Zoos worldwide are visited by great numbers of people, and many of these visitors prefer to see large, rare mammals, the so-called charismatic megafauna. Zoos and the researchers who use them also appear to prioritise these species, as evidenced by the number of scientific publications which investigate the welfare of charismatic rather than non-charismatic species. However, the charismatic animals also attract more welfare-related concern from animal activist groups and the media than the non-charismatics. To this extent the charismatics could be regarded as problematic animals in the zoo. In this chapter, we compare three charismatic taxa (elephants, great apes and cetaceans) with three closely matched non-charismatic taxa (tapirs, gibbons and manatees) from the point of view of how frequently they are portrayed in welfare-related stories in the media, how much scientific research is undertaken on their welfare and how many of them are housed in zoos. Undoubtedly, from these perspectives the charismatics receive more attention than the non-charismatics. However, there is also evidence that their popularity helps zoos achieve their conservation mission, both by increasing funding available for field conservation and by contributing towards education and awareness raising of conservation issues. Nevertheless, the non-charismatics are equally deserving of attention, and more work needs to be done on their welfare.
Photo credit: Colchester Zoo