In-Depth Stories

Conservation Theme behind Sun and Moon’s Pokémon

All seven new Pokemon that are based on animals are linked. These animals are all endangered – or in the case of one of them, extinct.

Earlier today we received new information from CoroCoro which gave us two new Pokémon, Iwanko and Nekkoala. (Note that these are the Japanese names). These two, together with the three Starters in Popplio, Litten and Rowlet, and the mascot legendary Pokémon Solgaleo and Lunala, brings us to seven named new Pokémon based on animals. (We also have Magearna, but it’s known as the Artifical Pokémon – the Poké Ball motif is fairly obvious – and it is likely based on a Karakuri puppet rather than an animal).

Interestingly, there’s a common theme between all of these sans Magearna, which we started noticing with the Starter Pokémon: they appear to be based on threatened, endangered, or even extinct animals! Here we’ll recap what we feel each Pokémon is based on, and some information on that real-world counterpart.

While you can read on, we have a video version of this article as well, courtesy of Achromatic.


This sleepy little guy has a common basis – the koala, an animal native to Australia. These tree-huggers are herbivores which dine on eucalyptus leaves. We can see Nekkoala clutching a tree trunk or branch – perhaps it wanted to take dinner with it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sadly, despite being iconic Australian animals, they have suffered heavily in the last century or so thanks to overzealous culling, deforestation and their nature of sleeping up to 20 hours per day (which the new ability Nekkoala has in “Absolute Sleep” is based upon) – these animals are unfortunately easy targets for hunters. The Australian Government has listed the animal as “Vulnerable” in several states. Meanwhile, the Australian Koala Foundation believes that the “national wild Koala population could be less than 80,000”. They’re certainly a threatened species.


Here we have Iwanko, a Pokémon clearly based on a dog with an unusual Rock typing (that said, ‘iwa’ in Japanese translates to ‘rock’). It can be found with the abilities Keen Eye and Vital Spirit. But what is so uncommon about a dog Pokémon? Dogs aren’t endangered!

Well, dogs overall aren’t, but specific species can be. Sadly, there is a possible basis for Iwanko when you consider the Sun and Moon region of Alola is blatently based on Hawaii.  The Hawaiian Poi Dog is one such species of pariah dog that hailed from Hawaii, and is sadly not just endangered – it’s extinct.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rather than being killed by people however, it was bred with other species of dogs introduced by European settlers until no pure-breed Poi dogs existed, since the early 20th century. These dogs were said to be quite fat and low-standing. Extensive information about the Hawaiian Poi Dog can be read here.


Now we move onto the Starter Pokémon. Rowlet is the Grass-type Starter, which comes with a secondary typing of Flying to match its clear owl basis.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rowlet isn’t just inspired by any owl however – like Iwanko, it appears to be based on the pueo, a subspecies of short-eared owl that is endemic to Hawaii. It is currently listed as an Endangered species on O’ahu, the third largest island of Hawaii. They are strongly affected by light pollution and killed by vehicular accidents as a result, and may also be susceptiable to secondary poisoning from rodenticides.


The Water-type seal Pokémon clearly likes having fun, but even it has the theme of being based on a threatened species that resides in Hawaii. The Hawaiian monk seal is one of only two mammals that are endemic to the Hawaiian islands, and is one of only two remaining monk seal species (a third, the Caribbean monk seal, is already declared extinct).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Hawaiian monk seal is Endangered as well, with a population of only 1,100 which is threatened by human encroachment, previous commercial hunting, and marine debris entanglement, contributing to their low juvenile survival rates.


Bucking the trend of the Starters, Litten is not seemingly based on a Hawaiian animal – rather it is speculated to be based upon the Iriomote cat, a type of leopard native to Japan on the island of Iriomote. It certainly appears to have a striking physical resemblance.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sadly, the Iriomote cat is also threatened – in fact, of the animals used as inspiration for the Starter Pokémon, it is the most at risk of becoming extinct. As of 2007, only 100-109 indivudals were estimated to still exist, and hence it has the ‘Critically Endangered’ status.


We now move onto the legendary Pokémon. Solgaleo, the legendary mascot for Pokémon Sun, is based on a lion, but less obvious is its basis on a concept of alchemy, in which a “green lion which devours the sun” is symbolism for the purification of metals to obtain gold.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lions are extremely well known animals, but due to poachers various subspecies, along with the lion category overall, they are currently listed as either Vulnerable or Endangered, and with falling populations. Estimates in the early-mid 2000s had their populations at less than 50,000. Happily the African lion is now protected under the US Endangered Species Act, as of last year.


Lastly is Lunala, the mascot legendary for Pokémon Moon. It is clearly based upon a bat, albeit with unusual moon motifs added to its design. The question, however, is which bat is it related to the most?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We speculated that it may best bear resembalence to the ghost bat, another Australian species, thanks to its thin, skeletal wings. This also matches the Psychic/Ghost typing of Lunala. This microbat is also listed as Vulnerable, and while not found in Hawaii, neither is the koala – Australia may well be finding itself being drawn on as a source for more endangered animals used for Pokémon designs. Of note is the Hawaiian hoary bat, which is listed as Endangered, but it does not have a wing structure that quite matches Lunala’s. Nonetheless, it too could be what Lunala is based upon.

The Endangered Theme

It’s been a relatively easy argument to put forward that each ‘natural’ Pokémon revealed thus far in Sun and Moon has a basis on an endangered, threatened or extinct animals. Furthermore, at least three of these animals are native to Hawaii. Of course, not every Pokémon that will be introduced to the Pokémon Sun and Moon games will necessarily be based on endangered animals (see Magearna for instance), but the current trend is a strong one.

This suggests that the plot of the Sun and Moon games may well deal with such a theme. Perhaps there will be a focus on caring for, or conservation of, these Pokémon and their dwindling numbers. Meanwhile, the criminal ‘Team’ which has not yet been announced can be speculated to be based on hunters or poachers for example; both Nekkoala and Solgaleo’s origins of koalas and lions have suffered from these, and all of the others have suffered from human influence in some way as well. The relationship between people and Pokémon may be a focus that shall return to the main series games. Let’s not, however, forget about the potential alchemy link, suggested by for instance Solgaleo’s background – that may also feature in the plot.

What do you think of this common link, and how far do you feel it will extend? Are there any other endangered animals that you would like to see a Pokémon be based upon? Let us know in the comments!

Edited by gimmepie and Jake.
Cover image by Sylphiel.
Cropped images of Nekkoala and Iwanko in article by Fairy.
Video by Achromatic.