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Investigating the impact of media on demand for wildlife: A case study of Harry Potter and the UK trade in owls

Megias, Diane A., Anderson, Sean C., Smith, Robert J., Veríssimo, Diogo (2017) Investigating the impact of media on demand for wildlife: A case study of Harry Potter and the UK trade in owls. PLOS ONE, 12 (10). Article Number 182368. ISSN 1932-6203. (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0182368) (KAR id:65986)


In recent decades, a substantial number of popular press articles have described an increase in demand for certain species in the pet trade due to films such as “Finding Nemo”, “Ninja turtles”, and “Harry Potter”. Nevertheless, such assertions are largely supported only by anecdotal evidence. Given the role of the wildlife trade in the spread of pathogens and zoonosis, the introduction of invasive species, the overexploitation of biodiversity, and the neglect of animal welfare, it is crucial to understand what factors drive demand for a species. Here, we investigate the effect the movie industry may have on wildlife trade by examining the relationship between the “Harry Potter” cultural phenomenon and the trade in owls within the United Kingdom (UK). We gathered data from the UK box office, book sales, and newspaper mentions, and examined their relationship with data from three independent sources reflecting the legal ownership of owls in the UK, which is likely to involve several thousands of animals. Additionally, we conducted a questionnaire survey with UK animal sanctuaries to study the presumed mass abandonment of pet owls when the film series ended. Counter to common assertions, we find no evidence that the “Harry Potter” phenomenon increased the legal trade in owls within the UK, even when possible time-lag effects were taken into account. Only one indicator, the number of movie tickets sold, showed a weak but contradictory relationship with demand for owls, with a recorded drop of 13% (95% CI: 3–27%) per 1 SD in tickets sold in the original analysis but an increase of 4% (95% CI: 0–8%) with a one-year lag. In addition, our results suggest that the end of the Harry Potter series did not have a noticeable impact on the number of owls abandoned in UK wildlife sanctuaries, as only two of the 46 animal sanctuaries we contacted independently stated they had seen an increase in owls received and believed this was due to the Harry Potter series. We highlight the importance of further research on the drivers of demand for wildlife to better manage this global trade, and discuss the potential to use films to positively influence behaviour.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182368
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH75 Conservation (Biology)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation > DICE (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology)
Depositing User: Bob Smith
Date Deposited: 11 Feb 2018 15:23 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2022 11:40 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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