Oxford scientists propose that the fashion industry help reverse the decline of the leopard by paying ‘royalties’ for the massive use of prints that mimic the fur of this endangered feline. The researchers explore in a new paper the scope of public interest in leopard print fashion and whether this interest could be harnessed to the benefit of animals through a ‘ species rights ‘ initiative .
Dr Caroline Good, from the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), who led the research, says ” leopard print is one of the most enduring trends in fashion . But sadly, the leopards themselves have disappeared more than 75% and have become extinct in at least a dozen countries and regions.
“We set out to quantify interest in leopard print fashion by analyzing traditional media, Google activity, and Instagram posts. We found that while there are 2.9 million posts on Instagram with the ‘ hashtag ‘ #leopardprin t and 80,000 news articles in English over a 15-year period, there is very little evidence that this interest leads to discussion of issues related to biodiversity loss and extinction. For example, in the media Traditionally, less than 2% of mentions of leopard print were associated with the conservation status of the leopard .
“There is a clear disconnect between continued interest in leopard print fashion and a lack of interest or concern for the animal itself,” he alleges in a statement.
The researchers say that while this disconnect presents challenges, the proliferation of leopard print in fashion may mask the genuine threat species face in the wild; it also provides potential opportunities for conservation.
Connect fashion with animal conservation
Professor David Macdonald , director of WildCRU (and co-author of the paper), says that “the crucial question is whether this huge interest in leopard print can be turned into a conservation advantage in the future. Can we find a way to connect fashion with the urgency of leopard conservation, and in a way that turns enthusiasm not just into awareness but practical benefit for the species ?
“In this paper we review our earlier idea that implementing a ‘ species property right ‘ for the use of animal symbolism in thriving cultural economies could revolutionize conservation funding . This would be a huge challenge involving commitments from many different parts, but we think it’s an idea worth exploring. “
The researchers suggest that with the large number of items leopard print sold annually around the world, even the slightest ‘royalty’ paid for each item as an exchange of mutual benefit transform funding for conservation of the leopard.
Dr. Good adds: “We hope this study will be of interest to conservation NGOs seeking innovative marketing campaigns , as well as for- profit fashion brands and retailers seeking to engage with consumers demanding social responsibility for their brands. This is a possible long-term solution to fund the conservation of the spotted cat that could be implemented worldwide. “