Lions and Tigers and Bears Are Going Extinct

Meanwhile, our minds get tricked into thinking these animals are safe.

Posted Apr 18, 2018

Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay, used with permission
Source: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay, used with permission

A research paper published April 12, 2018, in the online journal PLOS Biology, identifies the 10 most “charismatic” animals known and loved by humans that may soon become extinct, perhaps, in great part, because, most of us don’t realize how few of them actually exist.  They’re talking about elephants, giraffes, lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, polar bears, gorillas, gray wolves, and, of course, pandas, that are all going the way of the dinosaur. Why don’t we know this? Why aren’t we paying more attention?

Most of us are captivated by and naturally attracted to animals, especially mammals. We often feel an emotional connection. The animals that are most popular with humans are everywhere we look, in the form of stuffed animal toys and cartoon and realistic images used in marketing, advertising, film, and publishing products. Associating animals and images of animals with a product has long been used as a very effective way of attracting potential buyers, even if the animal has nothing to do with the product being promoted for sale. (After all, what does a gecko lizard or a duck have to do with car insurance, Clydesdale horses to do with beer, or a tiger to do with sugar-coated corn flakes?) At the same time, conservationists often use appealing images of animals to promote their efforts to save endangered species. But all of these efforts, the study authors say, even those of conservationists, may be contributing to the demise of some of the world's most popular wild animals.

When we are bombarded with images of our most beloved creatures, we are reminded of their existence and assume they are abundant and safe among us. But as these researchers point out, unless those images are accompanied by strong and relevant warnings, we may not even think about the possibility that the existence of these animals is severely threatened. Who would think that we could soon live in a world without gorillas, elephants, and giraffes?

The truth is, however, with the exception of the wolf, all of the threatened animals named in this study are classified as Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered. Not only are these creatures shrinking in number, but also in locations around the world. As is the case of the gray wolf, many animal species simply do not exist in areas where they were once abundant. African lions are down to less than 8% of documented historic levels and all but 175 individual lions of one species are extinct in India. The population of African forest elephants has declined by more than 60% just in the past nine years, while the population of savannah elephants is less than 10% of historic levels. There are fewer than 2,000 pandas left in the world.

This is not fake news; the authors provide alarming statistics to back up their findings. They predict many common species will become extinct within a few decades unless steps are taken to raise awareness of this potential tragedy and encourage everyone, including those who use animal images to promote products, to mobilize and lend more support to conservationists.


Courchamp F, Jaric I, Albert C, Meinard Y, Ripple WJ, Chapron G. The paradoxical extinction of the most charismatic animals. PLOS Biology. April 12, 2018; 16(4): e2003997.

Stone, Sheryl M. The Psychology of Using Animals in Advertising. Northwestern Oklahoma State University/2014 Hawaii University International Conferences, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

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