Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to the Guardian, cute endangered animal toys trick our minds into thinking the animals represented by the toys are all around us.
Using cute animals in pop culture makes public think they’re not endangered – study
Proliferation of giraffes, lions, tigers and elephants in toy shops and films creates ‘virtual population’ and skews our perception.
Fri 13 Apr 2018 10.38 AEST
Animals such as elephants, tigers, lions and panda bears are everywhere in movies, books and toy stores. But their wide pop culture presence skews public perception of how endangered these animals really are, researchers say.
Online surveys, zoo websites, animated films and school questionnaires were scoured by US and French researchers for the study, published in journal PLOS Biology.
Lead author Franck Courchamp of the University of Paris said these animals are so common in pop culture and marketing materials that they create a “virtual population” in people’s minds, one that is doing far better in perception than reality.
“Unknowingly, companies using giraffes, cheetahs or polar bears for marketing purposes may be actively contributing to the false perception that these animals are not at risk of extinction, and therefore not in need of conservation,” Courchamp said.
The abstract of the study;
The paradoxical extinction of the most charismatic animals
Franck Courchamp , Ivan Jaric, Céline Albert, Yves Meinard, William J. Ripple, Guillaume Chapron
Published: April 12, 2018
A widespread opinion is that conservation efforts disproportionately benefit charismatic species. However, this doesn’t mean that they are not threatened, and which species are “charismatic” remains unclear. Here, we identify the 10 most charismatic animals and show that they are at high risk of imminent extinction in the wild. We also find that the public ignores these animals’ predicament and we suggest it could be due to the observed biased perception of their abundance, based more on their profusion in our culture than on their natural populations. We hypothesize that this biased perception impairs conservation efforts because people are unaware that the animals they cherish face imminent extinction and do not perceive their urgent need for conservation. By freely using the image of rare and threatened species in their product marketing, many companies may participate in creating this biased perception, with unintended detrimental effects on conservation efforts, which should be compensated by channeling part of the associated profits to conservation. According to our hypothesis, this biased perception would be likely to last as long as the massive cultural and commercial presence of charismatic species is not accompanied by adequate information campaigns about the imminent threats they face.
Could this perceptual skew apply to other subjects? Do news reports about violent weather make us insensitive to warnings that climate change will cause violent weather?
Or perhaps it is all the wild exaggerations and fake news which make us skeptical of media claims about endangered species and global warming.