Low knowledge of national biodiversity symbols among urban South Africans limits their potential value as conservation flagship species.

Published online
19 Mar 2024
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
People and Nature

Tshikombeni, O. & Shackleton, C. M. & Ntshudu, M.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
South Africa


Most countries have declared one or more animal or plant species to be among their national symbols, termed here national biodiversity symbols. National biodiversity symbols are the species formally or informally recognised by societies and countries as having meaning to one or more of national identity, values and unity. It has been proposed previously that national biodiversity symbols can be used as flagship species to advance habitat conservation in their respective countries. However, this assumes that the symbols are well-known and revered by the citizens of the country concerned. We examined this assumption via direct interviews with 382 urban residents in four towns in South Africa, which is a mega-biodiversity country with five national biodiversity symbols (a national tree, flower, animal, bird and fish). We found that less than 3% of the urban respondents could name all five species, ranging from 6% for the national tree to 40% for both the national flower and national animal. Knowledge of other national symbols (flag and anthem) were equally low. The number of national biodiversity symbols known increased with income and education level of respondents. Despite limited knowledge of which species were the national biodiversity symbols, almost two-thirds of respondents felt that having national biodiversity symbols was important for promoting national identity. These findings show that from a heritage perspective a great deal more awareness needs to be developed in South Africa around the national biodiversity symbols. From a conservation perspective, it indicates that the national biodiversity symbols are unlikely, at this stage at least, to be useful as flagship species for habitat conservation programmes.

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