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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 95-104

A Theory of Flagship Species Action

Conservation Governance Lab, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

Correspondence Address:
Paul Jepson
Conservation Governance Lab, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford
United Kingdom
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.161228

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Date of Web Publication20-Jul-2015


The flagship species approach is an enduring strategy in conservation. Academic discussion on flagship species has focussed on two dimensions: on what basis should they be selected and how have they been put to use. Here we consider a third dimension, namely the manner in which flagship species act and have the capacity to galvanise and influence conservation outcomes. Drawing on concepts from the social sciences, viz. affordance, framing, and actor-networks; we discuss examples of flagship species to propose a theory of flagship species action. In brief, our theory posits that a flagship species is one with traits that afford the assembly of relatively coherent networks of associations with ideational elements located in pre-existing cultural framings. These associations give rise to opportunities to align with deep cultural frames, contemporary cultural phenomena and political economy such that when a conservation action is introduced, forms of agency cause the species and human publics to change. The species becomes re-framed (or reinvigorated) as a cultural asset speaking for a wider nature, publics and political agendas. Further our theory posits that species with traits that enrol in idea networks incorporating human fears, will have limited flagship capacity. This is because the ability of the representations produced to align with frames incorporating collective aspirations is constrained. In terms of applied conservation practice, our theory suggests that: a key criteria for selecting potential flagship species is presence in existing cultural frames, that effective deployment of flagship species requires an understanding of the species' cultural associations, and a species ability to galvanise action may be limited to certain times and places. Furthermore, once deployed conservation interests will never have full control over the flagship species: it may act in uncertain and unexpected ways.

Keywords: flagship species, species surrogacy, framing, actor-network theory, conservation, culture

How to cite this article:
Jepson P, Barua M. A Theory of Flagship Species Action. Conservat Soc 2015;13:95-104

How to cite this URL:
Jepson P, Barua M. A Theory of Flagship Species Action. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2015 [cited 2020 Jul 3];13:95-104. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2015/13/1/95/161228

   Introduction Top

Species surrogacy ranks alongside protected areas and ecosystem protection in importance as both a technique and a strategy for conservation action (Caro 2010). The flagship species is a prominent and enduring label which rests on the observation that certain species-the tiger, orangutan, giant panda, and elephant, to name but a few-are able to galvanise interest and action in ways that the majority of other species cannot. The practice of focussing attention on popular or iconic species as a conservation strategy has been subjected to influential critique particularly by natural scientists (e.g., Simberloff 1998; Andelman and Fagan 2000). However, there is growing awareness among interdisciplinary conservation science that flagships represent a strategic action rather than an ecological concept. What has perhaps been less well understood is why the flagship species concept is so enduring, why certain species have appeal, galvanise action, and have staying power. Here we examine the agency of species recognised as flagships and outline an applied theory of flagships to support more effective conservation governance and management.

Flagships species are defined as high profile, charismatic, or ambassadorial species that act as symbols and rallying points for conservation projects, issues, campaigns and the wider conservation movement (Simberloff 1998). The term is borrowed from naval terminology (a ship bearing the admiral's flag) whereby a visible single species (the flagship) acts as the centre of attention for an entire ecosystem (fleet) and coordinates conservation action. Flagship species are considered a type of strategic conservation tool (Leader-Williams and Dublin 2000) that capture the attention of stakeholders and publics in ways that generate forms of support leading to positive conservation outcomes.

In the context of conservation, the term flagship species first appeared in academic literature in relation to Brazilian primates, which were seen as excellent examples of how charismatic animals could be 'used to sell the cause of tropical conservation as a whole' (Mittermeier 1986: 233). In keeping with the instrumental purpose of its origins, the conservation literature on flagships has focussed on two broad themes. The first concerns criteria for selecting species to promote as flagships. The range of assessment criteria proposed include geographical distribution, conservation status, visibility, body size, perceived charisma, and whether or not it is an umbrella, keystone, or cultural species (Dietz et al. 1994; Caro and O'Doherty 1999; Bowen-Jones and Entwistle 2002; Barua et al. 2012). The second describes the different ways flagship species have been put to use and analyses their effectiveness in differing conservation roles. The list examined includes: creating a moral or cultural imperative for policy, promoting inter-institutional planning, and justifications relating to site protection (Kalland 1993; Kinan and Dalzell 2005). Drawing on these two approaches there are efforts to develop a general approach for flagship selection (e.g., Verissimo et al. (2011)). What has been under-examined, and as yet theorised, is how flagship species do these things: in what ways do they act and have the capacity to influence conservation outcomes?

Here, we propose a theory of flagship species action. We suggest that future development of such a theory will provide a basis for understanding the complex interplays between species and culture that constitute the 'flagship' phenomena and thereby enhance our ability to identify and effectively deploy flagship species. First, we offer a brief introduction to key theoretical concepts in the social sciences that inform our approach. Next, we apply and elaborate these to outline our theory. We then draw out guidance for applied conservation practice and conclude by identifying inadequacies and gaps in our accounts that might offer profitable avenues for future research.

   Conceptual Underpinnings: Actor-Network Theory, Affordances, and Framing Top

Our understanding of flagship species action is informed by developments in social theory that afford animals an active role in constituting their environments and relationships with other entities, both human and non-human. First, we draw upon perspectives associated with actor-network theory (ANT) (Latour 2005). ANT is an analytical approach that eschews the nature-culture divide and sees the world as composed of associations between heterogeneous elements, both human and non-human (e.g., artifacts, technologies, organisms) whose identities are configured by virtue of the relations in which they are enmeshed. This approach represents two key ontological claims. First, that non-human entities play a constitutive role in the fabric of social life. For instance, some species actively introduce meaning into cultural practices and political controversies and become the loci around which social groups and institutions form (Blok 2007; Dempsey 2010). Second, ANT affords non-humans an active role in the emergence of agency. Agency may be understood as the capacity to modify a phenomenon or produce a state of affairs (Audi 1999). In contrast to conventional thought that aligns agency with the intentional actions of human actors, ANT views agency as a relational outcome emerging through interactions between human and non-human entities. Once species become defined and categorised by humans, they get entangled in diverse institutional and cultural networks. Species become part of actor-networks and by virtue of their location in these networks, are endowed with a capacity to produce actions. This is not to infer that they have equal influence to human entities: rather it is to flag that all entities in networks have the potential to contribute to the outcomes produced (Castree 2002). A key insight for conservation practice is that it is not solely human entities that act and influence outcomes: animals, technologies, and devices also play a role in how conservation is performed and the trajectories it takes (Lorimer 2007; Jepson et al. 2011).

In combination with ANT, we employ insights from Gibson's (1986) concept of 'affordance', which provides tools to think about interactions between human and non-human animals and with other life-forms in their shared environment. To afford means to give or to endow, or "what [the environment] offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes …" (Gibson 1986: 127). Affordance describes a relational process: "what an environment can provide is bounded by the sensory, physical, and mental apparatus of an organism which has evolved in relation to affordances furnished by the environment and other beings within it" (Gibson 1986: 127). What an organism senses or perceives will be unique to collections of related taxa. For instance, what affords relief of hunger to a tick will not afford the same thing for a human being. Affordances may also be understood as the properties of something that render it, consciously or otherwise, apt for the 'project' (i.e., purpose and needs) of another (Ingold 1994). Animals and plants afford a range of actions and emotions to humans, and at times hinder (negatively afford) other things. For instance, an elephant affords a sense of wonder and moral concern in relation to those people who hold, or are able to foreground, conservationist values. For others, the same animal might be vilified if it constantly raids crops or damages people's houses (Barua et al. 2010). In short, an affordance exists 'out there' and not just in the mind of the perceiver, yet its meaning emerges in relation to beings who perceive it as an opportunity for action appropriate to their 'projects'. The concept of affordance is valuable because it guards against assuming a purely social or symbolic construction of meaning. Whilst we overlay our own meanings onto things, nature is not infinitely malleable: a species (or individual animal) also causes us to think and act in certain ways by virtue of its physical and behavioral attributes, e.g., swift flight (falcon), predatory power (tiger), aesthetic plumage (cranes), communal team work (meerkats) and so forth. Indeed, Gibson's idea of affordances fits well with the co-constructivist project of actor-network theory (Latour 2005: 72, footnote 83) because meaning is understood as an emergence of interactions between the perceiver and perceived.

Furthermore, the concept of affordance is integral to Lorimer's (2007) theorisation of what he terms 'non-human charisma'. Lorimer focusses on the affective (the pre-conscious response) dimensions of human encounters with living animals. He sees charisma "as a lively and sometimes unpredictable property" that 'elevates' particular species, making them 'accessible' and 'interesting' in the perception of humans, and "that is vital for the enrollment of public support for conservation and the achievement of organizational order' (Lorimer 2007: 926). Whilst making the connection between charisma and flagship species, Lorimer's argument does not extend to theorising how flagship species emerge, circulate, persist, and act over time and place.

We deploy the concept of framing to understand the social actions mobilised by flagships within the political and economic contexts of conservation. By the latter we mean the political and economic relations that shape or favour certain conservation interventions along with the forms of exchange between private and public interests that come to be involved in these interventions. Concepts of the frame have considerable currency in the study of social movements (Benford and Snow 2000), communication science (e.g., Scheufele and Tewksbury 2007; van Gorp 2007; Nisbet 2010), and policy conception (e.g., Daviter 2007). They are gaining profile across the environmental social sciences as a means to understand and untangle environmental issues (e.g., Jepson 2010; Buijs 2011). Frame analytics offer a means to extend ideas about affordance and non-human agency to include the processes that occur as species become enrolled within dimensions of human consciousness linked to collective action in particular political-economic settings. They offer a means to think about enrollment of species characteristics into ideologies that shape modes of production of wealth, nation, and citizenship through the 'consumption' of nature (Brockington et. al. 2009).

Goffman (1974) introduced the verb 'framing' to discuss processes of sense making and collective action. He described frames as 'schemata of interpretation' and proposed that people make sense of, and act within, a complex world by sub-consciously gathering together and linking 'ideational elements'-metaphors, facts, narratives, images, memories and so forth-into 'frames'. Frames develop over time and can be understood as the sedimented histories of understanding and engaging with the world: they are considered "a central part of culture that are institutionalized in various ways" (Goffman 1981: 63). As such, frames are situated largely internal to individuals, yet individuals constantly make use of their cultural stock of frames, consciously and subconsciously (Van Gorp 2007). Frames are simultaneously both mental networks that help order our consciousness and body-mind-environment networks that enable appropriate and consistent mental and physical responses to external stimuli. This is because what comes into our mind (how frames are evoked) depends on circumstances and culture. As a consequence, frames have multiple opportunities to connect, amplify, and interplay with other frames that together shape the individual and collective psyche, including actions (see Snow et al. 1986).

Frames as constitutive of culture suggest frames with a degree of stability and persistence over time, but which are open to dynamic processes that may cause underlying frames to change and reconfigure over time and among different peoples. Because frames are partial and their boundaries fluid, they can be promoted, marginalised, manipulated, and transformed by social actors to influence how people think and act. Snow et al. (1986) identify four processes through which this happens: 1) frame bridging, whereby two structurally unconnected frames are connected to produce new meaning comprehensible to diverse publics (e.g., 1970s Greenpeace 'Save the Whale' campaigns that bridged animal welfare, species preservation, and anti-authoritarian 'power to the people' frames [Day 1987]); 2) frame amplification, where an ideational element is clarified and extended to reinvigorate the salience of the frame to target publics (e.g., the term 'biodiversity' which clarified the instrumental value of species assemblies [Wilson 1988]), 3) frame extension, where a new idea is introduced into a pre-existing frame to leverage additional support or 'tap into' new publics (e.g., the alignment of conservation and poverty [Adams et al. 2004]), and 4) frame transformation, where new knowledge and circumstances unsettle existing frames to an extent that new frames emerge (e.g., those relating to human identity in relation to Darwin's theory of evolution [Thomas 1984]).

Framing processes align with the collective action ethos of conservation and its social movement heritage (Jepson and Canney 2003). Collective action frames emerge when an action or goal sits comfortably with and/or reinforces the meanings constructed by frames (Benford and Snow 2000), for instance the frame of 'extinction' and the action of creating wildlife sanctuaries mutually reinforce. Frame processes often involve forms of media communication. Van Goop (2007) deploys the concept of a 'frame-package' to understand media framings. These are composed of: 1) idea elements that together constitute a core idea (i.e., the frame), 2) forms of reasoning that promote a particular problem definition, cause-effect relationship, moral judgment and/or an action/response proposal, and 3) an implicit cultural phenomenon that gives the frame a theme. Frame-packages may be an archetype (e.g., victim), mythical figure (e.g., David vs. Goliath), value (e.g., freedom of speech), or narrative (e.g., Devil's bargain) (Van Goop 2007: 64). Frame analytics offer the possibility for a theory of flagship species action to embrace the political economy of conservation interventions: this is because they draw attention to the interplay between deliberate framing of species, the institutional agendas of conservation, and the policy environment within which conservation interests operate. In short, particular frames may be promoted in order to generate funding and policy access, whilst other framings may be subdued or edited out. For instance, conservation science and policy is responding to the rise of neo-liberal capitalism by foregrounding the economic value and monetary value of species (e.g., Richardson and Loomis 2009) and down-playing earlier moral-aesthetical-value arguments (McCauley 2006). In other words, conservation frames are never stable, they reform and shift according to political-economic contexts. These conceptual resources suggest a conception of flagship species as species that 1) possess traits that afford cultural representations with 2) the capacity to contribute to one or more of Van Goop's frame package elements and 3) produce forms of agency in the frame alignment processes (particularly 1-3) outlined above such that diverse publics come to consider a collective conservation action as important and necessary.

   A Preliminary Theory of Flagship Species Action Top

Flagship species are those species that have effects in the human cultural realm. These effects arise by virtue of their connections with other entities (institutions, publics, states) or ideas, myths, values, etc. that interact to bring benefits to the wider ecological systems in which they are implicated.

As organisms, species comprise a suite of affordances. These parallel what conservationists might term 'characteristics' and include material composition and phenotype (how it looks), behavior (what it does), and distribution (where and when it occurs). Such affordances, or characteristics, align to varying degrees and in different ways with existing human frames. Thereby, they co-produce different processes, capacities, and effects. So for example, the Asian elephant's size and power, along with its intelligence and herd behavior affords subjugation and command by humans. This bridged with and constructed the frame of 'divine ruler'-a God-king class of humans with the power to command (speak to) an animal that rural people feared and considered untamable (Knox and Saparamadu 1958). The humanoid facial expressions of orangutan and evolutionary proximity to humans, bridge with frames relating to compassion, brotherhood, and human rights such that the species comes to be perceived as a relative among certain publics. The arrival and departure of conspicuous migratory species such as cranes, storks, cuckoos, and swallows amplify frames relating to spring and renewal such that they become harbingers. In short, we posit that species with material attributes that readily 'bridge' with, or extend and amplify cultural frames, assume cultural profile and familiarity. They become metaphors that contribute to the organisation and coherence of cultural frames.

More generally, humans project their existing frames onto animals such that the animal strengthens and/or helps consolidate and communicate particular frames. From a human perspective the poise, form, and hunting behavior of a male lion is readily constructed as embodying the fearless, courageous, and powerful qualities of a victorious warrior. Such qualities have long been deemed important in the construction of accounts of nation and empire, e.g., the 'British lion', wherein the species assumes emblematic properties. Our argument here is that in relation to human (cognitive) practices certain species come to animate stories, as narratives, metaphors, or symbols. Animal symbols are widespread in culture and take the form and role of 1) the icon of a cause (e.g., the whale within the general environmentalism frame), 2) the emblem of group (e.g., the Wallabies with the international rugby/sport frame), and the totem of clan (e.g., the eagle among several native American clans). Indeed, as Levi-Strauss (1969: 162) notes, some animals function as totems because 'they are good to think with'. Such animal symbols are powerful because they act within networks to form the essence of types of meaning and identity.

For a species, to act as a flagship-to rally support for conservation actions-it must be able to construct agency-producing relations between its material form and behavior, wider cultural frames and a conservation action. It is this assembly that transforms a 'cultural species' into a 'flagship species'. Take for example the tiger. This has long been a cultural species populating frames linked to an eclectic suite of engagements with Indian forests. These include literary evocations of wild-lands (e.g., in the famous poem 'The Tiger' by William Blake), cultural imagery (e.g., the descriptor 'man-eater'), and elite practices (e.g., the royal tiger hunt). Following independence, India's political leaders sought to foreground India's unique biological and cultural heritage as part of a strategy to construct a nationalist frame separate from British imperialism. Indira Gandhi's policy to create a network of tiger reserves (announced at the 10 th IUCN Congress in New Delhi, 1969) can be understood as constitutive of this process. The policy morphed older framings of the tiger with newer conservationist frames relating to the concept of extinction and wise use of natural resources, as well as the influential new frame of a United Nations: of a new world order bound by the ideal of cooperation in social progress, economic development, and world peace.

Through enrollment in the political strategies of nation building the tiger became a flagship for the conservation of India's biological heritage (Rangarajan 1996). The affordances of tigers-e.g., hunting behaviour, forward-facing eyes, distinctive striped coat, and a distribution centered on India and confined to Asia--galvanised an assembly of social-political actions relating to international relations and the creation of ordered conservation territories that generated new tourism economies and widened popular support for conservation. The tiger's affordances enabled a transition from older practices associated with the tiger hunt: of 'bagging' a ferocious and regal beast and preserving it through taxidermic practice, to the tourist photo-safari in the form of print and film 'trophies'. The capture of such images were sought after by the park visitors and professionals alike and eagerly consumed by publics in India and internationally. Films and books by public conservationists (see Ward and Ward 1993) served to construct India as 'land of the tiger' in the international imagination and thereby position India as a prominent member of the United Nations. The tiger was able to do this (it was marketable) precisely because tigers afforded enchantment and awe to both active and armchair viewers. Further, the ecology of the tiger played a critical role in the order of new conservation landscape and concomitant management regimes: for instance, as an apex predator the tiger provided the scientific rationale for landscape-scale conservation and its distinctive tracks promoted census and monitoring techniques that embraced old practices of tracking and sportsmanship (shikar) and new practices of wildlife surveillance.

These accounts of the tiger and the Indian nation represent a compelling example of how flagships galvanise action. Whilst Indira Gandhi actively enrolled the tiger in a political cause, we suggest that this act alone cannot explain the rise of wildlife conservation as a cultural value and public good in India. In our view Gandhi's actions established new actor-networks that set in train a reframing of the tiger and attitudes towards it. Politicians deployed the tiger to reinforce policy frames, entrepreneurs as an opportunity to enter tourism markets and diversify the Indian economy, spiritual leaders to give new expression to values expressing spiritual and aesthetic regard for nature. In 1972, the tiger replaced the lion as national animal of India (Futehally 1973). In the period following independence in India the tiger easily afforded powerful new cultural frames that easily bridged with the idea of conserving natural habitats to be created. An influential Indian public that viewed wildlife and natural habitats as worthy of protection was one of its many outcomes.

In summary, animals afford particular forms of representation and occupy positions in frames that organise how people, individually and collectively, make sense of the complex world they inhabit. They become flagship species when they are positioned, promoted, and enrolled in ways that bridge pre-existing framings involving the species with new ones that fashion a conservation action or agenda in relation to a broader political and societal cause. The logic of drawing upon existing cultural values to devise flagship species (Bowen-Jones and Enwistle 2002) may be better understood in this light. Similarly, approaches that identify a need for flagship species to 'resonate' with target audiences (e.g., Barua et al. 2011; Verissimo et al. 2011) can be restated as the bridging of conservation action frames with existing mental maps.

   Flagship Species in Action Top

The example of the tiger above illustrates how a species may become and persist as a flagship. Our goal in this section is to develop an improved understanding of how flagships act through an analysis of four flagship species that have galvanised action in different ways, namely the giant panda, orangutan, whale shark, and Eurasian bittern. These are cases well known to us but, together with the tiger, we believe they represent a reasonably representative set of animal flagships. They represent the established and new, international and local, well and less-well known. Moreover the mobilisation of these flagships captures the main categories of modes of conservation governance (regulatory, market, network, and self [e.g., Rydin 2010]).

The giant panda has been an effective emblem for conservation for half a century. It was relatively unknown among western publics until 1920, but its unique and highly distinctive phenotype and behaviour along with its association with China afforded easy integration and interaction with a range of cultural frames (Songster 2004). For instance its appearance in a few western zoos connected the elite practice of assembling 'curiosity cabinets' of natural wonders (Mauriès 2011) and public zoos; with emotions of loving and care that the panda's 'cuddly' phenotype afforded. The first zoo pandas were public sensations (Nicholls 2011), creating powerful frame-bridging relations between the material attributes of the animal and human frames relating to exploration, curiosity, the Orient, and the childhood teddy. Combined with the species' apparent 'dis-adaption' a 'frame-package' emerged that extended and reinvigorated moral-aesthetic framings of conservation and the paternalistic idea that the fate of other life forms was in human hands (see Ladle et al. 2011). The naturalist and artist Peter Scott captured the giant panda's powerful emblematic agency in his famous logo that accompanied the launch of the World Wildlife Fund in 1961. The species' black-and-white coloration afforded cheap logo reproduction using mid-twentieth century print and communication technologies such that the Panda logo has become among the most recognisable brands in the world (Nicholls 2011).

During the 1970s the panda started acting as a true 'flagship' i.e., producing forms of agency that galvanised actions to conserve its wild populations and their habitats. The opening of relations between China and the West, symbolised by gifts of pandas to American President Nixon (1972) and UK Premier Heath during their visits to China in 1972 and 1974 respectively, interplayed with the species' status as a western cultural icon and logo of international conservation to produce the logic that if WWF had the panda as its logo, it should also have field projects concerned with its survival. After protracted negotiations WWF and the Chinese State Forestry Administration embarked on a collaborative conservation project involving: the building and equipping of the Wolong research and breeding centre, systematic research on panda species biology, and the creation of a network of panda reserves (Schaller 1995).

The case of the giant panda exemplifies the theoretical claim of ANT that the forms of agency produced from the relations between humans and non-humans change in different network assemblies and over time. China's role in the world has transformed since the 1970s. Buckingham et al. (2013) describe how the panda has been actively positioned as a 'softer' emblem of the Chinese nation compared with traditional emblems such as the dragon. They show how the challenging husbandry and captive-breeding traits of the panda interacting with the conservation impacts of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake (damage to panda habitat and the Woolong centre) have afforded the panda a new role in international relations-what they term 'guanxi loans'. Pandas are loaned (for a significant fee) to zoos in countries supplying China with valuable resources and technology. The various exchanges-of knowledge, staff, and animals-associated with these animals and the symbolic significance of China trusting another nation to care for a living national treasure, contributes to building 'guanxi', namely deep trade relationships characterised by trust, reciprocity, loyalty, and longevity. Buckingham et al. (2013) go on to suggest that China is assuming ownership of panda conservation and predict that "boundaries between 'wild' and 'captive' [pandas] will blur, and late twentieth century visions focussed on wild panda populations and landscape connectivity are likely to give way to a more integrated approach involving panda landscapes characterized by zones of levels of panda habituation, management, and intervention" (p 6). Our point here is that effective flagships are embedded in a political economy where they produce a complex and dynamic interplay between political arrangements, markets, and conservation strategy. As a result a flagship species may come to occupy multiple and dynamic positions in networks-as a national emblem, zoo exhibit, household name brand etc.-such that the agencies produced may lead to novel modes of conservation.

The orangutan (Pongo pongo) clearly possesses non-human charisma (Lorimer 2007): it is actively positioned as a conservation flagship to galvanise interest and action to counter deforestation on the mega-diverse islands of Sumatra and Borneo. The orangutan's material attributes and its autonomous behaviour affords the creators of popular fiction and film with the possibility to dress orangutans in human clothes, sit them in cars etc. and so frame the orangutan as a close relative to humans: sentient beings not entirely dissimilar from us (e.g., the 1978 film Every which way but loose starring Clint Eastwood). Conservation actors have emphasised the apes' human-like characteristics, both morphologically and behaviourally, to draw on the empathy of near and distant publics. Many zoos explicitly bridge the plight of orangutans and their forest homes with human framings of family with exhibits designed to create close proximity between humans and orangutan apes in an artificial 'home-life' setting (e.g., San Diego Zoo 2013; Frankfurt Zoological Society 2013). The idea that a close relative is in distress creates emotive responses that construct the orangutan as a potent symbol of the plight of animals living in Southeast Asian forest ecosystems under threat from logging and oil-palm expansion. Such bridging between frames of fraternal empathetic concern and of conservation action generates the capacity for these apes to act as a flagship species.

Interestingly, the flagship agencies of orangutans have not manifested in the reservation of habitat in ways comparable to the tiger and panda reserves described above. We suggest that this is because orangutans are too human-like to form strong agency-producing relations with frames concerning national and collective identities. The alignment of conservation with nationalism, notably in the guise of national parks, has helped elevate conservation from a social movement to an established arena of public policy (Jepson and Whittaker 2002; Ladle et al. 2011). It is unsurprising that the refined political elites of Java, Sarawak and other groups tracing their roots to old South-east Asia sultanates would eschew the orangutan-which evokes framings of primitive humanoids--as a national animal emblem. Rather than galvanising the creation of reserves that align with broader political agendas, the orangutan appears to act on two different scales: the local in the form of rehabilitation centres and the trans-global as an actor in campaigns to govern oil-palm expansion.

An orangutan orphaned, displaced by forest fire or logging, or confiscated from an animal trader or owner cannot legally be euthanised. Its human-likeness assures its integration into human ethical and moral frames and this galvanises concerned individuals to care for and rehabilitate orangutans into their 'natural' setting. The orangutan interplays with singular humans with qualities of charisma, passion, commitment and tenacity, to co-produce conservation champions. The primatologist, Birute Galdikas and biologist, Willie Smits are prominent examples working in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Both set up foundations that started with centers to rehabilitate rescued orangs but then 'worked outwards' to champion the protection of surrounding forest and then orangutan forest habitat more generally. Their dedication to serving vulnerable, voiceless and oppressed near-humans has attracted considerable media attention and they have both received prestigious conservation honors (TED 2009; OFI 2013). This empowered them politically in their 'fight' against deforestation and trade in orangutans, but perhaps inevitably they antagonised influential individuals and networks locally and nationally in Indonesia and thus attracted controversy (Galdikas 1998). During the political period of 'reformasi' (1998-2003) (Manning and Van Diemen 2000) the cause of orangutan rehabilitation afforded a platform for an incipient Indonesia animal welfare to grow in the more liberal political-social environment following the fall of the Suharto New Order regime (1967-1998). Smits secured a major grant from the Lichtenstein-registered Gibbon Foundation to invest in a network of wildlife rescue centers in Western Indonesia (see www.loris-conservation.org for list). These centres were led and managed by leaders of the Indonesian animal welfare movement, ProFauna (www.profauna.net) and provided the movement with a focus, public profile, and opportunity to build networks with government agencies responsible for enforcement of protected species law (Jepson pers. obs.).

More recently, the orangutan appeared as an issue animal in Greenpeace's 2010 'Give me a break' campaign targeting the oil palm sector (Greenpeace 2010). This campaign was conceptualised in a market-environmentalism logics (O'Rourke 2005) whereby activists aim to generate risk to the brands and reputation of major transnational companies such that the companies act to manage these risk by adopting stronger standards of environmental sustainability, thereby becoming market leaders. The target of this Greenpeace campaign was the Swiss multinational food and beverage company, Nestle, and the goal was to pressure this and similar companies to commit to sourcing palm oil certified by the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) as sustainable. The RSPO standards (criterion 5.2.) require plantation companies to identify and manage High Conservation Values in their plantations and concession areas (RSPO 2007). The characteristics of the orangutan afforded Greenpeace an ideal campaign actor: it created a campaign coherence by linking a popular chocolate bar brand, the well-known advertising slogan "Take a break. Have a Kit-Kat", a company with reputational vulnerabilities (resulting from a 1980s scandal where campaigners charged Nestle of marketing breast milk substitutes to illiterate mothers leading to suffering and deaths of babies (e.g., Time Magazine 1976) and the issue of palm-oil expansion and rainforest destruction via the chocolate bar's oil plan ingredient. The orangutan afforded campaigners dressing-up as orangutans and acting out stunts with media appeal. In short, the orangutan became an issue animal and one that enabled powerful frame-bridging and campaign affordances to increase pressure on corporates to adopt practices that would protect areas of orang utans rainforest habitat from conversion to oil palm.

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is a recent example of a relatively obscure species becoming a flagship for conservation. Fifteen-years ago it was unknown to the wider Indian public; local fishermen hunted the creature and disparagingly called it 'barrel' on account of their practice of using barrels as floats to secure the sharks after harpooning. In year 2000, a documentary film (Shores of Silence www.mikepandey.org) generated widespread interest in the species' plight and resulted in an official hunting ban. However, hunting continued and in 2004 the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) launched a campaign. The absence of local names and positive cultural connotations represented a major challenge until WTI realised that whale shark landings were concentrated between two important temples. In response, WTI labelled the creature 'Matsya Avatar', a fabled giant fish appearing from the ocean as the reincarnation of the god Vishnu, and successfully 'bridged' the shark with powerful Hindu mythological frames. A popular spiritual leader, Morari Bapu, became an ambassador for the cause. He named the creature 'Vhali' (or 'loved one') and announced that killing the whale shark was not mere fishing but deicide (Menon, undated; WTI 2004).

