Charismatic megafauna

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An elephant (Loxodonta africana), an example of charismatic megafauna.

Charismatic megafauna are animal species that are large—in the relevant category that they represent[1]—with symbolic value or widespread popular appeal, and are often used by environmental activists to gain public support for environmentalist goals.[2] Examples include tigers, lions, jaguars, hippopotamuses, elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, giant pandas, brown and polar bears, rhinoceroses, kangaroos, koalas, blue whales, humpback whales, orcas, walruses, elephant seals, bald eagles, white-tailed and eastern imperial eagles, penguins, crocodiles and great white sharks among countless others.[3][4][5] In this definition, animals such as penguins or bald eagles can be considered megafauna because they are among the largest animals within the local animal community, and they disproportionately affect their environment. The vast majority of charismatic megafauna species are threatened and endangered by overhunting, poaching, black market trade, climate change, habitat destruction, invasive species, and many more causes.[6]

Use in conservation[edit]

Charismatic species are often used as flagship species in conservation programs, as they are supposed to affect people's feelings more.[2] However, being charismatic does not protect species against extinction; all of the 10 most charismatic species are currently endangered, and only the giant panda shows a demographic growth from an extremely small population.[6]

Beginning early in the 20th century, efforts to reintroduce extirpated charismatic megafauna to ecosystems have been an interest of a number of private and non-government conservation organizations.[7] Species have been reintroduced from captive breeding programs in zoos, such as the wisent (the European bison) to Poland's Białowieża Forest.[8] These and other reintroductions of charismatic megafauna, such as Przewalski's horse to Mongolia, have been to areas of limited, and often patchy, range compared to the historic ranges of the respective species.[9]

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.[10] 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.[citation needed] (The giant panda is portrayed in the logo of the World Wide Fund for Nature.)

Taxonomic bias[edit]

Charismatic megafauna may be 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.[11] The public's preference to identify with species sold through the ecotourism industry may be a factor for creating taxonomic inflation.[11] In the public perception, ecotourism may be about seeing species, and the number of unique species increases the perceived biodiversity and tourism value of an area.[12][13] A correlation may exist between the taxonomic bias in biodiversity datasets and the charisma of terrestrial megafauna, with the more charismatic species being largely over-reported.[14] However, reports that charismatic megafauna are more engaging to the public than other species have recently been questioned.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Berti, Emilio; Monsarrat, Sophie; Munk, Michael; Jarvie, Scott; Svenning, Jens-Christian (2020-11-01). "Body size is a good proxy for vertebrate charisma". Biological Conservation. 251: 108790. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108790. ISSN 0006-3207. S2CID 224972270.
  2. ^ a b Ducarme, Frédéric; Luque, Gloria M.; Courchamp, Franck (2013). "What are "charismatic species" for conservation biologists ?" (PDF). BioSciences Master Reviews. 10: 1–8. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
  3. ^ Kaufman, Donald G.; Franz, Cecilia M. (2000). Biosphere 2000: Protecting Our Global Environment. Kendall Hunt Publishing Company. p. 342. ISBN 978-0-7872-5713-2.
  4. ^ "Penguins in peril". The Guardian. 1999-03-27. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-04-17.
  5. ^ Sankhala, Kailash (1978). Tiger!: The Story of the Indian Tiger. London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-216124-9. OCLC 4257274.
  6. ^ a b Courchamp, F.; Jaric, I.; Albert, C.; Meinard, Y.; Ripple, W. J.; Chapron, G. (2018). "The paradoxical extinction of the most charismatic animals". PLOS Biology. 16 (4): e2003997. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2003997. PMC 5896884. PMID 29649205.
  7. ^ Miller, C. R.; Waits, L. P.; Joyce, P. (2006). "Phylogeography and mitochondrial diversity of extirpated brown bear (Ursus arctos) populations in the contiguous United States and Mexico". Molecular Ecology. 15 (14): 4477–4485. doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2006.03097.x. PMID 17107477. S2CID 7336900.
  8. ^ Mysterud, A.; Bartoń, K. A.; Jędrzejewska, B.; Krasiński, Z. A.; Niedziałkowska, M.; Kamler, J. F.; Yoccoz, N. G.; Stenseth, N. C. (2007). "Population ecology and conservation of endangered megafauna: the case of European bison in Białowiez'a Primeval Forest, Poland". Animal Conservation. 10 (1): 77–87. doi:10.1111/j.1469-1795.2006.00075.x. S2CID 73668421.
  9. ^ Rugenstein, Dustin R.; Rubenstein, Daniel I.; Sherman, Paul W.; Gavin, Thomas A. (2006). "Pleistocene Park: Does re-wilding North America represent sound conservation for the 21st century?". Biological Conservation. 132 (2): 232–238. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2006.04.003.
  10. ^ hfrank8 (2 February 2018). "Conservation of Charismatic Megafauna through Economic Incentives: How the American Alligator May Provide a Blueprint for Future Delisting Programs – LSU Journal of Energy Law & Resources". Retrieved 2021-12-18.
  11. ^ a b "Species inflation: Hail Linnaeus", The Economist, May 17, 2007
  12. ^ Higham, James (2007). Critical Issues in Ecotourism: understanding a complex tourism phenomenon. Butterworth-Heinemann. pp. 76–77. ISBN 978-0-7506-6878-1.
  13. ^ Weaver, D. (2002). Ecotourism. John Wiley & Sons Australia Ltd. p. 113. ISBN 0-471-42230-4.
  14. ^ Monsarrat, S.; Kerley, G.I.H (2018). "Charismatic species of the past: Biases in reporting of large mammals in historical written sources". Biological Conservation. 223: 68–75. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2018.04.036. S2CID 90055484.
  15. ^ Shaw, Meghan N.; Borrie, William T.; McLeod, Emily M.; Miller, Kelly K. (January 2022). "Wildlife Photos on Social Media: A Quantitative Content Analysis of Conservation Organisations' Instagram Images". Animals. 12 (14): 1787. doi:10.3390/ani12141787. ISSN 2076-2615. PMC 9311588. PMID 35883335.

Further reading[edit]

  • Petersen, Shannon (1999). "Congress and charismatic megafauna: a legislative history of the Endangered Species Act". Environmental Law. 29.
  • Leader-Williams, N.; H. T. Dublin (2000). "Charismatic megafauna as 'flagship species'". In Entwistle, A. and N. Dunstone (ed.). Priorities for the Conservation of Mammalian Diversity: Has the Panda had its Day?. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 53–81. ISBN 0-521-77279-6.
  • Goodwin, H.; N. Leader-Williams (2000). "Tourism and protected areas – distorting conservation priorities towards charismatic megafauna?". In Entwistle, A. and N. Dunstone (ed.). Priorities for the Conservation of Mammalian Biodiversity: Has the Panda had its Day?. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 257–275. ISBN 0-521-77279-6.
  • Barney, Erin C.; Mintzes, Joel J.; Yen, Chiung-Fen (January 2005). "Assessing knowledge, attitudes, and behavior toward charismatic megafauna: The case of dolphins". The Journal of Environmental Education. 36 (2): 41–55. doi:10.3200/JOEE.36.2.41-55. S2CID 144728270.