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

Leo R. Douglas and Diogo Veríssimo

Keywords: charismatic megafauna; flagship species; human-wildlife conflict; political symbolism; social marketing

Abstract

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.

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