Charismatic, iconic animals such as the tiger, lion, elephant, leopard, giraffe, panda, cheetah, polar bear, grey wolf and gorilla are used extensively in what is described as “pop culture”. This means things such as plush toys, animated films, school questionnaires, marketing, cartoons, selfies and zoo websites.
As people are unaware of the true conservation status of these iconic wild animals they are given the impression, in the numerous references to them in pop culture, that all is well in reality when it is not.
In France, for example, a baby toy giraffe called Sophie sold 800,000 times which represents eight times more than the total number of giraffes living in Africa.
The lead author of the study conducted by American and French researchers and published in the journal PLOS Biology, Frank Courchamp, of the University of Paris, said that the animals are so popular in pop culture that they create a “virtual population” in the mind of the average citizen giving the impression that the animals are doing far better in the real world than they are.
The researchers want companies who use these animals in marketing to donate a proportion of their income to their conservation. One of the researchers, William Ripple, said that the major threat facing nearly all these animals is direct killing by humans. This is incorrect.
The major threat to all these animals and all endangered wild animals is loss of habitat to which you can add things such as poaching for body parts et cetera. Sometimes the population size becomes so low that extinction is almost certain due to inbreeding resulting in infertile breeding adults.
On a personal level, it is clear to me that whereas a cat lover might have a high interest in domestic cats and their behaviour and welfare they infrequently have the same concern for their wild cat cousins.
It is very hard to generate interest in the general population. Of course there are individuals who are extremely interested in conservation but by-and-large the concern is not there. Add to that the underlying problem referred to in this article and you can see why there is a gradual (sometimes step) decline in the population sizes of iconic wild species such as tiger, lion, elephant and many others.
Source: The Guardian via Big Cat Rescue on Facebook.