Flagship species are those iconic, charismatic species that capture public admiration and may be used as figureheads to promote broader conservation action.

The Flagship Species Fund is a partnership between Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). In 2013, the Fund will support the conservation of some of the most endangered, yet best loved, species as well as promoting new and emerging flagships for conservation.

The eight grants will cover a range of species (from mammals, reptiles and birds to invertebrates and plants), with projects working towards:

  • The reintroduction of orang-utans in Kalimantan, Indonesia
  • Improving the status of the Yucatán black howler monkey in Belize
  • Raising awareness of the plight of the pygmy three-toed sloth on Escudo de Veraguas Island, Panama
  • Habitat management and conservation of two turtle species – one project will focus on loggerhead turtles in Cabo Verde and the other on green turtles in the Galapagos Islands
  • Establishment of a new colony of the Fiji petrel on Gau Island, Fiji
  • Advancing knowledge and in-situ conservation of the Magnolia tree species (Magnolia coriacea) in Vietnam

Last, but by no means least, the fund will be supporting the conservation of the land crab (Johngarthia lagostoma) on Ascension Island. The land crab’s relationship with the inhabitants of Ascension Island has come a long way since the first permanent settlements were made on the island in 1815, when a British naval garrison was built. The admiralty saw the crabs as pests and rewarded sailors from the garrison with rum for killing them.

Today, the crabs enjoy a much more favourable relationship with the islanders, with images of them appearing on postage stamps and guide books. However they still face severe threats as they are now locked in competition with introduced species including rats, mice and rabbits.

Land crab. Credit: Sam Weber

Land crab. Credit: Sam Weber

Mass spawning of thousands of land crabs only occurs at a few locations around the island, and on just a couple of nights each year. Dr Sam Weber, who will be leading the conservation efforts, remembers the first time he experienced this spectacle: “The bright orange of thousands of crabs moving over the black volcanic coastline is really striking and stopped me in my tracks. I particularly remember laughing at the little ‘hula dance’ they do as they release their eggs into an approaching wave. Now I can’t help wondering how much more impressive it would have looked at the time the first ships landed at Ascension and before species introductions and harvesting began.”

The Operation Land Crab team will be using the Flagship Species Fund grant to tag spawning crabs with coloured claw bands and microchips. This will allow the team to identify individual crabs in the future and study their migrations, growth rates and age.

Land crab. Credit: Sam Weber

Land crab. Credit: Sam Weber

FFI looks forward to following the progress of these interventions through the year, and wishes the project teams every success as they strive to conserve these iconic species.

Looking back- the rise of new icons for conservation

Since its establishment in 2001, the Flagship Species Fund has awarded 151 grants, which have in turn provided support for the conservation of 101 threatened species. This has included household names like the mountain gorilla, African elephant and hawksbill turtle.

But the Fund has also supported some little known, but engaging, species that have become new champions for the conservation of their habitats. These have included the cowboy frog, freshwater crayfish, Cebu cinnamon tree and Indian tarantula. The success of these projects proves that a species doesn’t need to be furry, act like a human, or be a candidate for a child’s cuddly toy, to enlist widespread interest and spearhead conservation action.

Through these projects, FFI has supported the work of 109 local NGOs or agencies, across 40 developing or transitional countries and five UK overseas territories.

In 2012, the Fund supported 11 locally developed and delivered projects, which resulted in meaningful change on the ground. These include:

  • Direct habitat management – 20,000 endemic hardwoods were planted in a re-greening agreement with villages in northern Sumatra
  • Association establishment and empowerment – around the Budongo Forest Reserve, Uganda, ex-hunters associations were established, which led to the willing surrender of 1,400 snares from ex-hunters
  • Awareness raising – through agro-theatre performances and poster display competitions in Tajikistan
  • Alternative livelihoods – The Lamu Marine Conservation Trust, working along the northern coast of Kenya, reported increased local revenue from turtle tourism and the reintroduction of 5,102 baby turtles to the sea

By supporting a wide range of species and approaches, FFI has continued to explore what makes a locally-powerful conservation symbol, and promoted the conservation of the world’s most iconic and threatened species.