Valuing Wildlife

If you want to know what a nation values most about itself, look at its money.

Aside from the state quarters, America’s money is decorated primarily with portraits of dead white guys. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of those dead white guys accomplished really amazing things, and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having Lincoln and Washington and the rest of them on our bills and coins, but it’s interesting to look at other countries for comparison. I was going through the coin jar on my desk recently and came across remnants of my time in Canada and Australia. Most Americans are probably familiar with the beaver and caribou (at least I think that’s a caribou and not an elk) on the Canadian nickel and quarter.

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Australian money is even cooler. They have coins featuring a swimming platypus…

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An adorable curled-up echidna

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And best of all, a lyrebird. Look carefully – all those feathery plumes are its tail, and you can just see the head under the number 10, partially hidden behind curling tail feathers.

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Wikimedia Commons photo by fir0002/Flagstaffotos.

If this bird looks familiar, it might be because the Superb Lyrebird is the subject of a well-known David Attenborough clip documenting its amazing vocal abilities. (I feel very lucky to have seen one of these in the wild when I was in Australia, although the one I saw was just walking around, not displaying and mimicking car alarms.)

If I were redesigning American money, I might replace some of the buildings and dead white guys and weird Masonic symbols with prairie chickens, or bison, or alligators, or redwoods, or pronghorns, or salamanders, or saguaros… well, you get the idea. What image would you put on your currency to honor your country’s wilderness and wildlife?

8 thoughts on “Valuing Wildlife”

    1. I agree, and in fairness Canadian and Australian coins have the queen on the other side. Maybe we should have presidents on one side and wildlife on the other. I was just really impressed and charmed by the echidna and the lyrebird!

  1. Aligator snapping turtle, bristlecone pine, rufous-sided towhee (just ’cause i like saying it) and maybe replace some dead white guys with dead animals like the ground sloth, columbian mammoth, or perhaps a trilobite. but, just for giggles, i’d like to have a sand dollar-dollar coin.

  2. Yep, that’s a caribou on the Canadian quarter. We also have a pair of Maple Leaves on the penny (which is being eased out of circulation), a ship (the Bluenose) on our dime, a loon on our $1 coin and a polar bear on our $2 coin. The Pine Grosbeak also used to figure prominently on our $100 bill until it was recently redesigned.

  3. Gee … a whole new way to “follow the money.” I like the idea of heroic humans on one side and flora and fauna on the other. I also think it would be great to include some more recently deceased people … e.g.: Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Sir David F. Attenborough (after he goes, since death seems a requirement)! The latest U.S. Washington quarters have U.S. states on the back, meaning fifty versions of the quarter. So there could be fifty people, fifty animals, fifty plants. It would make coin-collecting more fun, too. Another letter to my poor inundated congressman (who is a great guy but I won’t plug him here).

  4. I think a new comment on this post may have been caught in the spam filter today by mistake (and I clicked “delete permanently” before it really registered in my brain that it might not be spam). If that was the case, I apologize to whoever it was and invite you to submit your comment again. It was someone calling me out on my flip use of the phrase “dead white guys,” which was meant in a light-hearted way but seems to have irked a couple people.

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