April is a busy month for Ikea. This is when the world’s largest home furnishings retailer releases a decent bulk of its new yearly collections, just ahead of the summer release of the intensely anticipated annual Ikea catalogue.

Notable releases from the Swedish home goods behemoth this April include sleek Bluetooth speakers alongside connected light bulbs and wireless charging ports; a furniture collection from lauded Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek; and a range of items — think yoga gear, scented candles, throw blankets in soothing, muted colors and rattan baskets aplenty — geared to slow us down and help "reconnect with the senses."

Oh, and animals. Lots and lots of animals.

Some of the world’s most beloved beasts — lions, tigers, pandas, orangutans and elephants — are featured front and center in two newly launched lines for tykes and tweens, DJUNGELSKOG and URKSOG. Encompassing a range of soft toys, educational picture books and textiles including rugs, duvet covers, curtain sets, cushions and towels, the presence of these critters isn’t in itself exceptional. After all, you’d be hard-pressed to find kid-appropriate home décor that doesn’t incorporate animals and animal motifs.

IKEA DJUNGELSKOG stuffed animals The DJUNGELSKOG collection is described as being 'for lovers of both our planet and the jungle.' (Photo: IKEA of Sweden)

It’s the messaging here that’s different. With DJUNGELSKOG (literally "jungle forest") and URKSOG, Ikea hopes to raise awareness about the plight of emblematic wild animals under threat. Yes, the collections are fun, frisky and on-trend — typical, affordable Ikea fare. But they also can lend themselves to difficult yet important conversations. See that fearsome big cat on your bedspread, son? Well, if we’re not careful, he might not be around for that much longer …

"We started the project from the perspective 'How can we engage children in sustainability topics?'" Nina Hughes, range manager for Children's Ikea, tells MNN. "We always start from the child’s perspective and we know that wild animals fascinate them. Children also have a great sense of fairness and equality, so the direction of endangered animals became obvious early on."

DJUNGELSKOG collection by IKEA It's a jungle in there: The JUNGELSKOG collection for kids ages 3 to 7 includes plush toys, rugs, bedding and illustrated books. (Photo: IKEA of Sweden)

There's a message behind that duvet cover

With DJUNGELSKOG and URKSOG, Ikea takes a markedly different approach to promoting wildlife conservation than Lacoste, another iconic brand that recently drew attention to some the world’s most threatened species in a limited (and wildly expensive) line of polo shirts.

While Lacoste opted to showcase a menagerie of somewhat obscure animals such as the Burmese roof turtle and the Anegada ground iguana, Ikea is focusing on more instantly recognizable, kid-friendly critters. (No argument that lions, at the end of the day, are easier to incorporate into the design of a nursery or playroom than, let’s say, vaquitas.) And even though they might not all technically be endangered or really that rare or enigmatic, the animals featured in DJUNGELSKOG and URKSOG face a variety of very real and very pressing threats including poaching and habitat loss and fragmentation. Just because they're immensely popular doesn't mean these animals are thriving.

African lions, for example, are considered by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to be a vulnerable, but not endangered, species, with roughly 20,000 left in the wild. The same goes for the giant panda, that adorably roly-poly symbol of conservation, which was yanked from the endangered list in 2016 and upgraded to vulnerable status. Other animals featured by Ikea such as orangutans are indeed critically endangered alongside some species of elephants and tigers.

URKSKOG lion bath towel Ikea encourages social media-savvy kids to promote wildlife conservation by sharing the #letthembefree hashtag. (Photo: IKEA of Sweden)

As far as which endangered/threatened/vulnerable animals made the cut for the DJUNGELSKOG (appropriate for ages 3 to 7) and URKSOG (catering to 8- through 12-year-olds) collections, the WWF had a hand in helping Ikea narrow down the unfortunately crowded field.

"IKEA has a long-standing relationship with WWF, so it was with their help that we identified the animals to focus on," explains Hughes. "The animals were chosen with WWF’s input but also animals that we thought the children could relate to, connect with and recognize. The orangutan is an animal we feel strongly about due to Ikea’s involvement in the Sow a Seed Foundation."

The Sow a Seed Foundation was founded in 1998 by Ikea's late, famously thrifty founder Ingvar Kamprad as a method of rehabilitating decimated rainforests and helping displaced animals — namely the orangutan — return to their native habitats. To date, over 12,500 hectares (31,000 acres) of lowland Borneo rainforest once leveled by destructive fires and unchecked logging has been replanted with the help of the Sow a Feed Foundation and its partnering organizations.

URKSKOG collection by IKEA Geared for older kids and pre-teens, the URKSOG collection has more of a more bold safari vibe. (Photo: IKEA of Sweden)

A shift toward sustainable materials

It’s only appropriate that for two new kids' collections spreading the message of wildlife conservation, Ikea — always the trailblazer when it comes to using fewer and more sustainable materials — is also employing manufacturing techniques that leave a lighter impact on the planet.

True, those adorable stuffed animals are 100 percent polyester — but it's polyester yarn made from recycled plastic bottles. And many of the textiles found in both collections incorporate sustainably sourced cotton and a low-impact pigment printing process that reduces water usage by 30 to 40 percent compared to traditional reactive printing. The manufacture of a single duvet cover and pillowcase using pigment printing can save upwards of 8 gallons of water.

The books that appear in the collection, which Hughes says "support the parents in answering questions and sharing information with the younger children" while giving "older children a chance to learn more on their own and use that knowledge to make a difference," are printed on FSC paper.

DJUNGELSKOG duvet set by IKEADJUNGELSKOG curtain setDJUNGELSKOG duvet cover

"As the collection focuses on animals which are threatened or endangered due to climate change or other environmental changes, naturally we wanted to do our best to secure that our products symbolizing those animals has a minimum impact on the environment," says Hughes. "As Children’s IKEA focuses on children’s products, it becomes natural to take steps in a direction which is healthier for our environment and our children."

"We know that younger children learn through play," adds Hughes when asked about the ultimate aim of the collections. "So the wish is for the DJUNGELSKOG collection to inspire play, create a natural connection and interest in the animals, and through the support of their parents, learn more about endangered animals and how we can protect their natural habitat."

Prices for items in the collections range from $2.99 for a small stuffed animal to $24.99 for a twin duvet cover set.

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.