Last updated August 1, 2018 at 10:18 am
We have a false sense of security about endangered animals with high visibility in the media.
When it comes to conservation biology, some animals garner more attention than others. However, researchers say this could give the general public a false impression that species such as lions, tigers and gorillas are doing okay in the wild.
Researchers identified “virtual populations” the 10 most charismatic animals with the strongest media presence by surveying school children, international zoo websites and Disney and Pixar animated movies.
They are the tiger, the lion, the elephant, the giraffe, the leopard, the panda, the cheetah, the polar bear, the grey wolf, and the gorilla.
And, despite previous beliefs that media can positively influence the conservation efforts of endangered animals, all 10 animals are at risk of extinction in the wild.
Poor public knowledge and false security
The survey also revealed that there was poor knowledge of the conservation status of the most charismatic species.
When asked the question, “is this species endangered?” almost 50 per cent of people were wrong about the gorilla and 60 per cent about the giraffe.
Complacency around the true state of the endangered animals means that most of the public are unaware of how close they are to extinction despite “massive cultural and commercial presence,” write the authors.
Without this understanding, the public are not activated or mobilised to protect them.
“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,” says Franck Courchamp, who led the international research team.
Fundraising programs for conservation
To overcome this paradoxical effect, researchers suggest that companies using the image of threatened species for marketing purposes should contribute to conservation efforts, by assisting in information campaigns to educate the public about the reality of the species.
They also suggest that a part of the marketing benefits be used to fund the protection of the involved species.
There is still a lot of benefit behind featuring these charismatic species in popular media, as they motivate the public to support conservation programs. The researchers express concern that if these charismatic species actually become extinct, the general conservation movement might suffer from the lack of a public face.
They claim “that conservation studies, actions, and policies should stop seeing charismatic species as overprivileged conservation targets and face the fact that they are badly threatened species that urgently need an intensification of conservation effort.”
The research is published in PLOS Biology.