Yes I admit it, I’m a nerd! I love computer games and have been secretly playing Pokémon for the past 20 years. It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that the latest instalments of the series, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, were released in the UK last week and that the world seems to have gone monster-catching crazy! Couple that with the ongoing 20th anniversary celebrations and the release of Pokémon Go earlier this year and you can barely walk down the high street without seeing the glowing yellow face of the series mascot, Pikachu, beaming at you from seemingly every shop window!
So, why am I telling you all of this? Why should it matter? It’s a game after all!
Firstly, did you know that the in-game locations of each instalment are inspired by regions in the real world? The creatures you encounter there, the Pokémon, are also inspired by the species that are naturally found in those regions as well as the mystical animals in the area’s myths and legends. Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon are based in the fictional region of Alola which is inspired by Hawaii; it is an island paradise full of amazing tropical species just like the real-life Pacific islands.
In playing through the early stages of the game so far (with me playing Sun and my partner Graeme playing Moon) I made a very exciting observation from an ecological point of view. One of the new “features” of the latest games is that some of the Pokémon from previous generations have returned to appear in the wild in Alola BUT with new appearances, abilities and battle moves. For example the common rat Pokémon named Rattata, a purple-furred normal-type, has reappeared as a tan and black furred dark-type sporting a very manly moustache! The sneaky Meowth, a Siamese-looking cat normal-type Pokémon has also had a makeover, returning as a blue-furred dark-type.
But why does this matter?!
Well, the most interesting thing about all these apparently innocent and cute graphical tweaks is the message that pops up on-screen upon first encountering these “Alola form” Pokémon which explains that these species ARE NOT NATIVE TO THE ISLANDS. Even the Mongoose-like creature, Yungoos, that appears to be very at home in Alola (making its first appearance in the Pokémon universe in Sun and Moon) is in fact non-native to its present island home. Further reading on the Official Pokémon website explains further and this is where it gets really exciting.
Coming back to the real-world for a moment, Hawaii has a MASSIVE problem with invasive species; animals that are not native to the islands but have settled there and are breeding very successfully. These include feral cats, rats and weasels to name but a few. Feral pigs and invasive snakes have also made the islands their home.
Yungoos is likely based on the Small Asian Mongoose (Herpestes javanicus) which was introduced to Hawaii in the late 19th century to control the invasive rat population (hence Alolan Rattata was born). The plan did not work; the rats are nocturnal and the mongoose are diurnal…so they are not that likely to cross paths! Subsequently both species populations have exploded with the rats causing terrible damage to crops and native birds and the mongoose having a devastating effect on native ground-nesting birds and reptiles.
Feral cats, represented by Alolan Meowth, are having a terrible effect on the native birds and small mammals on Hawaii with the Hawaiian government implementing “trap-neuter-release” programmes to control their numbers and to prevent them from driving native species to extinction.
By including these subtle hints within the massively popular Pokémon game phenomenon it appears that the Pokémon Company are trying to highlight a serious environmental issue and I think that is both highly commendable and very exciting. I hope that through playing the games and discovering these adorable Pokémon critters that players will also be inspired to learn about the real-life places and animals that they are inspired by and the environmental consequences of invasive species.
Please NEVER release your pet into the wild regardless of where in the world you live. Not only is it illegal to abandon or release an animal in such as way but you are also putting your former pet and the local environment as extreme risk. Always seek out the help of a legitimate animal rescue service such as Grace’s Rest.
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* All Pokémon related content within this blog is the property of The Pokémon Company and I claim no credit with their fantastic work. This article is instead a tribute to their efforts and a summary of my respectful observations of their creative works. *
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Meet the Owner-Operator, Clare Barnard BSc.(Hons)
Clare is a research scientist and PhD candidate at the University of Lincoln where she is studying wildlife conservation and the direct impact of the exotic pet trade on wild animal populations. She will be working from the Laboratory of Evolutionary Ecology of Adaptations. Clare has also been honoured to become part of the Global Amphibian Biodiversity research team.
Clare has almost 20 years professional experience in the husbandry of exotic animals a specialism in the genetics of British herpetofauna. She has worked with wild Adders (Vipera berus) and endangered Natterjack Toads (Epidalea calamita) under Natural England license conditions. Clare has worked as a zookeeper and within private collections including her own. She lives in rural North Warwickshire, on-site at Grace's Rest, with a whole host of animals!