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Fantastic beasts and why to conserve them: animals, magic and biodiversity conservation

  • George Holmes (a1), Thomas Aneurin Smith (a2) and Caroline Ward (a1)


There is a broad set of human beliefs, attitudes and behaviours around the issue of magical animals, referring to both mythical animals not recognized by science and extant animals that are recognized by science but have magical properties. This is a broad issue ranging from spiritual beliefs around mythical animals living in Malagasy forests, to cultural heritage associated with the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland. Beliefs and behaviours around magical animals can have positive and negative impacts on biodiversity conservation goals. Yet, so far, the discipline of conservation biology has not adequately considered magical animals, neglecting to account for the broader knowledge from outside the natural sciences on this issue, and taking a narrow, utilitarian approach to how magical animals should be managed, without necessarily considering the broader impacts on conservation goals or ethics. Here we explore how magical animals can influence conservation goals, how conservation biology and practice has thought about magical animals, and some of the limitations of current approaches, particularly the failure to consider magical animals as part of wider systems of belief and culture. We argue that magical animals and their implications for conservation merit wider consideration.

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