If we ask our relatives or friends to name animals with many negative characteristics, what do they say? Which animals don't they like and why? Their answers will be spider, hyena, shark, wolf, etc. Of course, there are also many people for whom these are favourites, there are always exceptions.
In some cultures people are afraid of these animals by instinct, other cultures worship the same animals. Today, the media’s impact on society is significant in this aspect also. Just think of the following stories: Little Red Riding Hood, The Lion King. What effects do these tales and movies have on a zoo’s life?
- Naturally, as institutions try to present current cartoon stars, films and cartoons change the animal collections of zoos.
- Zoo workers (keepers, zoo educators) must be up-to-date with these stories because they have the task of correcting mistakes, inaccuracies and misconceptions in these cartoons and films.
- Zoo workers can use these movie stars in conservation campaigns (for example the movie Madagascar) as flagship characters.
People like kind and charming characters with interesting qualities. As real life, tales also have good and bad characters, therefore this is what the audience demands. It is interesting how some stories don't change our opinion on certain things:
- We don’t think lions are evil because they eat zebras, but we do believe that hyenas are wicked for the same reason.
- We don't like insects and spiders (and snakes, frogs, etc.) despite them being the main characters of many stories: Maya the Bee, A Bug’s Life, Spiderman.
- We believe that bears are stupid and penguins are very smart.
- Unfortunately, we are afraid of wolves and other harmless species.
Surely, many of us shudder when we hear visitors saying: "Look, there's Timon!" or "Nemo!". In these cases, think of how these exclamations are also part of spreading the word on the importance of wildlife protection. These characters are modern flagship species, just like giant pandas (WWF). People may never have known the existence of these species if they were not shown in cartoons. But sometimes zoos create iconic characters too, like Knut the polar bear in Berlin Zoo, because of marketing reasons. These are all beneficial in all respects.
However, sometimes the border is very thin between the popular and the pitiful. In fact, I haven't got any particular problems with these animal characters and their impact on zoo life, but the next time someone gives the name Elsa to a newborn lion cub, I will...