Illustrator Sami Bayly finds key to conservation message in beauty of animal ‘ugliness’


October 04, 2019 09:38:31

If you suffer from trypophobia — an aversion to the sight of clusters of small holes — you might want to take a deep breath before feasting your eyes on a Suriname toad.

That is the advice of Australian natural history illustrator Sami Bayly, who has just launched The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ugly Animals, containing 60 of the world’s weirdest and most wonderful critters.

“The Suriname toad is quite a sight to see; it’s an almost flat toad, very, very thin, and it has these pores on its back,” Ms Bayly said.

“When those babies are born, they are laid on top of the female by the male, and a layer of skin grows over the top of them.

“And when they’re ready to hatch, they push through like little blackheads and then they swim off and they’re ready to go.”

It was while undertaking Australia’s only degree in natural history illustration at the University of Newcastle that Ms Bayly became fond of the weird and wonderful.

“It was an amazing course [and] I absolutely fell in love with it,” she said.

“I didn’t want to leave, which is the main reason why I did honours as well.”

Ugly animals less valued in conservation?

For her honours degree Ms Bayly explored the debate behind what ugliness and beauty really mean.

She found that the attributes people saw as ugly almost always had a purpose in that animal’s survival.

“I was trying to find the correlation between endangered animals and their appearances,” she said.

“[And] whether the beautiful animals were appreciated and looked more after in conservation.”

Animals, such as the Antarctic scale worm, the terrifying fangtooth moray, and the much-ridiculed hairless Chinese crested dog, do not receive much time in the limelight.

Ms Bayly hopes her book, which is aimed at children and adults alike, will shift the perception that ugly animals are less worthy of conservation.

“When you go through, a lot of the animals in the book are less of a concern for conservationists, which is a great thing,” she said.

“But there are so many that are near-threatened, or endangered, or critically endangered.

“It’s really important for kids to understand that fact and that we really need to look after all of our species, regardless of what they look like.”

Could fill a whole book with birds and fish

Picking a favourite ugly animal is like choosing a favourite child, according to Ms Bayly, who names her “favourite visually” as the Marabou stork.

“It’s a pink, bald-headed, large bird,” she said.

“[It has] a couple of little hairs on the top of its head, a big strong beak, and then some big kind of overwhelming feathers over its shoulder.”

A large pink sac under its chin inflates with air as the bird creates a distinctive guttural sound during exhalation.

While doing her research, Ms Bayly found that birds and fish were disproportionately represented on the ugly list.

“I just kept coming across more fish and birds,” she said.

“I thought ‘oh my god, I could fill a whole book of just birds and fish’, but I had to share [the limelight].”

Why animals are endangered

With a masters degree in fine art, specialising in a narrower band of endangered animals, Ms Bayly has found her niche.

On social media she proudly markets her images under the banner Ugly Animal Illustrator, but the conservation crusader in no overnight sensation.

In July 2018 she took part in the New Colombo Plan initiative of the Australian Government, which aimed to lift knowledge of the Indo-Pacific in Australia.

Ms Bayly spent time in Borneo studying the ecology of the proboscis monkey and working on land rehabilitation.

In August 2018, she was named joint winner of the Australian Museum’s inaugural Australian Scientific Illustration Scholarship.

“I like to talk about why they are critically endangered, or what’s happening to them, so we can understand,” she said.

She hope greater understanding by people will lead to a change in behaviour.

“Whether it be cutting out palm oil, and things like that, make an action for it,” she said.

















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