How effective is charismatic megafauna in conservation?
There has been a lot of talk recently about shark cage diving in Cape Town and its necessity as a tourist attraction. The use of one particular species to draw attention to the conservation need of an entire ecosystem is not a new idea. The problems with this particular method of fundraising are, however, starting to show. The major problem is that when a conservation agency uses a particular species to raise funds they can’t go and spend that money on the conservation of a different equally endangered species. There are no doubt several ways around this for the agency but if the public found out that the money they donated was being used to help save the scaly cross eyed tree newt and not the cuddly giant panda then the agency would lose credibility and struggle to obtain further donations.
The species that are used for the fundraising image are referred to as Charismatic Megafauna, these are species that have a popular public image and act as a draw card for an entire region or ecosystem. Examples of these are the tiger, the giant panda the humpback whale and the great white shark. These are animals that are themselves protected but represent an entire ecosystem that might well be endangered. The irony is that these charismatic representatives of nature are often not a very good litmus test for gauging the state of a particular eco system. It is more often than the not the smaller animals at the bottom of the food chain that provide the best indication of the state of the ecosystem and small changes in their status can affect an entire system. These are known as edge species. These species are on the very edge of the ecosystem and usually the least charismatic of the animal kingdom. They therefore receive the least public attention or protection. The sad truth is though if they disappear then an entire branch of the evolutionary tree would be lost. What’s more is that as they are at the bottom of the food chain which means once they become extinct it’ll start a chain reaction that’ll affect every species above it on the food chain within the same ecosystem eventually reaching the apex predators that are so popular with fundraising.