Omaha, Neb. — The bald eagle won by a beak over the wolf as the threatened or endangered species that children most want to save, based on the essays submitted to a recent Mutual of Omaha contest.
While the bald eagle might be soaring high in patriotism this Fourth of July, a wildlife expert believes there's another reason for the bird's popularity among children.
"The most popular animals in the world are those who look like human beings," said Jim Fowler, the former co-host of the wildlife TV show "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom."
"We interpret the very powerful look in its face as a symbol of courage and majesty," he said of the bald eagle. "Lots of small salamanders ... are endangered, but they're not the sort of things people find attractive."
Mutual of Omaha sponsored a nationwide essay contest this year for children ages 9 to 12, asking them what threatened or endangered North American species they most wanted to save.
Nearly 6,800 children submitted essays. A winning essay was selected from each state, with each writer given a trip to Los Angeles in April to attend the three-day Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom Kids Summit. The event included visits to Universal Studios and the Los Angeles Zoo.
Patrick Parks, an 11-year-old from Washington, D.C., wrote one of the 587 essays about bald eagles.
He listed ways he would save the animal, including "give them homes ... at someones house maybe even mine with a huge cage where he could fly around and do anything he wants."
The wolf received the second-highest number of essays, with 568. Rounding out the top five were the Florida panther, the manatee and the cougar.
Fowler said people like animals that looked like humans, such as the panda and the koala.
"Animals that don't look very human-like, they're not very favorable to us ... like spiders and snakes. It's unfortunately pretty shallow and superficial."
He said he was happy that the wolf received so many essays, which he attributed partly to the attention the gray wolf has received with its reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park in the late 1980s.
Not all the children, however, wrote about popular animals.
One wrote about a mussel; another wrote about a crawfish. Another winner wrote about the Salt Creek tiger beetle.