Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

Flagship species

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Flagship species

The concept of flagship species has its genesis in the field of conservation biology. The flagship species concept holds that by raising the profile of a particular species, it can successfully leverage more support for biodiversity conservation at large in a particular context.



Several definitions have been advanced for the flagship species concept and for some time been there has been confusion even in the academic literature. Most of the latest definitions focus on the strategic and socio-economical character of the concept, with a recent publication establishing a clear link with the marketing field.

  • “a species used as the focus of a broader conservation marketing campaign based on its possession of one or more traits that appeal to the target audience.”
  • species that have the ability to capture the imagination of the public and induce people to support conservation action and/or to donate funds
  • popular, charismatic species that serve as symbols and rallying points to stimulate conservation awareness and action
  • The term flagship is linked to the metaphor of representation. In its popular usage, flagships are viewed as ambassadors or icons for a conservation project or movement.

    However, more recently, work in the field of microbiology has started to use the concept of flagship species in a distinct way. This work relates to the biogeography of micro-organisms and uses particular species because "eyecatching “flagships” with conspicuous size and/or morphology are the best distribution indicators".


    Examples of flagship species include the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris), the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), the Golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia), the African elephant (Loxodonta sp.) and Asian elephant (Elephas maximus).

    Flagship species can represent an environmental feature (e.g. a species or ecosystem), cause (e.g. climate change or ocean acidification), organization (e.g. NGO or government department) or geographic region (e.g. state or protected area).


    The flagship species concept appears to have become popular around the mid 1980s within the debate on how to prioritise species for conservation. The first widely available references to use the flagship concept applied it to both neotropical primates and African elephants and rhinos, in the typical mammal centric approach that still dominates how the concept is used today

    The use of the concept has been largely dominated by large bodied species, especially mammals, although species from other taxonomic groups have occasionally been used


    Flagship species can be selected according to many different characteristics depending on what is valued by the audience they try to target. This is best illustrated by the differences in recommendations made for flagship species selection targeting different target audiences such as local communities. and tourists.


    Several limitations have been recognized concerning the use of flagship species:

  • The use of flagship species can skew the management and conservation priorities in their favour and to the detriment of more threatened species
  • The managements of different flagships can conflict
  • The disappearance of the flagship can have negative impacts on the attitudes of the conservation stakeholders
  • Flagships and conflict

    A major challenge for the deployment of several flagship species in non-Western contexts is that they may come into conflict with local communities, thereby jeopardizing well-intended conservation actions. This has been termed 'flagship mutiny' and is exemplified by the Asian elephant in countries where there is human-elephant conflict.

    Other types of conservation flagships

    Conservation flagships can also appear at broader levels, for example as ecosystems (such as coral reefs or rainforests or protected areas (Serengeti or Yellowstone). A number of recent initiatives has developed new conservation flagships based on conservation values of particular areas or species. Examples of these are the EDGE project run by the Zoological Society of London and the Hotspots run by Conservation International.


    Flagship species Wikipedia