10 Most Loved Endangered Species Are at a Higher Risk of Extinction Than We Think

Some of the world’s most beloved animals are endangered species who are facing a growing risk of extinction, but we see them everywhere every single day. Researchers fear that the variety of representations we continuously encounter are creating a false sense that they’re doing alright when that’s not the case at all.

To come to this conclusion, a team of researchers wanted to first find out who the world’s most charismatic animals are, so they surveyed thousands of people of varying age and education level from dozens of countries.

The results were pretty unsurprising, with the top 10 coming out to be tigers, lions, elephants, giraffes, leopards, pandas, cheetahs, polar bears, gray wolves and gorillas.

What was surprising is that most people didn’t know about how endangered these species actually are.

According to their findings, which were just published in the journal PLOS Biology, the fact that we see these animals virtually everywhere from zoos and circuses to books, television, logos, ads, movies and toys, among other places, is having a seriously adverse impact on them by creating the illusion that they aren’t threatened with extinction.

The amount of times we see these animals, or “virtual populations,” every day may lead people to the false assumption that conservation efforts to protect them are working. Unfortunately, that is leading to less people pushing for stronger measures to ensure their survival when they need it the most.

When 42 volunteers in France from both rural and urban settings were asked to document every time they encountered one of these virtual animals in their daily lives for a week, they encountered up to 31 individuals of each of the 10 species, which translates to several hundred encounters per month.

“The appearance of these beloved animals in stores, in movies, on television, and on a variety of products seems to be deluding the public into believing they are doing okay,” said William Ripple, a distinguished professor of forest ecology at Oregon State University and a co-author on the study.

“If we don’t act in a concerted effort to save these species, that may soon be the only way anyone will see them.”

Sadly, for some of these beloved animals extinction is looming within just a few decades.

Fewer than 2,000 pandas remain in the wild, occupying less than 1 percent of their historic range, while climate change makes their future uncertain. It’s predicted that African lions will be extinct by 2050, while forest and savannah elephants continue to decline at an alarming rate.

There are now estimated to be more tigers in captivity in the U.S. then there are left in the wild, giraffes are quietly disappearing with little fanfare, and fears have been raised that even as the fastest land animal, cheetahs won’t be able to outrun extinction.

Even more bizarre, is that the species we love the most are often the ones we target to kill.

“I was surprised to see that although these 10 animals are the most charismatic, a major threat faced by nearly all of them is direct killing by humans, especially from hunting and snaring,” said Ripple.

The study’s authors hope their findings will raise awareness that while these species have benefited from conservation efforts, they need more, and they’re also calling for two major changes. The first being an increase in research in conservation, and more importantly, more funding for this research. The second is for companies that are using imagery of endangered species in their branding to give back a small portion of their proceeds to benefit wildlife, similarly to the way they would if they were using copyrighted images.

“If you took one-tenth of a percent of the profits generated by the marketing based on those species and gave them to the conservation of the species, it would be a tremendous amount of money to conservation of those species,” said the study’s lead author, ecologist Franck Courchamp, from the University of South Paris.

While some are skeptical about this approach, questioning how to even go about copyrighting images of endangered species who no one owns, and where the money would actually go, some brands have already embraced the idea of giving back to help.

Lacoste, for example, recently partnered up with the IUCN for Paris Fashion Week this year, changing its iconic crocodile logo to images of 10 endangered species for a limited edition run of its polo shirts. The number of each shirt produced reflected the population size of each species left in the wild, and the money raised went to support the IUCN’s Save Our Species campaign.

Other major brands have also worked to promote wildlife and conservation issues in a similar way. J.Crew, for example, has partnered with organizations including the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Wildlife Conservation Society and Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to create and market clothing that promotes their work and raises funds.

As Courchamp points out, taking a measure like this would be win-win by not only helping fund conservation efforts, but by also potentially making us like these brands more for their effort.

However we move forward on this issue, it’s still a striking reminder about how much more needs to be done to protect wildlife. If even the most lovable and well-known animals on the planet remain at serious risk of extinction, despite their popularity, that doesn’t bode well for all of the others that people don’t even know about.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

117 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y2 days ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y2 days ago

thanks

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John J
John J2 days ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J2 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Maria P
Martha P4 months ago

Thank you or sharing

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Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

Thank you for posting.

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Past Member
Past Member 8 months ago

I happen to agree with you, Cindy.

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Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D11 months ago

Humans need to be the solution, not the problem.

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Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckxabout a year ago

@ Luna S : sorry to see you have been writing a stupid comment again. Do you really think that the mass deforestation people are doing for many many years now, has resulted in planting other trees 10-fold. Well, again I have to request you to get better informed before you write something down. Deforestation was mainly done because people wanted these huge landscapes for cultivating maize. Later followed by soya beans plants, and now also by palm oil trees. In addition, lots of forests disappeared because of the non stop growing of population, and their need for housing, together with the necessary high ways, train rails, etc.. You should see a chart of the world, of say 20 years ago, and now and you can clearly see that we have cut down billions of trees, which were not replanted !! Deforestation MUST stop NOW, IMMEDIATELY. No more trees, no more photosynthesis, and that will cause the death of all air breathing animals, us included.

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Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckxabout a year ago

@ bob p : I don't understand : when you are erased, how can you explain this small message is posted ??

@ Henry M : Do I understand your anger ? No, in fact I don't. I am glad that finally we see photographs and videos about the abuse and cruelty we humans cause to these animals. Before I became a member of Care2, I had never seen such horrifying evidence of animal cruelty in slaughter houses. It's very good we can see the reality, and think about our behavior. I am not a vegetarian or a vegan, but I have always paid very good attention to what I bought and where. Also not to consume 500 grams of meat each day, something a lot of people do. Only we, the consumers can change this !!

@ Anette S. : This is not always the case. The Belgian chocolate brand C'ôte d'Or has had an elephant as brand symbol for over 100 years. The link between an elephant and chocolate. Cocoa beans and elephants are both African...

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