This powerful bridging of cultural frames was an instant success and drew huge response from the public. Subsequently the whale shark has been incorporated by local people into their religious ceremonies, adopted by six cities in Gujarat as their mascot, and appeared on an Indian postage stamp. In addition, in 2007 the government announced an official 'Whale Shark Day' (the first for any animal in India) (WTI 2008). Whale shark hunting has stopped and its new status as a cultural animal icon is being deployed to assemble international actors to secure its conservation in a trans-boundary pelagic context (Norman 2005). This vignette makes the point that in human culture there might be powerful myths that have not yet been aligned with a living species. If a matching species can be found, a powerful flagship species could be in the making so long as a human leader or institution is enrolled in the network and the myth is alive in the culture.

The Eurasian bittern (Botaurus stellaris) is a compelling example of how flagship species successfully operate in Western conservation contexts. Although not globally threatened, bitterns have an unfavourable conservation status in Europe, especially Britain. Rarity is one factor why bitterns receive conservation attention, but we argue that its cultural legacy and affective potential plays an even more important role. The bittern's cultural profile in Britain is marked by over 20 colloquial names. Many of these derive from its 'booming' call, which was associated with the advent of summer and to forecast weather (Barua and Jepson 2010). During the nineteenth century, natural history reached craze proportions in the UK (Allen 1994) and naturalists became obsessed with explaining the mechanism through which the bittern produced its 'boom' (Nelson 1907). In combination with its solitary, mysterious habits, its strange richly coloured and beautifully penciled plumage, the bittern gained corporeal charisma as the most fascinating of British birds (Hudson 1894 cited in Barua and Jepson 2011). Excessive hunting led to near-extinction of this once common breeding bird in Britain by the turn of the nineteenth century. Early pleas for conserving the bittern played to its corporeal charisma to leverage support evoking fears that its booming will be "no more heard in the land and such beautifully plumaged bird will be among the things that 'have been" (Anon 1926, Atkinson 1898, cited in Barua and Jepson 2010).

The plight of the bittern afforded the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds (RSPB) the possibility to constitute its Minsmere reserve in the 1960s. Bert Axell, the first warden pertinently reflected on how the RSPB was actively seeking to forge a 'new industry' and in the context of a war-weary, ration-booked nation-with a populace reassessing its values and developing an interest in the outdoors-how birds such as the bittern, with their beauty, mobility, and folklore image evoked sympathy and interest that the RSPB could turn into cash to buy them protection (Axell 1992). The bittern, with its charisma, near-mythical status and strong links to English heritage proved to be an ideal candidate for raising this conservation capital. The bittern helped establish Minsmere as the RSPB's, and indeed the UKs flagship reserve. Subsequently, from the 1990 onwards, the bittern's cultural and ethological charisma acted to generated interest in a nationwide initiative to restore reedbed habitats across Britain. There was a conscious effort in East Anglia to create a 'bittern brand' and align conservation with the economic upsurge of the time: press articles carried headlines such as 'Project to make bitterns boom', a railway route was named the Bittern train line a brand of Bittern beer launched. The bittern shows how the affordances of certain species can be deployed for the reproduction of conservation capital and how the political economies of conservation are to some extent co-constituted by flagship species (Barua and Jepson 2010).

   Towards A Theory of Flagship Species Agency: Challenges and Implications Top

Our proposition is that a flagship species is one that assembles a relatively coherent network of associations with ideational elements located in pre-existing cultural framings. These associations give rise to opportunities to align with deep cultural frames, contemporary cultural phenomena and political economy such that when a conservation action is introduced, forms of agency cause the species and human publics to change. The species becomes re-framed (or reinvigorated) as a cultural asset speaking for a wider nature, publics and political agendas. It acts, directly or benignly, to assure its persistence in a wider natural setting. Furthermore we predict that influential flagships 1) will be those where inaction would unsettle the integrity of frames that people collectively and individually use to find their place in the world, 2) will act more powerfully among people who are already attuned to nature and landscape (i.e., those who have learnt to be affected), and 3) interplay with the political economic context to reproduce conservation capital in dynamic ways.

We suggest that our theorisation points to a number of important implications for conservation policy, action, and research. For instance it questions the notion often implicit in the term flagship species (Caro 2010) that conservation practitioners can select any species and 'construct' them as flagship species through public relations campaigns. Our theory suggests that the generative process leading to action is the interplay between species attributes and cultural frames. Because it is unlikely that conservation groups have the resources to intervene in the production of cultural frames a successful flagship species will be one with attributes that map onto a priori cultural frames. In some cases, such as the whale shark, cultural frames (myths) may be present and as yet unpopulated with a real species. However, we suggest that most available species that afford flagship capacities (at least in the West and at an international scale) are already in use.

