Does our fascination for some animals precipitate them towards extinction? In any case it does not save them according to the remarkable scientific study on ten emblematic animals of the world. Tigers, lions, elephants, giraffes, leopards, pandas, cheetah, polar bears, wolves and gorillas: all are threatened with disappearance and ironically the cause for most of them is hunting.
They conquered the heart of the whole world. They are the heroes of cartoons and animation movies. Stuffed animals to their effigy make all children happy. Yet, in the meantime, mankind destroys them slowly, unscrupulously, by denying them their lands, by hunting them, by polluting the Earth and initiating global warming.
This is the sad conclusion of a study conducted by an international team of researchers, precisely titled “The paradoxical extinction of the most charismatic animals” published early April 2018 in the Journal Plos Biology. Researchers, Franck Courchamp and his colleagues identified ten species that are people’s favorite by conducting surveys in schools and online surveys with international participants but also by studying animals in the spotlight in zoos and animation movies.
Star animals victims of their celebrity
The popularity of animals generates a momentum of compassion for them which should promote the initiatives to protect them. Proof of this, they often appear in the medias that warn on their alarming situation. Let’s think about the lion Cecil brutally killed for sportive hunting or about this polar bear wandering painfully on the ice – simply sick or victim of climate change, this bear has upset more than one.
These sad images have moved deeply the public, but it does not seem to compensate the optimism generated from the strong presence of animals in our daily life. In fact, the entertainment world and renowned brands are voluntarily betting on these animals, in movies and advertisements. The products to their images are selling quickly. Thus, these ten animals account for more than half of the sold stuffed animals in the US each year by the online giant trader Amazon – the other half being the enthroned teddy bear. The most striking is that 800 000 toys “Sophie the giraffe” were sold in France in 2010: a total eight times more than the number of living giraffes in Africa.
Researchers suggest that the omnipresence unfortunately plays against these animals as it creates a sort of “virtual population” that is doing better than the actual wild population. This gives the illusion of wellbeing and welfare of these animals. For example, in only one month, one French will see more lions in pictures, character from a cartoon, logo of a brand than there are of lions in West Africa according to this study.
Because or despite this over-representation these emblematic species, the public seems hardly informed on the risk of extinction that weighs on them. Indeed, surveys on Internet and conducted by researchers amongst young children or university students have revealed that in average one person out of two is mistaking on their conservation status. This is true for most of the ten animals except for tigers, pandas and polar bears.
Saving the star animals but also the uncared for
To counter this perverse effect, researchers encourage companies to inform the public on the animals’ situation that they use to their advantage or ideally to redistribute a part (as little as it may be) of their financial profits to protection organism, as image rights.
These animals cruelly need it and every little gesture can deeply reinforce the conservation efforts that often lack financing.
If nothing changes, the researchers warn us that they will only exist virtually in cartoons and advertisements. They remind us in their publications and in interviews that!
- The population of tigers will only reach 7% of its historic abundance and three species are now extinct: the Bali tiger, Java tiger and Caspian tiger.
- From 20 to 30 years the king of animals could disappear. The population of lions has reduced by 8% of its historic abundance and decline everywhere in Africa while lions have disappeared in Eurasia to the exception of 175 specimens in India.
- Elephants of savannas in Africa represent less than 10% of their historical population while forest elephants have lost 62% of their effective between 2002 and 2011. Elephants from Asia have seen their historical area of repartition reduced by 85%.
- Three out of four species of giraffes have seen a decline of their population going from 52 to 97% in 35 years.
- Leopards have lost up to 75% of their historical repartition area perhaps 97% for six out of the nine sub-species.
- There are less than 2000 pandas in the world and they only occupy 1% of their historic habitat, exclusively in China.
- Cheetahs only live in 9% of their historic repartition area in Africa and there are only 100 Asian cheetahs remaining.
- The abundance of polar bears remains unknown. The few existing data for only a few populations indicate a severe decline.
- Wolves have lost a third of their historic repartition area. They have almost disappeared in Western Europe and USA.
- Two of the four sub-species of gorillas only count a few hundred individuals while the other two sub-species have almost disappeared.
Furthermore, researchers estimate that the preference noted for the ten species quoted above come from the fact that they are large mammals like human beings. But let’s not forget to act for less known animals that are equally in danger.
This study helps having a new intake on objects and images representing our favorite animals that we see daily. The media coverage of species is not a bad thing however there are better ways to talk about it and send important messages relative to their conservation status.
Inform and educate are the key words. That is why EVI has commitment with schools. Furthermore, to teach entertainment is not reprehensible, on the contrary. There are many movies (documentaries or animated), books and educational games that make a point of sensitize the public to animal and environmental causes. In this line, EVI has an illustrated magazine, full of cartoons, stories and articles to share problematics related to wild fauna and nature with an original format.