Charismatic megafauna are arguably considered the primary attractor of ecotourists to sub-Saharan African protected areas. However, the lack of visitation data across the whole continent has thus far prevented the investigation of whether charismatic species are indeed a key attractor of ecotourists to protected areas. Social media data can now be used for this purpose. We mined data from Instagram, and used generalized linear models with site- and country-level deviations to explore which socio-economic, geographical and biological factors explain social media use in sub-Saharan African protected areas. We found that charismatic species richness did not explain social media usage. On the other hand, protected areas that were more accessible, had sparser vegetation, where human population density was higher, and that were located in wealthier countries, had higher social media use. Interestingly, protected areas with lower richness in non-charismatic species had more users. Overall, our results suggest that more factors than simply charismatic species might explain attractiveness of protected areas, and call for more in-depth content analysis of the posts. With African countries projected to develop further in the near-future, more social media data will become available, and could be used to inform protected area management and marketing.
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