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Those Cute Animal Videos May Be Causing More Harm Than Good

The book cover for "The Truth About Animals."
Basic Books
The book cover for "The Truth About Animals."
Those Cute Animal Videos May Be Causing More Harm Than Good
Those Cute Animal Videos May Be Causing More Harm Than Good GUEST: Lucy Cooke, author, "The Truth About Animals"

>> The San Diego zoo advertised three new jellies with the headline, a triple Joseph -- dose of adorable. >> They have pandas, red pandas are really cute. Lucy Cook says all of this talk about the darling animals may be doing more harm than good. She has a new book debunking some myths. The truth about animals. Tales from the wild side of wildlife. Lucy Cook is here with us on Skype. Welcome to the program. >> What is the danger? These wallabies are incredibly cute. >> There is no harm in that. As humans we have an urge to think that we understand animals because they look a lot like humans or we can interpret their behavior through the prism of our existence. >> For every cute panda there is an ugly vulture that we may not give money to? >> Absolutely. There is a bias toward people wanting to fund animals that are more aesthetically pleasing or, look more like fuses. There was a study done that found that amphibians got 500 times less than lions and tigers. It does make a difference. Although we may not like the vultures, they may look like the Grim Reaper and dine on the dead, that is not necessarily appealing to us. They save us millions of pounds every year by cleaning up carcasses and preventing the spread of disease. They are really valuable to us as part of the ecosystem. Vultures are suffering from declines global -- globally. We need to protect them. >> Let's talk about some myths. Pandas are notorious for having difficulty in captivity. >> They are very different in the wild. Pandas are almost a different bear than the pandas then you see in the zoo. In the wild they are well adapted to their strange white -- lifestyles. They are barrel. They have been observed mating up to 40 times in a single afternoon. They have a great sperm count. 100 times higher than a human. Getting them to reproduce in captivity is a struggle like it is for many animals. You need to work out the complex environments and behavioral cues that will get the panda in the move. It is like a glass of wine and some Barry White. I go so without knowing those things, it is difficult to get animals to breed in captivity. They get useless reputations. >> What about penguins. You like that the London natural history Museum refused to post penguin sexual behavior. >> A scientist discovered that penguins are rather liberal in their sexual attitudes. Basically, these are birds with tiny brains flooded with hormones. Mail penguins will appropriate with anything that moves and sometimes things that don't move. >> It is not just the males that behave like that, females actually are the only animals on the planet other than humans that engage in exchanging goods for sex. They will actually steal pebbles from mail penguins in extending -- in exchange for sexual favors. Penguins have a reputation for being monogamous and great parents and that is not really the case. They are more liberal with their sexual favors. >> That was Lucy Cook. Her new book is the truth about animals. Tales from the wild side of wildlife. Thank you so much. >> My pleasure. Thank you very much.

The San Diego Zoo advertised three new wallaby joeys last month with the headline: “A Triple Dose of Adorable.”

People love cute animals. Think about some of the zoo’s most popular animals. Giant pandas? Cute. Red pandas? Really cute.

But zoologist Lucy Cooke said all this talk about darling animals may be a disservice. She is the author of the new book, "The Truth About Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos and Other Tales From the Wild Side of Wildlife."

For every baby animal that draws attention, and more importantly donations, there's another more homely creature without that same affection. Cooke said that's one of the reason vulture conservationists struggle to find funding.

"The urge to anthropomorphize trips us up and obscures the truth," Cooke wrote.

Cooke joins KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday with more on her study into animal myths, like whether moose actually get drunk.