Animals in fundraising not the most threatened

Images of tigers and elephants are among the most common threatened mammals used by conservation organisations as ‘flagships’ to promote fundraising. Because of the campaigns they get the most money, but a new study shows they are not the most threatened.

Professor Kate Jones of the Institute of Zoology: ‘We found that the flagships currently used are not the most threatened species. Since most campaigns raise money directly for the species used as a flagship, this is troubling.’

The new study, by a team led by Dr Bob Smith of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), is the first to research what species are used by international conservation NGOs in their on-line fundraising campaigns. Dr Smith’s team included researchers from the Institute of Zoology and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

At the moment, only 80 flagship species are used by these NGOs, and more than 60% of their campaigns only raised funds for that species itself, the study found. These flagship species tend to have a high body mass and forward-facing eyes – because people find large animals with a human-like face more appealing.

But, by using a similarity score approach, the researchers identified that there are other species which, like Cinderella in the children’s story, share this aesthetic appeal but are currently overlooked.

Dr Smith said that the study findings suggested that promotional marketing concerns are driving the campaigning process.

‘The approach of NGOs remains overly conservative, so that only a few well-known species receive the bulk of the money raised. In response, we have shown that there are a number of currently neglected mammal species that are both highly threatened and potentially appealing to the public,’ he said.

Dr Nick Isaac, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: ‘Good examples are Pennant’s Red Colobus, a monkey from central Africa. Our analyses suggest there’s untapped potential for using these Critically Endangered mammals to raise funds for conservation, not just for the species itself, but for other species in the region.’

Diogo Verissimo, of DICE, said: ‘We would argue that NGOs need to adapt such novel techniques to broaden conservation benefits and develop a more systematic approach to identify, publicise and conserve new priority species.’

DICE is part of the University’s School of Anthropology and Conservation. The Institute of Zoology is part of the Zoological Society of London and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology is part of the Natural Environment Research Council. The study, Identifying Cinderella species: uncovering mammals with conservation flagship appeal, is published in the current issue of the journal Conservation Letters.

This article is based on a press release from the University of Kent

The photograph accompanied the press release by courtesy of Richard Bergl.

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