A thorny devil marches across red sand in Australia.

Compassion for all: let’s rethink ‘cute’.

From the very cutest animals to the more questionably cute – all our animal friends are here alongside us, worthy of respect and admiration.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated August 10, 2022

‘Cuteness’ is subjective – but have you ever considered the impact our biases have on our compassion? Or the level of conservation effort an animal receives? By rethinking ‘cute’ and admiring all animal species for their unique and special qualities, we can widen our circle of compassion and shape a better tomorrow for everyone.

When it comes to animals more popular amongst the masses, wide-eyed marsupials and mammals tend to overshadow those with scales, wings, or wonderful weirdness we just aren’t used to seeing. But quirky animals live here too – and like all wildlife, they’re deserving of our respect and in need of our help.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A sunfish swims in the dark blue waters of the ocean.

Ginormous and gorgeous: It might be hard to imagine the impressive presence of the ocean sunfish (Mola), but this giant sea drifter is the world’s largest bony fish reaching up to 10ft across and 14ft vertically. Looking eternally surprised, sunfish mouths constantly remain open. 

Appreciating the beautiful diversity of animal life

Across the globe, animals like koalas, pandas and elephants who are considered cute and charismatic seemingly get the most attention. Sadly, it seems this may also be the case when it comes to research and conservation funding. While marsupials and mammals are beautiful and deserving of care, a past study in Australia suggested aesthetic biases could be trickling into research and protection efforts.

To ensure certain animals aren’t forgotten, it’s important to consider the possible connections that exist between how our fellow species look and how much we care about them. To shape a kinder future for all, we can begin by opening our minds and hearts to those too often left off peoples’ ‘favourite animal’ lists – and encouraging those around us to do the same!

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A close up of a tiny chocolate wattled bat showing their teeth.
Image credit: Microbats of Melbourne

Toothy and terrific: Tiny mammals with wings are truly special animals, like this chocolate wattled bat weighing a mere 9g. Like many other bats, chocolate wattled bats use echolocation, sending out high frequency sound pulses to navigate their environment. 

Animals are individuals with intrinsic value

In the animal protection space, conversations often focus on the critical role various species play in the ecosystem and what it would mean should they become endangered or extinct due to human threats. These conversations are undoubtedly important, especially as our current food systems are destroying habitats and devastating wild animal populations.

It is also important to remember, however, that within animal populations are individuals – with personalities as unique as the companion dogs and cats we share our homes with. These individual animals live in this world alongside us. Regardless of their appearance, they think and feel. They desire to live free from pain and experience the world around them autonomously. And many have complex social lives which we know little about.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A close up of an Australian white ibis.

Resourceful and regal: The Australian white ibis is quirky up close and majestic in flight. Their long bills are perfect for digging up their favourite foods – like crayfish and mussels – but as urban areas spread these adaptable birds have taken up scavenging rubbish. Next time you see an ibis rushing for scraps, remember they’d rather be eating their natural prey and are simply surviving in an increasingly urban world. 

If asked who comes to mind when thinking of birds who form lifetime bonds, you’d be forgiven for thinking of white swans before the Australian white ibis. The sad reality that ibis are known for dumpster diving more than they’re known for forming a long-term connection with their mate highlights that we are quick to make assumptions about certain animals — and there is a lot more to them than we first may think.

Creating change through perspective change

Humans are undeniably wondrous animals – our intellect has enabled us to share and document stories, develop technologies, and create complex cultural systems. With this intellect comes great power and responsibility to the natural world we impact. By seeing this as a privilege, we can better care for the planet we share with so many others.

Just as we inherited the belief system that has led to farmed animals like pigs, cows and chickens being valued only in terms of what they produce, wildlife are trapped by inherited thinking too. Some are deemed worthy of protection, often favoured due to their appearance. Some are categorised as a ‘pest’ whether native or introduced – and receive negative attention. And many animals that aren’t seen as ‘cute’ may even be largely unknown by most people. 

Taking a (huge) step back, the very first life on earth began an estimated 4 billion years ago, and just as us human-animals have evolved to who we are today, the non-human animals living alongside us have taken 4 billion years to arrive here too. They have just as much of a right to live here, and just as much of a desire to survive and thrive. That they are fellow inhabitants of our lands and seas should be reason enough to grant them the respect they so deserve.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A side-on photo of a cassowary on an Australian beach.

Powerful and phenomenal: When it comes to stunning native birds, the cassowary shouldn’t be overlooked. A ratite standing 1.5-1.8m tall with a distinctive casque (the helmet on their head), they live in the dense Australian rainforest, vocalising to eachother with an assortment of grunts and rumblings. 

Still, we are victims of cultural conditioning, and we tend to gravitate to animals who appear cuddly and friendly — even if we know we must admire them from a safe distance. These animals tend to be furry or have facial expressions and body language we can easily read, or that mimic that of human babies.

Recognising that we may favour certain qualities or characteristics in animals is the first step in addressing our biases. Next is asking lots of questions, to ourselves and others, to free our thinking and recalibrate our direction.

Remember the blobfish? This fish unfairly received worldwide fame after being labelled the world’s ‘ugliest’ animal. People who fueled their curiosity with a little research were quick to realise that when left alone in their natural habitat hundreds of meters below the water’s surface, the blobfish looks just like any other fish. Sadly, when dragged out of the deep-sea home that their bodies were designed for, they swell due to the dramatic drop in pressure. The lesson here is that blobfish are their best and most beautiful selves when left alone to be blobfish!

It can be challenging to think outside our cultural conditioning, but it is a key to unlocking the better world we all dream of. Inherited thinking, passed down from those before us, has shaped our thinking of what is ‘beautiful’, what behaviours are ‘normal’, what food is ‘normal’, and so on. Remedying this is as simple as letting our curiosity shine through, and nurturing the curiosity and wonder of younger generations.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A red-lipped batfish sits on the sandy ocean floor.

Eccentric and extraordinary: While this striking animal is not found off the coast of Australia, the red-lipped batfish tends to be overshadowed by fellow animals who call the Galapagos Islands home, like the Galapagos tortoise. These fish have bright red pouts, and prefer to “walk” along the sandy ocean floor as they aren’t strong swimmers.

Celebrating quirkiness fosters kindness to all

If all animals were as objectively stunning and photogenic as our companion animals, Earth would be missing the peculiarity of the naked mole-rat and the awe inspired by the telescope fish. By celebrating diversity and quirkiness, we can ensure no one is left out of our vision for a kinder world. 

We know that all animals – whether wild animals or those who have been bred to be used for food, clothing or entertainment – live, breathe, and feel. Our opinions about animals, the conversations we have about them, and the choices we make daily can change their world.

If you’d like to learn more about living kindly for all animals, people, and the planet, join the evolution today!