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Southern Corroboree Frog on Sphagnum moss

Not a good look for a country boasting world class education and literacy

What does this say about our ecological literacy, about our priorities, about our commitment to future generations?

It’s a sad state of affairs, but one that we need to face up to. Wildlife Australia magazine carries this disturbing fact from recent research: Australians are generally ‘clueless’ about our most endangered species. It reports that Australia holds an unenviable conservation status: it’s the fourth-worst country in the world for species extinctions and is in the top three for critically endangered animals.

In a new paper released by the University of South Australia (UniSA) researchers found that Australians in general have no idea what is actually at stake.

A study led by UniSA conservation psychologist Associate Professor Dr Elissa Pearson (pictured) reveals overwhelming public ignorance of Australia’s most threatened species, a factor that is contributing to the extinction crisis.

UniSA researchers, alongside colleagues from Zoos Victoria and Edith Cowan University, polled more than 300 zoo visitors and community members, testing their awareness of seven endangered species at risk of extinction within the next decade.

“More than 90 per cent of those surveyed did not recognise six of the seven species; the exception being the Tasmanian devil,” Dr Pearson says.

The Journal for Nature Conservation paper outlines a clear link between species recognition, likeability and conservation support, showing that people are far more inclined to donate toward conserving Australia’s iconic koala, kangaroo and wombat populations, despite these not being endangered.

The most likeable Australian animals – the koala and kangaroo – also reflect the ‘similarity principle’, which suggests that people tend to prefer animals most like humans, and that when only a limited number of species can be conserved, mammals are favoured over other species, regardless of their endangered status.

Endangered insects are fighting an uphill battle for support, with 85 per cent of people disliking them, putting their survival at most risk. However, this perception could be changed with some clever marketing initiatives, the researchers suggest.