Honors committee showcases nature’s ugliest species in Student Union

Members of UConn's Honors Council Environmental Committee speak with students during the 2nd Annual Ugliest Endangered Species Competition in the UConn Student Union in Storrs, Connecticut on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (The Daily Campus)

On Saturday, recorded sounds of frogs croaking, birds calling and insects chirping filled Room 104 of the Student Union, as the University of Connecticut’s Honors Council Environmental Committee showcased some of Mother Nature’s less photogenic endangered species at UConn’s 2nd Annual Ugliest Endangered Species Competition.

The event was inspired by the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, a UK-based comedy group dedicated to raise awareness about endangered species in an amusing fashion. While the group itself is not a charity, it recommends viewers to donate to several charities such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature. A donation jar for these charities was available at the event.

A far cry from the usual posters of pandas, leopards and seals that normally accompany an endangered species conservation campaign, students displayed posters with photos of the naked-necked Red Faced Bald Headed Uakari, the Asian Tapir and other strange-looking species, educating visitors on each animal’s habitat, role in the environment and how they came to be endangered.

Each animal in the competition had a different environmental organization in charge of researching and showcasing their creature. This is an expansion from last year’s competition, as the Environmental Committee brought in several clubs to help run the show.

The newly-formed UConn Birding Club, which normally hosts birdwatching expeditions and ornithology experts, was at the event, informing the public of “Nature’s garbage men” as club member Katie Callery called the California Condor.

The West-coast native carrion bird is down to a population of 400 in its native region, due to ingesting lead bullets left on hunted animals. Although the species is making a comeback, it’s still critically endangered.

The hagfish was another example of a less-charismatic looking organism that, nevertheless, can play a role in its environment. This deep sea relative of the lamprey produces a viscous slime from its skin that helps deter predators from eating them.

The slime, in fact, can be used for several commercial products, such as environmentally-friendly clothing, packages and bandages. Overfishing and hunting, however, can mean the end to the hagfish.

A member of UConn's Honors Council Environmental Committee speak with students during the 2nd Annual Ugliest Endangered Species Competition in the UConn Student Union in Storrs, Connecticut on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (The Daily Campus)

“The cute and cuddly animals get all the attention.” Environmental Committee Chair Ben Breslau said. “Just because [an animal] has a bald face, or is slimy or has weird internal organs, doesn’t mean it isn’t important.”

Honors student and organizer Katherine Dole agrees. “All animals serve a function in the environment,” she said. “If we get rid of a species, we take away an important part of our environment.”

Finances can often be an issue for conservation groups, especially since certain species can be more expensive to maintain and conserve than others. 

“You see the panda, it’s cute,“ committee member Jacob Mikullitz said. “But it isn’t as easy to save. It can cost the same to save [another species] that it costs to take care of a single panda for a year.”

After circulating through the 5 displays of animals the Committee selected to showcase this year, visitors voted for their favorite ugly animal, with the winning displayer makers receiving a gift card donated by Blaze Pizza.

This year, attendees voted between the hagfish, the Solenodon, the California condor, the Asian Tapir, and the Red Faced Bald Headed Uakari. In the end, the Solenodon, a venomous shrew indigenous to Cuba, won over the crowd, with the Tapir and Condor following closely behind.

The event turned out to be informative for attendees, some of whom visited for credit as an Honors event, and others to learn more about endangered organisms.

“I’ve never heard of some of these species.” commented one attendee. “[The students] were very well versed and did their research, we can definitely do out part with trying to help out these animals.”

Breslau urges the public to be aware of ways to help all endangered species, both cute and ugly. “Be aware of where you get your products,” he said. “You can also volunteer with the Wildlife Restoration Program, or donate. If you split a $100 donation between four friends, you can preserve an acre of at-risk land.”

Display creator Jocelyn Rosenzweig stresses the impact of human intervention.

v“It’s due to human development that we caused their endangerment,” Rosenzweig said. “It should be our responsibility to prevent that.”


Marlese Lessing is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu.