We spent a long weekend in the Malaysian part of Borneo (northern coast) on a three-day tour of the flora and fauna. We learned that a critical survival skill for many animals is cuteness – sad eyes, human-like mannerisms, or just clumsy movements that make you want to lend them a hand. You see, these characteristics are quite marketable to tourists.
For example, take these two animals. Which do you think gets millions in funding every year to be “saved”?
Both the proboscis monkey and the orangutan are indigenous to Borneo and share the same jungles that have been greatly impacted by deforestation. The orangutan (the one in the pink sweater), however, has a huge, club-med sanctuary, while nose-boy is on his own.
I have to admit, though, if you are going to decide which animal to protect, go with the one that tourists are willing “adopt” and donate money towards. After seeing a video of a wheelbarrow full of baby monkeys being trotted around and this photo in the information center, we were ready to dig into our pockets too.
We saw the same “Darwinian” rule play out on a tiny, sandy island that is a popular spot for sea turtles to lay their eggs. This time, baby sea turtles had a leg up on the corral surrounding the island.
During the day, while we were snorkeling, we watched several tourists repeatedly stand up (and sometimes walk) in the middle of the corral, their fins and feet crushing and killing the sea life below them. At night, though, they crowded around a basket of baby sea turtles, eager to see these little guys make it safely into the ocean. We congratulated ourselves for seeing the irony, but we were also happy to see the baby turtles make their sprint to the ocean. Video of us doing our part to save the turtles
Yes, we like to hold our heads high and tell ourselves that we are better than other tourists. We are more worldly, our understanding is more nuanced, and we behave more responsibly. But we are not. We want to see cute animals and beautiful places too. And we happily accept the negative effects of the tourist trail that allows us to do so.