GROWING UP, MOST of the stories I heard about animals featured charismatic megafauna—“flagship species,” as they were called. Elephants and tigers were the main attraction in zoos; dolphin shows were the primary draw at aquariums; and nonprofit organizations like the World Wildlife Fund celebrated pandas. In the news, the biggest stories about animals featured species like gorillas, lions, and orcas. This is largely still true today, and in a way it makes sense. These animals, with their sheer size, enigmatic behavior, and endangered status, can captivate the human imagination and command attention like few other creatures can, eliciting deep emotional responses from people around the world.
Yet the past decade has seen increasing pushback against this idea of prioritizing the welfare of megafauna while ignoring less charismatic creatures. The view that we should extend our moral concern to more than just animals with faces is becoming more mainstream. But if we stop simply prioritizing the welfare of animals that are “majestic” or “cute,” how should we prioritize species? Should we be concerned about the welfare of fish, bivalves, or insects? What about microorganisms? If meat is murder, does that mean antibacterial soap is, too?
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