Is ‘disneyfication’ of animals good for the environment ?

The ‘disneyfication‘ of animals is the assignment of human characteristics and stereotypes to animals (think of Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck). In recent times it has also become a derogatory term for the practise of focussing on the ‘cute and cuddly’  fauna by environmental lobbyists, government agencies and businesses. The critics claim this focus on the cute and cuddly animals leads to less effort being devoted to other flora and fauna and an overall detriment to the environment.

Is disneyfication really such a bad thing or is the criticism merely a cause celebre for the  contrarians? I believe that to answer this we need to delve into the value of species.

Most environmental philosophers allow that human and non-human life-forms have value in themselves. They have ‘intrinsic value’. Arne Naess and George Sessions in their Deep Ecology Platform note that richness and diversity of life contributes to the intrinsic value. Whales, for example, have an intrinsic value, but that doesn’t mean that the best ocean is one completely covered with whales.

Promoting conservation of the cute and cuddly fauna by disneyfication may lead to a recovery of those species. However beyond a certain point, you get into a situation of diminishing returns where adding a given number of whales (to continue the example) would increase the intrinsic value of whales less than adding the same number to a smaller population of a different species. The optimum strategy may therefore be to shift effort  away from whales when the point of diminishing returns is reached and redirect  efforts to species with sparse populations.

It can be argued that beyond the point of diminishing returns there is a second point after which any further increase in the number of whales would lead to a reduction in the richness and diversity of the oceans.The repetition of the same reduces the richness and diversity of the whole.

So I put forward that the disneyfication of charismatic fauna is perfectly acceptable so long as you are able to recognise where on the cost:benefits curve you are. Once a point of diminishing benefit per unit of effort is reached it is time to redirect the effort elsewhere.


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