Charismatic megafauna are large animal species with widespread popular appeal that environmental activists use to achieve environmentalist goals. Prominent examples include the lion, Bengal tiger, gray wolf, Przewalski's horse, California condor, bald eagle, giant panda, harp seal, great white shark, European bison, orca, and humpback whale.
Environmental activists and proponents of ecotourism seek to use the leverage provided by charismatic and well known species to achieve more subtle and far-reaching goals in species and biodiversity conservation. By directing public attention to the diminishing numbers of giant panda due to habitat loss, for example, conservation groups can raise support for the protection of the panda and for the entire ecosystem of which it is a part. (The giant panda is portrayed in the logo of the World Wide Fund for Nature.)
An editorial in The Economist magazine suggests that charismatic megafauna are particularly subject to taxonomic inflation, in that taxonomists will declare a subspecies to be a species because of the advocacy benefits of a unique species, rather than because of new scientific evidence. Another reason for inflating species may be the public's willingness to identify with species as sold through the ecotourism industry. In the public perception, ecotourism may be about seeing species, and the number of unique species increases the tourism biodiversity and value of an area.
Beginning early in the twentieth century, efforts to reintroduce extirpated charismatic megafauna to ecosystems have been an interest of a number of private and non-government conservation organizations. Populations of species have been reintroduced from captive breeding programs (California Condor) and from zoo populations (the European Bison to Poland's Białowieża Forest). These and other reintroductions of charismatic megafauna, such as Przewalski's horse to its native Mongolia, have been to areas of limited, and often patchy, range compared to the historic ranges of the fauna.
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- Barney, Erin C., Joel J. Mintzes and Chiung-Fen Yen (2005). "Assessing Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behavior toward Charismatic Megafauna: The Case of Dolphins". Journal of Environmental Education 36 (2): 41–55. doi:10.3200/JOEE.36.2.41-55.
- Ducarme, Frédéric; Luque, Gloria M.; Courchamp, Franck (2013). "What are "charismatic species" for conservation biologists ?". BioSciences Master Reviews 1.