Understanding attitudes towards native wildlife and biodiversity in the UK: The role of zoos
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Consorte-McCrea, A., Bainbridge, A., Fernandez, A., Nigbur, D., McDonnell, S., Morin, A. and Grente, O. (2016) ‘Understanding attitudes towards native wildlife and biodiversity in the UK: The role of zoos’, in Leal Filho, W. (ed.) Sustainable Development Research at Universities in the United Kingdom: Approaches, Methods and Projects. Cham: Springer.
The present paper draws from a study of the role of zoos in forming attitudes towards biodiversity and native wild carnivores that are considered for reintroduction. The project is being developed by an interdisciplinary team (wildlife conservation, psychology, education) working towards the development of a questionnaire to investigate this topic in the UK. Research suggests that experiences with live animals in zoos may encourage empathy, through personal connection, which in turn facilitates greater concern towards biodiversity. Concomitantly, the reintroduction of wild carnivores to their native habitats may contribute to biodiversity by helping regulate ecosystem dynamics. Carnivores also carry a rich cultural and historical heritage. IUCN guidelines state the need for public support to establish a reintroduced population in the wild, therefore, carnivore restoration efforts benefit from the understanding of the human dimensions. A pilot study was carried out in Kent (spring 2015) using focus groups and interviews to investigate attitudes towards biodiversity, with particular focus on two species of carnivores native to the British Isles and currently considered for reintroduction (the European lynx Lynx lynx and the pine marten Martes martes) and the role of zoos in promoting support towards biodiversity conservation. Results suggest an association between seeing native wild carnivore species in the zoo and emotional responses such as ‘breaking down fears’, but also concerns about a disconnect between people and nature, and misunderstanding about the role of zoos in ‘protecting’ species. Below we offer a discussion of the themes that emerged from the analysis of focus groups and interviews in relation to biodiversity.