A Bias Towards the Cute and Fuzzy

Icanhascheezburger.com / The long lost relatives of baby manatees.. baby elephants!

Tiny manatee footprints caused me some alarm a few days ago, but something else that happened that day has been plaguing me all weekend.  Once I had explained to my students that it was unusual for a small manatee to be alone they immediately became concerned for his welfare.  While this is close to the sort of stewardship we want to inspire in our children and in our communities, the moment wasn’t entirely complete.  Why not?  Well.. there was a certain disconnect.

Earlier in the day the same students that became teary-eyed over the lonely state of this small manatee were throwing comb jellyfish at one another and holding fish so tightly in their hands that I was afraid they would squish the poor things.  While I certainly teach students proper handling its not always possible to teach them to respect those things which are often perceived to be lower than humans and other animals – especially mammals – with which we easily identify.  Communicating more respectful values and attitudes about such animals is a constant challenge for me.  Afterall, most of my students kill spiders they find in their house and yank the tails off of anoles

Lets face it, killifish aren’t exactly as cute as a manatee calf and simply don’t elicit the same sort of mammalian “warm and fuzzies” that probably derive out of some instinctual programming we carry to respond to infants with strongly protective behaviors and instincts.  Maybe its just a mammal thing, but I wish it were easier to transfer that kind of deep seated concern and compassion towards scaley and slimey vertebrates and invertebrates that deserve just as much attention and understanding.  Enigmatic species – which are often mammals – may make great ambassadors for habitats and whole ecosystems but when it comes down to it the nonmammalian niche holders need champions too.