24 Sep 2021 World leisure: news, training & property
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Attractions Management
2021 issue 2

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Leisure Management - Animal magic


Animal magic

A national study in Japan shows the potential for entertainment conservation partnerships to increase public interest in animals and boost donations to zoo conservation programmes. Magali Robathan finds out more from ecologist Yuya Fukano

The broadcast of Kemono Friends (right) led to greater engagement with the animals represented at places such as Asahiyama Zoo PHOTO: ©SHUTTERSTOCK/Jamie Tsai
Kemono Friends PHOTO: ©Kemono Friends Pictures courtesy of University of Tokyo
Raccoons are one of the Kemono Friends, but interest generated by another anime has led to invasive colonisation PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK/Azizul Halmi
Fukano found that clownfish poaching increased after the film Finding Nemo PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK/ahmadalihusen

Animated TV shows featuring animals can increase interest in real animals and lead to higher numbers of zoo visits and donations to conservation programmes, according to a study carried out in Japan by researchers at the University of Tokyo Institute for Sustainable Agro-ecosystem Services.

When an intense summer heatwave made fieldwork impossible, assistant professor Yuya Fukano from the University of Tokyo Institute teamed up with zookeeper Yosuke Tanaka and colleague Masashi Soga – an assistant professor at the University of Tokyo specialising in human-nature interactions – to carry out an office-based research project.

The team analysed data from Google Trends and Wikipedia page views to measure the impact of zoos on public interest in conservation and wildlife. They found an increased number of internet searches for specific animal species within prefectures that have zoos caring for those animals, suggesting that visiting zoos motivates people to learn more about the species they see there.

They also spotted a dramatic increase in the number of online searches for certain animals and realised that they tallied with the first broadcast of the hugely popular animated series Kemono Friends which features a child who becomes lost in an enormous zoo and befriends various animals who help her navigate their habitats and try to find her way home.

In the year and a half during and following the original Kemono Friends broadcast, there was an increase of 4.66 million Google searches and 1 million Wikipedia page views for the species featured as characters in the programme, compared to the 18 months before it was broadcast. The researchers also found an increase in donations to three Tokyo zoos, and found that the animal species featured as characters in Kemono Friends attracted larger increases in donations.

We speak to Yuya Fukano to discover more about the findings overleaf.

What prompted this research?
Anime and manga are very popular forms of entertainment in Japan and are widely enjoyed by children and adults. However, since they’re often perceived as subcultures, there have been few studies that have seriously attempted to investigate their influence on the real world. We thought that because there are so many animals in anime and manga, the interest in real animals might spill over.

You measured the impact of zoos on public interest in wildlife. What did you find?
It is not easy to measure people’s interest. We estimated the dynamics of interest using a variety of indicators, including online search behaviour, donation behaviour, online questionnaires and social media activity.

We found zoo animal exhibits, collaboration with TV anime series and special events significantly increase people’s interest.

Online searches for certain animals increased dramatically when Kemono Friends was broadcast. Were you surprised?
Very surprised. The biggest reason for such significant impact, I think, is that this anime became a huge topic of conversation, not only among anime geeks but also ‘ordinary’ people. Another reason is the fact that the anime was produced with respect for zoos and wildlife.

How can zoos take advantage of this trend?
The most significant finding was that it attracted people who had not previously been interested in zoos, particularly young adult males.
My co-researcher at the zoo told me, “After the anime broadcast, I saw that the number of adult male visitors increased; not only those with children. Young adult males are a demographic that’s difficult for zoo PR to reach”.

I believe that by working with entertainment companies in the future, zoos and conservation centres will be able to deliver important information to and get support from people who have historically been difficult to reach.

Does this interest translate into behaviour that supports endangered species?
It translates to an increase in donations. It would be nice if there were more opportunities to directly engage in conservation, such as participating in habitat conservation programmes for endangered species.

Would you like to see zookeepers, conservationists and entertainers working together to help support endangered animals?
Yes, that would be wonderful. As an interesting example, Kemono Friends Projects has done a lot of collaboration with WWF. I also heard that they are allowing the use of their anime characters for free for use on information boards at zoos.

You carried out the study in Japan. Do you think the findings are relevant elsewhere?
Japan may be a unique country in relation to Europe. Most adults in Japan enjoy manga, and there are many anime targeted at adults. So, it may be unique to Japan or other Asian countries that anime has such a strong influence. However, each country has its own popular subcultures and high cultures including music, sports and movies. I think that by linking with such cultural activities, zoos and conservation centres could become more effective.

Are there any risks? Could boosting interest in this way lead to negative outcomes for wildlife?
There is a risk. As mentioned in our paper (Fukano et al. 2019), the film Finding Nemo increased poaching of the clownfish, and a Japanese anime called Rascal the Raccoon is thought to be responsible for the colonisation of invasive raccoons that’s happening in Japan, because the anime increased the number of people keeping raccoons as pets.

In order to prevent this happening, those involved in the entertainment industry must take advice from appropriate expert supervisors.

I hope they will try to turn people’s attention to the sustainability of animals in the wild, rather than to their desire to keep them as pets and I’d like to see programmes and films featuring wild animals and plants contributing to the sustainability of wildlife and ecosystems through their entertainment.

You recently carried out a study assessing the impact of the debut of an endangered Japanese rock ptarmigan at a zoo on public interest in the species. What did you find?
We showed that the debut of an endangered bird in a zoo triggered a large increase in public interest, awareness, conservation knowledge and motivation for conservation of the species, using various metrics.
This kind of quantitative data will make it easier for zoos to gain support from the general public and government.

What role do zoos play in protecting endangered species?
Zoos contribute to the conservation of endangered species in a variety of ways; I still think that the role of public awareness is the most unique and important. Zoos are almost the only place where we can see endangered species.

At least in Japan, many people who come to zoos don’t have a great interest in conservation – zoos are often run by the government and admission fees are very low. I believe this is a strong point, and zoos have a great potential to reach out to such people.

"I hope the entertainment industry will try to turn people’s attention to the sustainability of animals in the wild, rather than their desire to keep them as pets" – Yuya Fukano

About Kemono Friends

The manga, TV show and video game, with characters conceived by manga artist Mine Yoshizaki, is based on the idea of Japari Park, a large zoo which is home to extinct and endangered species and some legendary creatures.

In the manga (graphic novel), a ‘mysterious substance’ known as ‘sandstar’, enables many of the animals to be anthropomorphised into girls who are known as Friends. The tale follows a park keeper named Nana who looks after the Friends in Japari Park.

Animals in the park include a serval cat, a northern white-faced owl, a raccoon, penguins, a red fox and a Fennec Fox as well as a giant pangolin and a giant armadillo.

Originally published in Attractions Management 2021 issue 2

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