Japanese anime and zoos boost public interest in conservation of real-life animal characters

November 26, 2019

Animated shows with animal characters can increase public interest in real wildlife, including boosting donations to conservation programs at zoos. A new national analysis in Japan highlights the potential of entertainment-conservation partnerships to increase public interest in the natural world even as communities become increasingly urbanized.

"Our study was nationwide in Japan, but zoos exist all over the world. We believe zookeepers, conservationists and entertainers should feel encouraged to work together for global preservation of endangered animals," said Assistant Professor Yuya Fukano from the University of Tokyo Institute for Sustainable Agro-ecosystem Services.

When the summer heat wave in Tokyo made fieldwork impossible, Fukano, a field ecologist, began an office-work project in collaboration with a zookeeper and another UTokyo faculty member specializing in human-nature interactions.

The benefit of zoos

Although zoos are recognized as sites for public education about wildlife conservation, evidence of their impact is usually limited to small-scale visitor surveys. The research team used the big data available from Google Trends and Wikipedia page views to measure the nationwide impact of zoos on public interest in wildlife.

Internet searches for specific animal species are more common within prefectures that also have zoos caring for those animals, according to location details in the online data. The positive effect of a zoo in the prefecture was consistent across Japan, regardless of socioeconomic differences.

"Visiting zoos motivates people to learn more about the species they see there," said Fukano.

However, researchers noticed that for many animals, the number of online searches dramatically increased in the first few months of 2017.

"We wondered what was causing this noise in the data," said Fukano.

The impact of anime

Kemono Friends is a 30-minute animated series, or anime, originally broadcast in Japan late at night between Jan. 11 and March 29, 2017.

The premise of Kemono Friends is that an unexplained event has left one girl alone in a world filled with animals who help her navigate their habitats and discover her true identity as a human. The animals are portrayed as women in animal costumes with personalities and abilities characteristic of the species they represent.

Due to its popularity, the series was rebroadcast nationwide and via online streaming services. It became a franchise with merchandise, video games and additional seasons of the TV program. The majority of the show's audience is consistently people over the age of 20. The program also won a Japanese award for outstanding science fiction.

In the 18 months during and after the original Kemono Friends broadcast, there was a total increase of 4.66 million Google searches and 1 million Wikipedia page views for the animal species featured as characters in the anime compared to the 18 months before the broadcast.

"At first, we thought anime is just entertainment, so we could not take the data seriously. But Google Trends is a record of the public interest, and the data clearly shows Kemono Friends has a positive effect on public interest in wildlife, regardless of the species' conservation status," said Fukano.

Converting interest to impact

The researchers also looked at records of monetary donations to zoo conservation funds to determine if this anime-related boost in digital public interest also increased real-world conservation activity. Zoos in Tokyo that accept money allow donors to specify which species to support with their funds.

Animals at three Tokyo zoos had more donors on average after Kemono Friends aired, but animal species featured as main characters attracted larger increases in donors.

Preventing interest from causing harm

Increased public interest is not always a benefit to wildlife. For example, audiences captivated by the cute clownfish in the American animated film Finding Nemo may have inadvertently created a market for wildlife poaching.

"When we increase public interest, we must also prepare a good website or good zoo education program to turn people's interests into positive conservation and stop their interest from harming wildlife," said Fukano.

The creators of Kemono Friends reinforced the positive public interest in conservation created by the anime using both artistic and financial means. The Kemono Friends Project has collaborated with zoos to create special illustrations of individual zoo animals and allowed anime characters to be used in displays and posters around the zoo. The show's creators have also made monetary donations to those collaborating zoos and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Fukano and his collaborators plan to continue studying nontraditional ways to increase public interest in wildlife conservation projects.

"There are so many environmental conservation issues in the world today: microplastics, biodiversity, climate change. These causes often compete for attention from audiences who are already interested in such issues. Collaborations between entertainers and zookeepers or conservationists could find a way to attract the very large potential audience that is not already interested in environmental topics," said Fukano.

