection, Too

Do people considered attractive receive better treatment? That argument's been made. It turns out this may be the case with animal species needing protections, also: cuddly-looking polar bears get lots of attention (which they should), while the more humble slender loris (shown above) may fall through the cracks. The Zoological Society of London's Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) program "...focuses on animals that have unique evolutionary histories and face immediate risk of extinction." While not all of these species may be odd-looking, their odd evolutionary histories (i.e. a freshwater dolphin) tend to leave them out of the loop when it comes to protected status:

The project combined existing data on species relatedness and threat status to develop a list of a hundred top animals.

In 2007 the project will focus on ten high priority species from that list "with potential for slipping through the gaps without notice," said Samuel Turvey, a project scientist with the zoological society.

"Of the top 100 species which we're focusing on, more than 70 percent receive either no conservation attention or extremely limited attention," Turvey said.

The highest priority species, the Yangtze River dolphin, may already be extinct, he added.

Other species on the top ten list include the long-beaked echidna of New Guinea, the pygmy hippopotamus of Africa, and the bumblebee bat of Thailand. And, of course, there's the slender loris... which we think is awfully cute. Aesthetics, though, isn't the issue; ecosystems are, and the work of EDGE scientists should help to solidify the idea that all extinct species leave gaping wounds in the natural systems of which they were a part. ::National Geographic News

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