Extinction Risk and Conservation of the Earth's National Animal Symbols

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Flagship species are commonly used as conservation tools, but to be effective, local public support is crucial. A country's national animal symbol is often selected for holding cultural and historical significance. Therefore, national animal symbols may serve as ideal flagships within their associated countries. Here, we evaluate the extinction risk and primary threats facing the world's national animal symbols and assess their levels of protection. Analysis of International Union for Conservation of Nature data revealed that 35% of symbols are threatened and 45% are exhibiting population declines. Two symbols are extinct, and four have been extirpated from their associated country. If population trends persist, over half of these symbols may face future extinction. The primary threats facing national animal symbols are exploitation, human-wildlife conflict and habitat loss. Only 16% of these symbols are nationally protected, whereas 50% receive international trade restrictions. Given their significance to national identity, it may be relatively easy to garner support for national animal symbols as flagship species.

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