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60-Second Science

Rare Designation May Not Be Well-Done

A study in the journal Public Library of Science ONE found that calling an endangered species "rare" may focus the kind of attention on it that could speed its demise. Christie Nicholson reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Which would you rather see: a rare Nepalese gharial or a common vole? Even without knowing what these animals are, you might be more intrigued by the gharial, simply because it is rare. This is the conclusion of research published in the journal Public Library of Science ONE.

The researchers say that labeling endangered animals as “rare,” may harm the species, raising its value and so putting it at greater risk of being exploited within the illegal pet-trade, for either medicines or exotic zoos.

Scientists created a Web site where users could view images of either “rare” or “common” animals. When users clicked on one of the two options, up popped a progress bar showing the images in the process of downloading. But, irritatingly, the download took a whopping six minutes (although users did have the option to cancel). When the download finally completed, the images were designed not to show up!

Well, significantly more users chose the rare slideshow, waited for it to download and often tried again after it didn’t work. So, maybe to save the endangered gharial, we ought to just call it just a tired, ugly crocodile.

—Christie Nicholson

NOTE:  For more on endangered species please read our blog, 60-Second Extinction Countdown.

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