Mythical beasts vs en­dan­gered an­i­mals

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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.

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