It is hard enough to raise funds to save a lion, it’s even harder to gather up support for a fly. So, it comes to no surprise that many non-governmental wildlife organizations gear their save-a-species campaigns toward animals that are categorized by conservationists as flagship species. For clarification purposes, flagship species are animals that are big, attractive, and have forward facing eyes. (1) You know the types; those lovable polar bears, majestic tigers, and human-esque chimpanzees we see on our cereal boxes. As a result, criticism is often directed toward this strategy not just because it overlooks smaller, uglier, and unfamiliar species; but because they generate the most financial support despite the animals’ status on the endangered species list.
According to Dr. Smith, author of a paper that was just published in the journal Conservation Letters, its not as easy as it seems:
“There are tradeoffs between how important a species is for conservation and how easy it is to get that funding…There’s always the question of how much money it would take to turn a slug into a flagship.”
Yet, despite the downfalls, it still appears to be an accomplishment for wildlife organizations. Right? The situation is a bit more complicated. Only about 80 out of 1098 the flagship category serve as poster-children for these organizations. By focusing conservation efforts on these select 80 species alone we lower the chance that a greater number of endangered animals are being saved. Add to the fact that many of these animals live in ecological systems that are not necessarily high in bio-diversity; we could be doing a lot more. (1) As of now, Dr. Smith and his colleagues have quantified that:
“Sixty-one percent of the fund-raising went towards conservation of the species itself rather than its larger habitat; only 2.2 percent used the flagship species as a means of raising the profile for the animal’s ecosystem as a whole. ”(1)
An article,“Inviting Cinderalla Species to the Ball,” by Rachel Nuwer, reveals how researchers are now working on shedding light on some of the lesser known flagship species. Their name for this new group: the Cinderella species. The Cinderella group is representative of their efforts to meet a middle ground. So essentially, these are unknown animals in the flagship category that are able to garter investments but also serve as keystone species in their bio-diverse habitats. While researchers realize they will never be as popular as the elephant or the panda, they are hoping to change organizations motives and people perceptions.
What would this mean for us donors? We should expect to be introduced to a potential 183 species like the Talmud bear cuscus, the Pennant’s red colobus, the Tamaraw or Mindoro dwarf buffalo the African wild ass and the pygmy raccoon. We should also expect more flexibility like the option to persevere landscapes as a whole rather than single species.(1)
Source:Nuwer, Rachel. “Inviting Cinderella Species to the Ball.” Green A Blog About Energy and the Environment. New York Times, 24 Apr. 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/24/inviting-cinderella-species-to-the-ball/?ref=earth>.