Understanding nuanced preferences for carnivore conservation: To know them is not always to love them
Macdonald DW., Johnson PJ., Burnham D., Dickman A., Hinks A., Sillero-Zubiri C., Macdonald EA.
In a study of more than 3000 participants from nine countries, we explored peoples’ preferences for the conservation of two groups of species that frequently interact with humans: large carnivores (n = 29 species in the order Carnivora with average adult body mass > 15 kg), and wild canids and wild felids (n = 73 species). We presented participants with pairs of photographs and recorded which they would prioritise for conservation. We also attempted to identify the species attributes which were associated with preference. Among the large carnivores, respondents prefered felids over hyaenids and canids. For large carnivores, images of species in social groups attracted lower preference scores. Felids were strongly preferred to canids. Both for large carnivores overall, and for felids and canids, people preferred species with a more threatened IUCN status, larger body size and striking torso colouration. The effect of peoples’ familiarity with a species on their preference depended on their affinity with it (how much they reported ‘liking’ it). Where respondents reported liking a species in the felid/canid study, preference score tended to increase with familiarity. For species which were not liked, preference declined with familiarity. We propose that this reflects negative experiences or cultural histories. There were nuanced differences in conservation preferences between countries, which may also arise from socio-cultural factors. These findings reinforce the importance of understanding the local context when identifying species as potential flagships for wildlife conservation but also suggest that some preferences seem to broadly generalise across different groups of stakeholders.