Animal-themed toys are nothing new, but in recent months, I’ve been noticing a focus on endangered species. Shortly after Toy Fair 2014, BeginAgain released its Balance Boat: Endangered Animal Edition, a stacking toy featuring rubberwood versions of the panda, rhinoceros, tortoise, and more. Meanwhile, Green Tones by Hohner put out Endangered Animal Shakers, beautifully carved rubberwood musical toys that depict an owl, leopard, and turtle.
And on the plush front, Wild Republic has added vulnerable species such as the Siberian Tiger to its Cuddlekins line. Last but not least, Gund and Cuipo have collaborated on stuffed animals based on the endangered sun bear, emperor monkey, and three-toed sloth, among others.
Timing-wise, April 22 saw the arrival of Earth Day. Nevertheless, it’s hardly surprising that toys reflecting the effects of habitat loss are showing up nowadays, what with concerns over global warming, de-forestation, and other environmental issues being more serious than ever before. For toy manufacturers and retailers, this represents an available market of concerned parents and caregivers who want to raise awareness in their children at an early age, and will be on the lookout for products that help foster that. Please note that of the items mentioned above, many are suitable for kids as young as 6 months (The Balance Boat has a target age of 3 and up, but it seems to need basic motor skills to be enjoyed).
Admittedly, endangered species are just one aspect of a planet-sized situation that needs addressing. However, it might also be one of the easiest hot-button topics to convert into salable toys. Playthings that kids shake to make noise, are plush, or are stack-able have existed for some time already, and the animal theme is versatile enough to easily graft onto them. Still, it makes perfect sense for a toy manufacturer to go back to animals as inspiration, since they are so universally appealing, and kids often develop attachments to their favorites.
This isn’t to say that a child who receives Tiko, the plush toucan from Gund/Cuipo, will necessarily grow into a defender of real-life toucans everywhere. However, they might at least develop an appreciation for concepts such as, “sub-tropical climates,” “rain forests,” and “South America,” and one assumes that’s better than living in complete ecological ignorance. Meanwhile, sales of some of these toys directly benefit endangered species’ habitats, so parents can take solace in that if the whole responsibility-for-Planet-Earth message doesn’t stick.
For more commentary from Phil, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!