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Charisma and conservation: charismatic megafauna’s influence on safari and zoo tourists’ pro-conservation behaviors

Abstract

Annually, millions of tourists go on safari and visit zoos primarily to view large charismatic wildlife. These venues rely on the inherent appeal of these animals to increase visitation and anchor conservation efforts. In conservation campaigns, flagship species are used to stimulate a connection to a species and promote pro-conservation behaviors. However, empirical support for behavioral outcomes associated with flagships is lacking. Nor is it known how a connection to a species influences behaviors. This study explored (a) how tourists connect to wildlife, how this relationship is influenced by the on-site experience, and how these factors interact to influence behavior, and (b) how the experiences between safari and zoo venues differed. A model was developed using interactional theory and analyzed with structural equation modeling. Data were obtained from 416 tourists to Tanzanian parks and protected areas and 452 tourists to two U.S. zoos and one aquarium. An existing connection to wildlife and experiential factors directly influenced tourists’ connection to a species, but not behaviors. Tourists’ connection to a species had a significant positive influence on pro-conservation behaviors for individual species and general biodiversity. The influence of the experience was equivalent across safari and zoo venues. Results support the ability of safari and zoo wildlife tourism to produce conservation outcomes.

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Acknowledgments

Support for this study was provided by the Tanzanian Tourism Board, Kilimanjaro Airport Development Company Ltd., Tanzania National Parks, Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area Authority, Brookfield Zoo, Shedd Aquarium, and Zoo Atlanta. The authors wish to thank Dr. B. Wright, and Dr. W. Bowerman, IV for editorial assistance.

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Correspondence to Jeffrey C. Skibins.

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Skibins, J.C., Powell, R.B. & Hallo, J.C. Charisma and conservation: charismatic megafauna’s influence on safari and zoo tourists’ pro-conservation behaviors. Biodivers Conserv 22, 959–982 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-013-0462-z

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Keywords

  • Charismatic megafauna
  • Connection to wildlife
  • Flagship species
  • Pro-conservation behaviors
  • Structural equation modeling
  • Wildlife tourism