This is a guest blog post by Joanne McGonagle, author of An Ordinary Toad's Extraordinary Night.
One of the requirements of the Master of Zoology program was to write a plan about how we thought we could make a difference in the world. My master’s journey began with the inspiration from an article by Peter Slovic: “If I look at the mass, I will never act: Psychic numbing and genocide.” This article discusses how the phenomenon of psychic numbing paralyzes humans and prevents them from taking action to help others in need. I thought if this was true for humans suffering, wouldn’t it be true for the big cats too? I wondered if we could deliver a message of hope instead of desperation, of success instead of failure, through compelling storytelling could we lure others into caring about the world around them? If I could get people to care about one tiger, could I get them to begin to care about all the tigers and motivate them to save the entire species?
My master plan focused on big cats and they are considered ‘charismatic megafauna’. The term ‘charismatic megafauna’ refers to large well-known animal species that garner a disproportionate share of the public’s attention. The tiger is the world’s most popular animal according to a survey conducted by Animal Planet. The big cat even beat out the dog for the number one position. These species have the ‘wow factor’ that grabs the public’s attention to try to save them. The koala certainly is charming, but a small toad... perhaps not.
During the peer review process of our master plans, one of my colleagues asked me a compelling question. Tim asked, “How would the results be different if you picked a less cute animal or non-charismatic megafauna? There are many people that like tigers, but how about something that they do not make stuffed animals or commonly occur in Winnie the Pooh cartoons? Frogs and Toads need help too.”
This is an important question. What about all the living beings that aren’t cute and cuddly or fierce and admired?
Driving one day, I thought about toads. Then I wondered why frogs seem to be the preferred amphibians. I imagined a young toad named Andrew. I wish I could tell you why his name is Andrew but I honestly don’t know. But I began to tell Gracey [the author’s cat], she was a great listener, the story of Andrew the young toad that wondered if his life might have been better had he been hatched a frog. And that’s how An Ordinary Toad’s Extraordinary Night came to be.
Thank you for caring for all animals, big and small. Charismatic and non-charismatic, we need them all and they need our help and protection.
Joanne McGonagle is the award-winning author of The Tiniest Tiger. For more information join The Tiniest Tiger on Facebook.