The paradox of beauty?

Turkey Vulture -Barry Kent MacKay
By Barry Kent MacKay, Naturalist, Artists, Animal Alliance of Canada Director~

When I was a child a guy down the street bragged about shooting “buzzards” – Turkey Vultures – at his cottage simply because they were “ugly,” with no other explanation were needed. I’ve seen “ugliness” used to justify killing of a range of wildlife species, and, also to identify dangerous alien species and human villains in various theatrical presentations and fairy tales.

Ugliness, like beauty, is subjective, but there is a certain universality to both whereby Monarch butterflies, daisies, and Regal Angelfish (Google it) are deemed at to be attractive, as are Mute Swans. And I wonder if, just as “ugliness” gave my childhood neighbor reason to kill harmless, ecologically helpful, “buzzards”, the Mute Swan’s elegance might not paradoxically generate antipathy directed toward it by so many in the fields of conservation and wildlife management.

People drawn to these somewhat pseudo-scientific areas of employment are often horrified of being accused of the sins of anthropomorphism, or “sentimentality,” whereby organisms are valued based on subjective appeal. Ugliness does not mean evilness thus beauty should not equal goodness. It is possible that the very fact that so many of us “love” Mute Swans, cherish their elegance and apparent devotion to family that may drive such people to prove their objectivity by hating the swans (and hate them they do…in some U.S. states eradication by shotgun is official policy). All the rationales used to demonize non-native species are in play, but selectively so – in any urban/suburban or agricultural landscape the majority of plants and many animals are “alien,” without engendering that lethal hatred we see directed against these magnificent birds.


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