RESEARCH: Humans love big animals

All creatures great and small, but which ones are the best of all?

Humans seem to love big animals. Research scientists have found that people think that larger animals are more charismatic than smaller ones, with some exceptions.

Scientist Emilio Berti, previously from the Aarhus University in Denmark, and his colleagues, compiled information from 9 existing datasets on animal charisma. Some datasets included information from volunteers about their attitude to particular species of birds and mammals. Other datasets included information on the number of Wikipedia page views seen by readers for particular species of animals, and the number of images of species posted to Twitter and the photo-sharing site Flickr.

African elephant

The researchers collected information related to animal charisma. Charisma was determined using the following criteria: 

  1. aesthetical information (innate human responses to the appearance of an animal), 
  2. ecological information (how notable the animal is based on the likelihood that it will be encountered by humans), and 
  3. corporeal (emotions inspired by an animal in groups of people with experiences of the species). 

The researchers had a standardised measure between 0 and 1 for each species based upon their rankings in the datasets. 

They assessed the charisma of 13,680 species of vertebrate animals, including amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals.

They found that there was a correlation between charisma ratings and animal size (the average size of each adult species for birds and mammals and the maximum adult body mass for amphibians and reptiles). 

They found that humans seem to find larger animals more charismatic than smaller ones. However, the researchers also found that a few of the smallest species also had very high charisma ratings. One of them was the Virgin Islands Dwarf Gecko (Sphaerodactylus parthenopion), which is one of the smallest terrestrial (land) vertebrates at 18 millimetres in length.

However, the research study did not include invertebrates (animals without a backbone), such as insects, arachnids (spiders), molluscs (snails), fish, and many more. Whales and dolphins were included because they are mammals. 

The researchers also found that larger animals seem to get more attention in terms of conservation campaigns and funding due to their high human appeal. However, all animals, great and small, need to be conserved and protected. 

Journal reference: Biological Conservation

DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108790

Giant Panda
Rothschild’s Giraffe
Western Lowland Gorilla

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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