sponsored by Science Foundation Ireland

This scientist would happily kick a panda to death... but only to save another species

Poor pandas.

JUST TO BE clear, this scientist doesn’t want to kick the pandas to death – but if it was a choice between saving them from extinction or saving some other uglier animal, he would do it, gladly.

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His reasons are solid, to be fair -

Pandas are unfairly advantaged in the fight against extinction due almost totally to the fact that they’re cute and furry.

Simon Watts is so determined to champion the plight of the uglier animal facing extinction that he founded the Ugly Animals Preservation Society - but conservation itself is an uphill battle.

If you’ve an interest in conservation you’re basically condemning yourself to be depressed for the rest of your life.

Simon is a biologist by training who saw that the uglier animals weren’t getting the attention they deserved when it came to the fight against extinction, so he set up the Society as a stand-up comedy night and it took off from there. Now he does TV programs and tours with his Society, spreading the word that ugly animals need love too.

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Game of Thrones in miniature…

The Society’s main function is to highlight that ugly animals tend to be left in the cold when it comes to conservation as they are not as soundbite-friendly as a cute and cuddly panda is.

I got fed up when people asked me what my favourite animal was and them being disappointed when I told them it was an ant or something.
The ants invented farming before we did, they have slavery and warfare, some of them fly, some of them have toxic bites. It’s kind of like Game of Thrones in real life.

The Ugly Animals Preservation Society ran a worldwide competition to find the ugliest animal most in need of preservation and the winner was the blobfish.

Look at him there – what’s not to love?

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Proper hate mail…

The society is not without controversy, though -

I’ve had proper hate mail for saying things that are bad about pandas. Ultimately, what it comes down to is I would love to save them but they cost more to feed than elephants.
We are at a crisis point with biodiversity where we have to choose how to get the most biology for our buck.

Extinction is totally natural…

Simon elaborates more on extinction. As it happens, extinction is completely natural. More than 99 per cent of everything that lives will die out, and as Simon says – that’s fine.

The problem is the rate at which extinction is happening now. Things are going extinct between 1000 and 10,000 times faster now than they would otherwise.

We are as bad for the planet as an asteroid strike.

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This is a crisis in conservation terms and as there is only so much money available to throw at the problem, obviously some animals are left by the wayside. And they tend to be the less beautiful ones.

People don’t even realise that they are biasing conservation efforts.

People think that they’re not choosing by not knowing that they’re choosing. They’re choosing what dies by choosing what they save. But the good news is that at least any conservation to save anything is helping because it’s saving something. So I’m happy that people are trying to save the panda because it means they’re saving something.

So, now you know – it’s not all about the pandas.

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Science Week takes place from 8-15th November 2015. This is Science Week’s 20th birthday, and the theme for this year is Science Week 2.0 – Design Your Future. Over the course of the week, there will be 800 events held nationwide, with an participating audience of 250,000. For events in your area, check out

Simon Watts will be doing his Ugly Animals show at Cork schools on Friday and is at the City Hall Family Day in Cork this Saturday and Sunday doing a Dr Death and the Medi-Evil Magical Show and an adult only science-comedy show. Find out more here

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