Pencil-drawn Cassowary

SAVING UGLY

Graphic: Maddy McCusker

Wildlife charities love cuddly animals. Koalas, Wombats, Bilbies. The cuter the better. It isn’t hard to coax a donation from someone when one of these critters is staring into your soul. Hell, you’d have to be a sociopath if you didn’t donate. But where is the love for our not-so-pretty friends?

I doubt that you’ve ever seen someone pose for a photo with a Gippsland Giant Earthworm. I’ve never heard activists screaming “save the phytoplankton” at rallies either. These little guys work so much harder than a lazy, old koala though. They are also in real danger.

Recently, the Wilderness Society has launched the campaign “Save Ugly”. Its aim is to support all life, even the ugly stuff. The campaign is calling for nationally consistent laws across Australia. They are also lobbying for an independent watchdog with “teeth”.

Protecting these oft-forgotten animals is crucial for Australia’s environment. Take the Gippsland Giant Earthworm for example. Their poo is an incredible fertiliser. After decades of land clearing, Gippsland’s soil quality has been severely degraded. The earthworm’s poo helps to break down organic matter and create more fertile soil.

Changing land use has put the Gippsland Giant Earthworm at risk. More vegetation is being planted which draws moisture from the soil. The earthworm is just one example of the unsung heroes in Australia’s ecosystems.

It’s not just ugly animals that we need to protect. Ugly landscapes are also at risk. The Wilderness Society has run many successful campaigns for beautiful areas, notably the Franklin River and the Great Barrier Reef. These areas are insanely beautiful though. Would they have been as successful if they were campaigning for a swamp? Probably not.

It’s a sad reality mirrored across the world. In the U.S, rock and ice are disproportionately represented in National Parks. Scenic, alpine vistas are what draws the crowds and revenue. It seems that barren mountains are more important than the biodiverse woods below.

We can turn it around though. Next time you’re feeling generous, don’t go for the obvious. The animals might not be the cutest and the landscapes might not be breathtaking, but they are important.

Lookout for ugly.