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The Influence of Flagship Species on In situ and Ex situ Wildlife Tourists' Connection to Wildlife and Pro-Conservation Behaviors

By Jeffrey Skibins

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Annually, millions of tourists visit natural areas and zoos primarily to view flagship species such as lions and elephants. Venues rely on the inherent charisma of these species to increase visitation and anchor conservation efforts. Expected visitor outcomes from the use of flagships include raised levels of awareness and pro-conservation behaviors. However, the role of flagships in wildlife tourism has been criticized for not delivering conservation benefits for species of interest or biodiversity, and producing negative site impacts. Furthermore, little is known about how the connection to a species influences conservation behaviors. This dissertation addresses this gap in knowledge by extending previous work exploring flagship-based wildlife tourism to include the emotional connection formed with a species and pro-conservation behaviors for individual species and biodiversity.
This dissertation represents a substantial contribution to the field because (a) it incorporates the role of the experience in understanding how tourists connect with a species and how this connection influences pro-conservation behaviors; and (b) is the first attempt to operationalize Conservation Caring as a measure of tourists' connection with a species. Existing studies have investigated how specific elements, such as interpretation or species' morphology may influence programmatic goals or awareness. However, awareness is a poor measure of an emotional connection with an animal. Furthermore, there has not been work done to address the holistic nature of the wildlife viewing experience, and its subsequent influence on behaviors.
In situ study sites consisted of several national parks from the northern circuit in Tanzania. Ex situ sites consisted of two zoos and one aquarium in the Unite States. Structural equation modeling was used to analyze data. Results support the validity of Conservation Caring as a factor; the ability of in situ and ex situ wildlife tourism to influence Conservation Caring; and that this connection is a strong predictor of pro-conservation behaviors. These findings suggest wildlife tourism can deliver conservation outcomes. The studies in this dissertation also provide a valuable framework for structuring wildlife tourism experiences to align with flagship related conservation outcomes, and exploring a wider assemblage of species as potential flagships.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2012
Pages 171
Department Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Language English
University Clemson University
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Conservation
  3. open access
  4. Tourism and travel
  5. Wild animals
  1. open access