By Narra Tiangco
Published 2019 December 16 – From December 2019 Issue
Consider the proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus), which has a huge nose and a pot belly. It looks like every day of its life is a bad day. In the 25th annual high school reunion of primates, the proboscis monkey would be the one who peaked as high school captain of the basketball team, then soured from the disappointing denouement of the rest of his life as an office pencil pusher. In the extended family of all animals, it would be the weird uncle.
Of course, the proboscis monkey is none of these things. It’s an innocent mammal endemic to Borneo (Covert 2018). Males have large noses thought to make it attractive to the female half of its species (Covert 2018), but decidedly unattractive to humans. Unfortunately, they are also endangered due to habitat destruction and hunting (Meijaard et al. 2008).
However, unlike the panda or the polar bear, there are no rallying cries for the conservation of proboscis monkeys. In 2013, the proboscis monkey ranked among the top ten ugliest animals in the world (Gill 2013). This is no mere coincidence, given that the Ugly Animal Preservation Society (UAPS) discovered that conservation efforts are biased towards aesthetically pleasing animals.
The UAPS is a comedy show and conservation effort spearheaded by biologist and entertainer Simon Watt. He advocates for the preservation of life no one else thought to – not out of malice, but out of an unconscious preference for the cute and the majestic. There’s a reason why the poster animal for the World Wildlife Fund isn’t the scrotum frog.
It may seem amusing, but this is a serious matter. In a world where climate change and human activity leads to rapidly shrinking animal diversity and existence, the surviving species will be those that we humans choose to save (Eveleth 2010). And frankly not many would humans choose to save choose the blobfish over the Iberian lynx. The UAPS wants to fix that. They love nothing more than to talk about the merits of waldrapp ibises, dromedary jumping slugs, and aye ayes.
Even so, at the end of the day, talk is just talk. Advocacy is nothing if there isn’t action that follows. What we need to understand and appreciate is that most animal life isn’t charming by human standards, nevertheless they are part of ecology. Therefore, they are just as necessary and worth saving. So the next time you funnel part of your hard-earned money into a charitable animal fund, consider not just the white tigers and elephants but the paunchy proboscis monkey as well.
Covert T. 2018. Proboscis monkey (Internet). New England, United States: New England Primate Conservancy [cited 2019 Oct 28). Available from: https://www.neprimateconservancy.org/proboscis-monkey.html
Eveleth R. 2010. Zoo illogical: Ugly animals need protection from extinction, too (Internet). Scientific American [cited 2019 Oct 23]. Available from:https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/zoo-illogical-ugly-animal/
Gill V. 2013. Blobfish wins ugliest animal vote (Internet). BBC News (cited 2019 Oct 23].able from: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-24040130
Meijaard E, Nijman VSupriatna J. 2008. Proboscis monkey [Internet]. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species [cited 2019 Oct 23). Available from: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/14352/4434312