Endangered Animals: Better Looking, Better Protected?

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Michael Melford / National Geographic / Getty Images

A baby loggerhead sea turtle headed towards the surf on a beach in Sea Islands, Georgia

Ah, the loggerhead sea turtle. It may not be the most cuddly creature to hit the beaches of South Carolina, but it certainly boasts a degree of reptilian cuteness.

And it’s possible that this species could be one of the few that is reclassified from being “threatened” to being “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.

Several studies have determined that the loggerhead turtle could face extinction by the middle of the century if they’re not reclassified as endangered. While these turtles aren’t alone in receiving this type of critical conclusion, CNN’s John Sepulvado wonders if the turtles will be more likely to be added to the list than, say, the giant palouse earthworm — which was recently denied endangered status — simply because people think they are cute.

(PHOTOS: 10 Species Near Extinction)

According to Sepulvado, many environmental groups worry that animals that may be less attractive, but more important to the world’s biological functions might be passed over for the endangered list in favor of animals that are more visibly appealing.

Sepulvado spoke with Patrick Gallagher, director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program, on his podcast about the issue, who agreed that “charismatic” animals can have an easier time getting listed. “Decision makers feel more protected when they have a charismatic animal at issue as opposed to something more obscure,” Gallagher told Sepulvado, pointing out that the decision should really be driven by science.

Whether the loggerhead turtle will gain endangered status is yet to be determined. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently made agreements with both WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity to review and address the needs of more than 250 other species that are now on the list of candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act over the next six years.

NewsFeed wouldn’t consider all these species cute or charismatic — just take a look at the Pacific Northwest mollusk — so maybe the attractiveness factor is just a myth. Either way, we feel all animals should get a fair shake independent of their looks. You know, just like us humans do.

Erin Skarda is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @ErinLeighSkarda. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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