I could not resist including this photograph of a pearl mussel grinning at my camera, partly because it reminded me of a paper I read a few months ago on the problems of conserving species such as pearl mussels which are not “charismatic”. Though pearl mussels lack characters, such as large eyes that make it easier for humans to empathise with them, there is, nonetheless, a layer of language used by conservation professionals which sits over the usual objective language of science when discussing the plight of mussels. This, the authors argue, helps us to think of species in human terms, even though they are “rhetorically challenged”. They point to one officer in a conservation body who referred to pearl mussels as “poor souls” who needed our help – the classic language of charity. And, indeed, there must be something about pearl mussels that raise them so much higher on the conservation agenda than most other invertebrates and way much higher than the lower plants which interest me the most. And, looking at this fellow leering at me from the bed of the River Ehen, I could see that they maybe had a point. Who would not want to conserve such an anthropomorphic little mollusc?
A happy pearl mussel in the River Ehen
Carrithers, M., Bracken, L.J. & Emery, S. (2011). Can a species be a person? A trope and its entanglements in the Anthropocene Era. Current Anthropololgy 52: 61-685