Our theory, by accounting for the historical processes through which particular species become visible in the public imagination, draws attention to the depth of cultural embeddedness of many flagship species. Our theory predicts that flagship species with staying power are those that implant in deep cultural frames and become entrenched in political economies that serve to reproduce them. This speaks to current analyses of neo-liberal conservation. For instance, Brockington et al. (2008: 189) foreground fetishism inherent in neoliberal economies where '[a]nimals, landscapes and ecosystemic processes appear as though by magic, with no references to the historical ecological processes that allowed them to appear'. Our theory, offers a means to understanding how species 'appear' and to render these processes visible. We add to such analyses by positing that the affordances of species matter and not all species can be coopted for capitalist commodification in the same way or with the same effect. Furthermore, we argue that flagship species have an active role in reproducing political economies of conservation on account of their influence on cultural frames, which in turn are increasingly streamlining conservation communications and messaging, and allowing conservation to move into sensationalist, entertainment and profit- driven realms (Jepson et al. 2011).

If our theory is robust it implies that deploying flagships species effectively will require either an intuitive or a systematic understanding of the species' cultural associations and how they have been shaped by history and the specifics of place. However, given the impossibility of complete knowledge, the dynamic nature of society and politics and our contention that agency is a property of network relations, this can never be perfectly known or understood. Because the extent or strength of relations may not always be evident from the outset, the promotion of species as flagships may produce unexpected outcomes: positive and negative. Being aware of the diverse trajectories flagship species can take (as exemplified in the case of the Asian elephant) could help foster reflexivity and enable conservationists to better adapt to situations on the ground. Put another way, we cannot get rid of species that already have a place in the human imagination; neither can we simply 'market' them in all cases. The networks in which they are embedded are too complex to manage with clarity.

We believe that further development of a general theory of flagship action is both feasible and needed. Such a theory would establish the nature of interactions between characteristics of species and cultural settings. It would have the analytical and predictive power to explain why some species gain prominence and the capacity to galvanise forms of action and others do not. This contribution complements and extends existing scholarship on flagship species by creating a bridge between literature on criteria for selection and literature on the effectiveness of flagships in their role. It provides a basis for distilling concepts and guidance that would enhance the efficacy of conservation policy and practice. Furthermore, it could provide an antidote to externally driven conservation agendas by foregrounding the benefits of understanding which species occupy local cultural framings and how these may be deployed as flagship species.

Our deployment of the theoretical concepts of actor-networks, affordances and frames fits well in terms of locating flagship action within the broader contours of conservation as a social and political concern. Mainstream conservation operates around frames of heritage, national identity, compassion, sustainability, and economic growth. Prominent flagships, as our case examples of the giant panda, orangutan, whale shark, and Eurasian bittern illustrate, are inherently entangled in such frames. Each of our case studies make visible, the actor-networks of prominence and influence that become enrolled in conservation initiative because they themselves are drawing on cultural frames to further their interests. This in turn co-constitutes the flagship's species iconicity. The focus on affordance points to particular species characteristics that enable them to be rendered visible in these frames and networks: large size and phenotypic distinctiveness are shared by our case study species and this characteristic supports powerful forms of communication in our ocular-centric culture. Together the different affordance-frame-actor-network configurations enable us to understand why different flagship species have different trajectories of action. The giant panda, tiger, and orangutan can act within trans-national conservation in part because, unlike the whale shark and Eurasian bittern, they afford prestigious and economically valuable zoo exhibits. However, the orangutan is less able than the panda and tiger to enroll governmental networks because its human-likeness makes it too political. In contrast, this characteristic together with its constrained biography affords activist actor-networks the possibility to deploy frames of greed and cruelty to pressure corporate actors to enroll in conservation actions. In short, together these conceptual tools offer an analysis of both the generalities and specifics of flagship species action. We recognise and respect the arguments for basing conservation science on rational scientific arguments that afford weight to a wider array of species. However, we suggest that such logics are predicated on the assumption that strong centralised state-based organisations exist with the influence, reach, will, and resources to enact conservation across scales. Whilst this ideal may have seemed plausible in the third quarter of the twentieth century, we believe it is no longer tenable and that in the decades ahead it will be necessary to enact conservation through different actor assemblages determined by local cultural contexts that may or may not embrace scientific rationalism. For this reason, we think it opportune and necessary to build upon the theory of flagship species action introduced here. Our theory as outlined undoubtedly has limitations and is incomplete. For instance, we feel that more could be said about the role of affect, emotion, and cultural variation in the storylines of our case studies. In addition, we are cognisant that our examples and experiences are from situations where state-influenced conservation is still strong. Exploring the strongly consumptive nature-based economies in parts of Africa, for example, may allow for variations on our analysis. However, the concepts and examples presented in this contribution are intended as a starting point. Ours represents a contribution from conservation geographers and we hope that it will prompt scholars from other disciplines to enter the fray.

   Acknowledgements Top

We thank Brendan Moore, Mari Mulyani, Susanne Schmitt, Meredith Root-Bernstein, and three anonymous reviewers for their critical and insightful comments that have enhanced earlier versions of this manuscript. MB's work was supported by the University of Oxford Clarendon Fund, Felix and Wingate Scholarships.[76]

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