Whether you are a nature lover or not, most of us have grown up surrounded by images and plush toys of iconic animals. From Attenborough’s awe-inspiring documentaries, to the bear in the big blue house we are exposed to images of wildlife every day through the media. It is not just the media, companies around the world use iconic animals to name and advertise their products like Jaguar cars and the Toys ‘R’ Us Giraffe.
Beautiful iconic animals from across the world are used to sell everything from mobile phones to insurance. The animals feel familiar to us, these “virtual populations” lead us to believe the animals are common and an assured feature of earth. So it might come as a surprise to some that most of these species are also threatened with extinction. The psychological process is similar to that of propaganda, we see these animals so often that we believe they are fine.
Unfortunately, the conservation message concerning the species used gets left behind when the animals are used for commercial gain. Some conservationists even argue that documentaries like Planet Earth are giving the public distorted views that nature is flourishing and doesn’t need our concern. In fact 9 out of the world’s top 10 most iconic animals are on the threatened species list.
Based on thousands of responses to a research survey it was found that tigers, lions, elephants, giraffes, leopards, pandas, cheetahs, polar bears, wolves and gorillas are the most iconic animals. Participants were also asked whether they considered the animals they nominated to be endangered. Over 50% of respondents underestimated the threat to the animals they mentioned. We are so used to seeing these animals in TV shows and in books that people have no idea these species are in rapid decline.
Following on, there are many examples of companies who use animals to sell their products without sharing the fact that the species is of conservation concern. In 2010 the number of “Sophie la giraffe” toys sold in France was eight times the number of giraffes remaining in the wild. Giraffe populations are declining at an alarming rate, and yet we continue to sell soft giraffe toys to our children without regard.
It’s not just TV shows and toys, images of animals can be seen in almost everything. Borobi the Koala, the mascot for the Australian commonwealth games held on Australia’s “koala coast” was plastered and sold throughout the events. Yet koala numbers have plummeted more than 80% on the same coast since 1996 and are heading toward local extinction. Habitat destruction caused by human development and invasive species are the main threats. Despite these concerns Borobi will be used to engage adults and children in the event, selling huge amounts of merchandise.
Conservationists worldwide think it is time these companies stop profiting from using these animals in marketing and need to start paying some form of compensation. Companies must pay fees for almost any type of image they use for marketing their product, so why should an image of an animal be different. They should be paying money towards wildlife conservation when they use images of endangered species to promote their brands. Borobi the koala is going to be used to sell millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise, some of this money should be used to help the real koalas in their fight for survival.
Micro-payments from companies using endangered animals as logos or other forms of marketing could amount to large sums of money for conservation. Just a small fraction of the profits from these companies could make a huge difference in conservation struggles. Take for example Britain’s Egg Industry Council who use the image of a lion on their eggs. Lions don’t lay eggs, but they do sell them. Around 34 million eggs are consumed every day in Britain, around 85% of these eggs have on them a stamp of a lion. If for every egg that was sold they donated a 10th of a penny, £10.5 million a year could be donated to lion conservation.
Furthermore, another industry that uses the image of a lion is the English Premier League. During the football season there are around 5 million shirts sold, each bearing a lion symbol on the arm. One pound from each of those shirt sales would pay the salaries of around 10,000 lion guardian wardens in Africa for a year. By taking just small fractions of donations from these products, millions of pounds can be put together and directed to conservation.
The idea is a brilliant one, but we need organisations to get on board and be pressured into helping in this way. One company is already doing their bit to help with the conservation of the species they use in marketing. Tiger Beer have teamed up with the WWF in a fundraising campaign to support rangers around the world. The world’s tiger population has shrunk by 96% in the last century, yet in every bar across the world you can buy a bottle of tiger beer. Thankfully the company decided to match up to $25,000 of consumer donations throughout the summer of 2017. This campaign was able to donate large sums of money into tiger conservation.
Another interesting idea to encourage companies to fund conservation is to actually sell them advertising rights. Companies could put their names on national parks or conservation projects. Not only would this help nature but it could be a great marketing tool for them to show they are participating actively in the protection of the animal that represents it, rather than participating in its doom. A crazy example of this is the GoldenPalace.com Monkey. Golden Palace casino paid $650,000 to win an auction which allowed them to name the newly discovered species of “titi” monkey in Bolivia. This money went directly to the Madidi National Park where the species was discovered.
Still, these examples are in isolation. In order to make every company get involved the governments need to step in and create some kind of tax system. Companies must start paying for the use of animals as marketing tools. Not just this but those companies who are actively destroying our planets ecosystems should have to pay compensation for what damage they create. As well as making companies pay for their actions it is important that we inform people across the world that the species they so commonly see depicted in their day to day lives are actually in serious risk of disappearing from the wild. If we are not careful the only place we could see a Jaguar will be a garage and the only place to see coral would be a bookies.