Posted: December 13, 2010, 5:00 p.m. PST
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These macaws are arranged in rows according to perceived attractiveness from the most-preferred (top left) to the least-preferred (bottom right) species by respondents in a recent survey.
The Loro Parque Fundación reported on a survey conducted by researchers from Germany and the Czech Republic that indicated that zoo populations are not only determined by conservation needs, but by the “attractiveness” of a particular species.
David Waugh, director of the Loro Parque Fundación wrote: “For the purpose of data collection, the researchers defined four sets of species — 367 parrot species/subspecies, a reduced set of 40 parrots, 34 Amazons, and 17 macaws. They then asked 776 respondents to evaluate parrot pictures of the selected species according to perceived beauty, and they later analyzed its association with color and morphological characters. Irrespective of the particular set of species, they found a good agreement among the respondents. The preferred species tended to be large, colorful and long-tailed.
“The researchers repeatedly confirmed significant, positive association between the perceived beauty of parrot species and the sizes of their worldwide zoo populations. They used the population size as a simplified measure of captive conservation efforts.
“Interestingly, the size of geographical distribution and body size appeared to be significant predictors of zoo population size. In contrast, the effects of other explanatory variables, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature listings, [indicates that] zoos might preferentially keep beautiful parrots and pay less attention to conservation needs, although they do not imply an absence of beneficial rescue programs managed by zoos. They also postulate an alternative interpretation of their data, i.e. that it could be evidence of the undesired effect of legal barriers preventing zoos from obtaining species worthy of conservation efforts.
“The discussion by the researchers of the issues involved includes a fundamental aspect of which all modern-day zoos are acutely aware, not just for parrots but for all of their animals. The researchers concede that the absence of preference to keep only threatened species by zoos may be attributed to a dual function of these institutions, and does not necessarily mean the absence of conservation efforts and consequences. Thus, they recognize that key functions of zoos are educational and cultural, and that successful exposition of not only rare, but also common species, improves public views toward animals and can increase support for conservation efforts of species in need.
The researchers suggest that their results corroborate the hypothesis that the fate of a species may be considerably affected by its core attractiveness to people.”
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