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The Ugly Animal Preservation Society

If you’re going to have an interest in conservation you’re just asking to be kicked over and over again

So the Ugly Animal Preservation Society is a bit of a passion project for me.  It actually started whenever I was off giving public lectures and talks and things about biology and I was finding they ended with me answering some questions from members of the audience and I’d be saying, ‘We have to stop being so myopic and boring when we think of the species that we care about’.

We are obsessed with mammals.  If the animal’s not cute and fluffy we just don’t care.  And that’s wrong ‘cause the vast majority of life out there is dull and ugly and you just have to see it through the right lens.  You have to see what it does, how it interacts with its environment, how evolution has shaped this creature over millennia.  And at the end of one these talks one person said, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, you’re right, you should do something about this, you should you know, maybe form a society’.  And I thought, ‘Well, I could go one better’.

I was doing a bit of stand up comedy and things with the science at the time and I thought that was a perfect marriage.  So, at The Ugly Animal Preservation Society we get a bunch of comedians who dabble in science or scientists who dabble in comedy, we bring them together, and we give them each a chance to champion their favourite endangered ugly species.  And at the end, every time, the audience will vote.

So far we’ve had the proboscis monkey elected for its champion Ellie Taylor in London.  We’ve had the gob faced squid which is, oh, it’s just a hideous, lopsided squid which does look like it’s got human teeth in it.  The naked mole rat.  That was the mascot for Brighton.  We’ve gone all over the place.

Now, see the aye-aye is great, the aye-aye’s cool because of that whole weird finger thing it’s got going on.  It’s interesting, it’s a bit ugly, but it’s still a mammal.  Fundamentally it still has a face.  We’ve got this thing we can relate to when it comes to the aye-aye and I don’t ever want to over prescribe to the acts we have coming along.  I’m happy if they stand up and say, ‘You know what?  Some days, I wake up, I’m a bit hungover, I feel like a blob fish.  That’s enough for me.  Because the other purpose is, it’s fun.  If you’re going to have an interest in conservation you’re just asking to be kicked over and over again.  It’s just, every day, you wake up and say, ‘Oh what’s died now?’  So to try and make it fun, to try and make a new way so people won’t switch off from these burning issues and to make sure we don’t obsess with things like tigers and pandas and whatnot because they’re wonderful and they’re important but they’re not the whole story.  Extinction is bigger than that.  It’s worse than that so the more we talk about it, the better.