About the research

Japanese is a language with many words that sound alike, so researchers excluded homonyms for the common names of the animals when searching Google Trends data. They also limited their study to species not native to Japan to be sure people were searching for animals they could have seen only in a zoo, not in their daily life.
-end-
Research Paper

Yuya Fukano, Yosuke Tanaka, Masashi Soga. 2019.11.20. Zoos and animated animals increase public interest in and support for threatened animals. Science of the Total Environment. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.135352

Related Links

Associate Professor Yuya Fukano personal website (Japanese): https://yuyafukano.wixsite.com/portfolio
Co-author Associate Professor Masashi Soga personal website (Japanese): https://masasoga.wixsite.com/research
Institute for Sustainable Agro-ecosystem Services: http://www.isas.a.u-tokyo.ac.jp/index-e.html
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences: http://www.c.u-tokyo.ac.jp/eng_site/

Research contact

Assistant Professor Yuya Fukano
Institute for Sustainable Agro-ecosystem Services (ISAS), Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo, 1-1-1 Midoricho, Nishitokyo, Tokyo, 188-0002 JAPAN
Tel: +81-(0)70-6442-9528
E-mail: fukano@isas.a.u-tokyo.ac.jp

Press Contact

Ms. Caitlin Devor
Division for Strategic Public Relations, The University of Tokyo, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8654, JAPAN
Tel: +81-(0)3-5841-0876
Email: press-releases.adm@gs.mail.u-tokyo.ac.jp

About the University of Tokyo

The University of Tokyo is Japan's leading university and one of the world's top research universities. The vast research output of some 6,000 researchers is published in the world's top journals across the arts and sciences. Our vibrant student body of around 15,000 undergraduate and 15,000 graduate students includes over 4,000 international students. Find out more at http://www.u-tokyo.ac.jp/en/ or follow us on Twitter at @UTokyo_News_en.

University of Tokyo

Related Wildlife Conservation Articles from Brightsurf:

San Diego zoo global biobanking advances wildlife conservation and human medicine worldwide
In a study that has unprecedented implications to advance both medicine and biodiversity conservation, researchers have sequenced 131 new placental mammal genomes, bringing the worldwide total to more than 250.

On the trail of novel infectious agents in wildlife
A research team led by Kristin Mühldorfer from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and Tobias Eisenberg from the Hessian State Laboratory investigated the causes of severe respiratory disease in peccaries and taxonomically characterised a novel Streptococcus species (Streptococcus catagoni sp. nov.) based on its phenotypic properties and genetic features.

South African wildlife management/conservation models do not protect carnivores equally
In results released this week, an international team of wildlife ecologists reports that the trend toward more reliance on private game farms and reserves to manage and conserve free-ranging carnivores in South Africa is more complicated than it appears - ''a mosaic'' of unequal protection across different land management types.

How to bring conservation messaging into wildlife-based tourism
A new study from the University of Helsinki suggests that wildlife-based tourism operators should be key partners in educating and inspiring tourists to take informed conservation action.

We're getting better at wildlife conservation, AI study of scientific abstracts suggests
Researchers are using a kind of machine learning known as sentiment analysis to assess the successes and failures of wildlife conservation over time.

The do's and don'ts of monitoring many wildlife species at once
A new analysis of 92 studies from 27 countries conducted by ecologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggests that many recent multi-species studies of wildlife communities often incorrectly use the analytical tools and methods available.

Reimagining the link between space and species could boost wildlife conservation
University of Kansas investigator Jorge Sobero?n offers a new method for ecologists to calculate the correlation between geographic space and the number of species inhabiting that space.

The color of your clothing can impact wildlife
Your choice of clothing could affect the behavioral habits of wildlife around you, according to a study conducted by a team of researchers, including faculty at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Seagrass meadows harbor wildlife for centuries, highlighting need for conservation
Seagrass meadows put down deep roots, persisting in the same spot for hundreds and possibly thousands of years, a new study shows.

Why can't we all get along (like Namibia's pastoralists and wildlife?)
Scientists interviewed pastoralists in Namibia's Namib Desert to see how they felt about conflicts with wildlife, which can include lions and cheetahs preying on livestock and elephants and zebras eating crops.

Read More: Wildlife Conservation News and Wildlife Conservation Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.