Unlikely Ally For Snow Leopards: Buddhist Monks
Simon Elgood, Flickr
The Ugly Animal Preservation Society (UAPS) has announced the winner of its ugliest animal mascot contest and the victor is the blobfish, shown here.
Working in partnership with the National Science and Engineering Competition, the society's campaign generated thousands of votes and the blobfish captured the title by almost 10,000 votes.
According to UAPS president and evolutionary biologist Simon Watt, the group is "dedicated to raising the profile of some of Mother Nature's more aesthetically challenged children. The panda gets too much attention."
The blobfish hails from southeastern Australian and its perpetual "miserable" expression matches its present fate, as it often dies as by-catch in deep sea fishing trawlers.
Click on to see other ugly animal contenders.
David Dennis, Wikimedia Common
The UAPS makes frequent mention of the proboscis monkey. "Proboscis" is the scientific term for certain mammals' noses. Russell Mittermeier, Anthony Rylands and Don Wilson, editors of the Handbook of the Mammals of the World, explained to Discovery News that this nose is all about function over form. They said that the "long nose is used as a resonating chamber for its loud honking calls."
Roman Klementschitz, Wikimedia Commons
Watt describes the naked mole rat matter of factly. It is, he said, "very ugly." But, he added that its resistance to cancer has furthered research that can one day help humans. Duncan Jackson, a researcher in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield, shared another naked mole rat perk with Discovery News: It is one of the cleanest critters, since it builds latrine chambers to keep its waste isolated from eating and sleeping areas.
The Surinam toad goes beyond ugly and into yuck, or cool, depending on perspective. Eggs embed into the female toad's skin, which looks like a honeycomb. The larvae then develop until the tadpole stage, right inside mom's skin.
H. Zell, Wikimedia Commons
"Our society needs a mascot, one to rival the cute and cuddly emblems of many charities and organizations," shares Watt. At the end of each UAPS event, the audience votes on a mascot.
One contender is the Chinese giant salamander, with a head resembling an angry block of concrete.
Richard Sullivan, Wikimedia Commons
Watt sometimes campaigns on behalf of the UAPS while holding a sign that reads, "Save the Slug." Surely this banana slug merits a high "Ugly Animal" -- or in this case, to be more precise -- gastropod, rating. Its slippery mucus excretion and mucus-like upper body are another example of function over form. The mucus is slippery and hard for predators to grasp. Its unpleasant taste is also a deterrent for would-be slug consumers.
This frozen-in-moment event is of a dung beetle pushing a ball of poo. Adding to this natural slice-of-life scene are two mites, which appear to have hitchhiked a ride on the dung beetle's back.
Sergio Delgado, Flickr
The three-toed sloth, a tree-dwelling mammal, is yet another animal being championed by the UAPS. This animal seems to be rather proud of its appearance, striking a pose for the photographer. Famously slow moving, three-toed sloths have a top speed of 0.15 miles per hour.
R.E. Young, M. Vecchione, C.F.E. Roper, Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries
Watt and his team have christened this distinctive marine dweller the "gob-faced squid," due to its "disturbingly" human-like mouth. The species is rare, with this individual being the only known documented representative.
Kosta Mumcuoglu, Wikimedia Commons
Look closely to view the pubic lice that have infested this poor individual's eyelashes. Pediculosis ciliaris is not a rare disorder, and appears to particularly afflict adolescents, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Showcasing unappetizing images of species like this is always a bit tongue-in-cheek for the UAPS, but conservation for more desirable and endangered critters remains the focus. The society supports World Land Trust, PINKSIE the Whale, and the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The endangered snow leopard has some allies in unexpected places.
The leopards are being protected by hundreds of Buddhist monasteries on the Tibetan plateau, new research suggests.
The scientists, who detailed their study last week in the journal Conservation Biology, found that half of the monasteries are within the snow leopards' habitat and that monks patrol the wilderness to prevent poachers from killing the rare cats. (Rare Photos: Snow Leopard Babies in Dens)
"Buddhism has as a basic tenet -- the love, respect, and compassion for all living beings," said study co-author George Schaller, a biologist with the endangered cat conservation group Panthera, in a statement. "This report illuminates how science and the spiritual values of Tibetan Buddhism can combine their visions and wisdom to help protect China's natural heritage."
Between 3,500 and 7,000 snow leopards live high in the mountains of Asia, with about 60 percent living in China. Their thick, warm fur keeps them protected from the wintry chill at high altitudes, and their wide paws help them pad gracefully through the snow.
Poachers kill the cats for their warm fur and internal organs, which are prized in traditional Chinese medicine. And herders may hunt them because the leopards often eat their sheep or goats. As a result, the snow leopard population has dropped by about 20 percent in the last two decades.
Circle of protection
From 2009 to 2011, Schaller and his colleagues surveyed the snow leopard population in the Sanjiangyuan region of China’s Qinghai Province, which is on the Tibetan plateau.
Tom Brakefield/Getty Images
In addition to nearly half of the 336 monasteries residing in leopard habitat, the team found that nine out of 10 were within 3 miles (5 km) of the territory.
Since 2009, several conservation organizations have worked with four monasteries in the region to reduce human-leopard conflicts and to train monks to protect wildlife.
The team found that many Buddhist monks -- not just those at the four monasteries they worked with -- actively patrolled the areas to prevent the killing of snow leopards; the monks also taught the local people that killing the majestic creatures was wrong.
In household surveys with 144 families, most people said they did not kill wildlife, with many citing Buddhism's nonviolence as their reasoning.
All told, a greater proportion of the snow leopards were being protected in regions around monasteries than in the core nature reserve set aside for the big cats, the study found.
The findings suggest programs that work with Buddhist monasteries to promote snow leopard conservation could be remarkably effective.
About 80 percent of the people within the snow leopards' natural range practice Tibetan Buddhism, so the strategy could conceivably be expanded beyond the current area, the authors wrote in the paper.
More From LiveScience:
In Photos: An Ancient Buddhist Monastery
Images: Snow Leopards & Mountain Creatures of Wild Tajikistan
The Wild Cats of Kruger National Park
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