Animals in moviesBBC Three

Animals who’ve had a PR 'mare thanks to Hollywood

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Catriona White
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Finding Dory, sequel to Finding Nemo, is out today in all its marine themed magic. Researchers are earnestly warning viewers not to take the ‘wrong message’ from the film, after 2003’s original sparked a surge in popularity for the adorable clown fish – causing their dramatic decline on coral reefs.

The Blue Tang – or as every child will soon be chanting as they jump up and down in pet shops around the UK – ‘the dory’, cannot be bred in captivity, so every one bought will have been plucked straight from the wild. And that’s not cool.

The Saving Nemo Conservation Fund has been set up to prevent exactly that happening, by educating and spreading awareness.

Yet the tropical cast of Finding Nemo/Dory are just the latest in a long line of A-list creatures to suffer a PR nightmare at the hands of Hollywood fiction. Here are a few others…


The great white shark – Jaws

After the movie Jaws, just taking a bath was enough to strike fear into your shark-stricken heart. The 1975 depiction of a vengeful great white, hell bent on eating you alive and all-round master villain of the sea, has given sharks arguably the most damaging press of any animal.

In the aftermath of the film, people took to the sea to seek their own revenge. Thousands were hunted with serious detriment to the species. In fact, Biologist Dr Julia Baum suggests that between 1986 and 2000, in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, there was a population decline of 89% in hammerhead sharks, 79% in great white sharks and 65% in tiger sharks. Obviously this wasn't just down to Jaws revenge-seekers, but it certainly didn't help.

SharkGetty Images

So how deserved was this bad rap? Well…about six people are killed by sharks every year. Bearing in mind that champagne corks kill almost 24 people every year….you risk more by celebrating your promotion than taking a dip.

The author of Jaws, Peter Benchley, was deeply perturbed by this, and spent much of his life campaigning for the protection of sharks. Since the 1990s, protection for great whites has vastly improved, but there’s a long way to go to return to pre-1975 levels.

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Dalmatians – 101 Dalmatians

Spotting a Dalmatian takes us all back to our childhood, sitting cross-legged and wide-eyed to watch 101 painfully cute monochrome pups escape from the dastardly clutches of Cruella de Vil. Sometimes some of us watched the scarier bits from behind the sofa, but that’s not important right now.

Yet scarier still is the untold damage that their subsequent surge in popularity did to the breed. Puppy mills and backyard breeders answered the huge demand with an equal and unchecked supply, handing out adorable little puppies with dubious pedigrees, knowing full well they would turn into aggressive and unruly dogs at the hands of incapable owners.

Inevitably, these owners returned in their droves to bring their now adult Dalmatians back to shelters and vets to be euthanised, unable to cope. According to Petful, one Southern California Dalmatian rescue group estimated that more than 7,500 Dalmatians passed through So-Cal shelters in 1998, most of them on their way to their deaths.

hyenaGetty Images

Hyenas – The Lion King

Hyenas for many were defined by The Lion King as ‘slobbering, mangy, stupid poachers’.

Scientists who study and know the truth of the hyena despair at the unfair stereotypes of their subjects, who they see as intelligent, strong and even beautiful creatures. They insist that actually far more frequently it’s the lion that steals a kill from the hyenas – yet public perception refuses to accept this.

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It's rumoured that one hyena biologist actually felt so strongly about the portrayal of the species that they sued Disney studios for defamation of character. Another, displeased with how the film would affect the hyena's reputation, listed boycotting The Lion King among things people could do if they want to help preserve hyenas in the wild.

Bring on the rebrand.


Collie dogs - Lassie

Ah Lassie. The only reason any of us ever felt comfortable being anywhere near a well. The 1940s movie(s) and following TV shows started a Collie craze. I mean, look at that face. How could it not?

However the problem was that people didn’t want any old Collie, they wanted a ‘lassie Collie’, with the specific markings of the TV character (the giant size, the specific white markings, and that telltale white collar), and wouldn’t settle for anything less.

As a result, some seriously calculated breeding of Collies kicked off, creating temperament issues and intensifying Collie health problems. Because Collies, beneath that rugged farm dog exterior portrayed on screen, are actually delicate creatures with many breed-associated medical conditions.

In addition, buyers assumed that all Collies were basically born as a fully trained, companionship machine, able to watch and guard young children and travel across continents to find their way home. Spoiler: they're not.

It took 50 years for the effects of craze to wear off, and only now are Collies being bred back to stability.

So go see Finding Dory, submerge yourself in their fishy world ....but there's no need to go find your own Dory. She's happiest where she is.