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Animals' popularity 'a disadvantage'

From BBC - April 13, 2018

The world's most popular animals are in more danger than we realise, according to a new study.

A survey of the public's perceptions suggests many people are unaware that the animals they consider "charismatic" are under threat in the wild.

These include lions, elephants, tigers and other animals which frequently appear in branding and advertising.

Researchers suspect the animals' media ubiquity may lead people to think they are prospering in the wild.

The findings were published by an international team of scientists in PLOS Biology.

Charismatic species

The notion of "charismatic" species has cropped up recently in conservation biology, explains Dr Franck Courchamp, the study's lead author.

"There is a regular claim that the most charismatic species are diverting most of the time and resources [in conservation]. I started wondering whether this was true and followed by better results in conservation," he told BBC News.

Dr Courchamp and his team set out to determine exactly which species these might be.

Using an online survey available in four languages, supplemented by classroom questionnaires in English, Spanish and French primary schools, researchers asked the public to name the wild species they considered most charismatic.

They also looked at how frequently animals were represented on zoo websites, and on the covers of Disney and Pixar animated films.

The ten most "charismatic" animals:

Virtual wildlife

Additionally, the team had volunteers in France catalogue their encounters with "virtual" populations of the 10 animals over the period of a week.

They encountered an average of 4.4 lions in logos, cartoons, magazines and other sources each day, implying that people are likely to see two to three times as many "virtual" lions in a year as there are lions in West Africa.

Dr Courchamp thinks this may have a subconscious impact, though there is no direct evidence as of yet.

"Mostly I think because people see giraffes and lions every day of their life, they unconsciously think they are in abundance," he said.

Despite their abundant media representation, nine of the animals on the list are classed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

When researchers asked survey participants whether they thought these animals were endangered, explaining that they were not using IUCN terminology, they were surprised by the results.

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