Saturday, February 3, 2007

All Penguins Are Cute, But Some Are More Cute Than Others

It could be their immaculate fashion sense or maybe it's that sweet, wobbly gait, but there's no denying penguins are, well, adorable. Like the rest of their cuddly class—the pandas, koalas, seals and bunnies—they help sell greeting cards and animated movies by tugging at our heartstrings.

But research shows our fondness for particular animals could have detrimental effects on preservation efforts. These so-called "glamour animals" dominate fundraising campaigns and news headlines, siphoning money away from more needy—if less photogenic—creatures, according to some experts.

Now scientists say that even within the cutest populations, we still play favorites.

David Stokes, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington, sorted penguin species by looks into what he called “morpho-species” and found that certain groups were overrepresented in popular photography books, a.k.a. coffee-table books. With greater “photograph area,” these penguins showed up more frequently and in larger pictures—the Paris Hiltons of the avian set.

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