Featured Article

Flagships or Battleships: Deconstructing the Relationship between Social Conflict and Conservation Flagship Species

Authors: Leo R. Douglas and Diogo Veríssimo
Volume 4, Number 1 (2013)

In the United States alone, more than 50 percent of wildlife funding is leveraged for the conservation of less than 2 percent of those species listed as endangered. The top 10 species by total spending are overwhelmingly the most well-known conservation flagships of the United States, including the Florida panther (Felis concolor coryi) (photograph by Monica R. via Flickr, CC BY 2.0).


Flagship species, common components of conservation programs, are frequently implicated in social conflicts. This article examines the multiple roles of flagships in conflicts including their part in human-wildlife conflicts and as symbols of broader sociopolitical disputes. The article shows that the relationship between the co-occurrence of conflict and flagship species, while complex, illuminates important patterns and lessons that require further attention. The article focuses on the most iconic flagships globally and discusses why they are commonly shrouded in controversy in which their meaning, value, and place are contested. It argues that the process of socially constructing animals as iconic symbols often entangles them in conflict, and saturates them with conflict agency. The article recommends that any program that involves the deployment of flagships should institutionalize analyses of their symbolic meaning as an essential conflict-management approach.

LEO R. DOUGLAS is a visiting scientist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and a research scholar in the Department of Geography/Geology at the University of the West Indies. He recently conducted research about the underpinnings of conflict surrounding threatened parrots used as conservation flagships in the Caribbean. He has taught about conservation conflicts and biodiversity at Columbia University. His research interests are located at the intersection of conservation biology and conflict and peace studies.

DIOGO VERÍSSIMO explores the human dimensions of biodiversity conservation, having worked in the areas of environmental education and social marketing in countries such as Portugal, Brazil, India, and São Tomé e Príncipe. He received his PhD in biodiversity management at the University of Kent. His dissertation focuses on the adoption of marketing theory to the use of conservation flagships, a key part of fundraising and behavior change strategies for conservation.

Tags: charismatic megafaunaflagship specieshuman-wildlife conflictpolitical symbolismsocial marketingLeo R. DouglasDiogo Veríssimo