Mythical beasts vs endangered animals
For centuries, tales of mythical creatures have been told. Some of these creatures, such as the komodo dragon, the manatee and the platypus, were at one time thought to be just legends but turned out to be real animals. Others, such as the griffin – a winged creature with the body of a lion, a snake’s tail and a beak – are only seen in storybooks. A recent survey from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), however, revealed that British people are more aware of mythical creatures than they are of some endangered living animals.
To test people’s awareness of real and fake creatures, ZSL presented a list of names to 1,000 people and asked them to identify the ones they recognised. The list included lots of endangered animals alongside those known from folklore or that have featured in films, such as ewoks, from the Star Wars films. Although 88% of participants had heard of unicorns, mythical horned, horse-like creatures, just 1% knew of the hirola – one of the rarest and most threatened species of antelope in the world. The survey also revealed that almost 90% of participants knew of mermaids, and 78% were aware of the Gruffalo, the warty-nosed beast from the children’s book. Many real-life animals were not so well known. The axolotl, a smiley salamander from Mexico, was recognised by only a fifth of participants; the shoebill stork, recognised by 12%; and a small, pouched mammal known as a numbat, was known to only 8% of the people who took part.
The survey was created to celebrate the 10th anniversary of ZSL’s Edge of Existence programme, which was set up in 2007 to identify and conserve the most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) species in the world. Dr Nisha Owen, who works on the programme, explained that although thissur vey was for fun, it “perfectly highlights the importance of the work of the Edge of Existence programme, as we’re working tirelessly to save remarkable creatures which, in many cases, the public might not have even heard of.”
In the 10 years that the programme has been running, around 450 Edge species have been tracked and identified.
The axolotl was recognised by a fifth of those surveyed.
Most people had heard of
Only 12% had heard of the shoebill stork.