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Charismatic Megafauna in Southeast Asia  

Faizah Binte Zakaria

“Charismatic megafauna” refers to species of large mammals which engender widespread affection and serve as a focal point to mobilize conservation action. Most commonly associated with elephants, tigers, and orangutans, these animals play critical roles in the cultural, economic, political, and social histories of human communities. In the royal courts, they were harnessed to uphold premodern political authority and maintain military might, helping a ruler to exert control over his subjects. Among settled agriculturalists, they regularly came into conflict over destruction of crops and competition for ranging space but were concurrently part of everyday religious life. Animal charisma in this region emerged from shared experiences living in liminal spaces between wilderness and civilization, where relationships of codependence might emerge amid feelings of fear and awe. The hardening of nature–culture boundaries and intensified resource extraction during the modern period unraveled some of these relationships, placing wildlife in a vulnerable position. This troubled history suggests that conservation efforts need to take into account why particular species inspired a certain affect, not only to galvanize human energy to save them from extinction but also to reimagine spatial arrangements so as to accommodate cohabitation between humans and nonhumans.