To Know A Tiger: Better Understanding Breeds More Tolerance
August 1, 2012

Study Shows That Understanding The Tiger Breeds More Human Tolerance

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

In order to conduct conservation efforts successfully, information about an endangered species - such as preferred food sources and habitat - is crucial for conservationists to understand. However, a new study conducted by Neil Carter, a doctoral student from Michigan State University, shows that endangered species also rely on the thoughts of the humans they may encounter.

Carter first began his studies in Nepal, where he focused on tigers. “People have complex psychological relationships with wildlife,” Cart stated, “Picking apart these complex relationships is the best way to get a really good idea of what's affecting their tolerance of the animal.”

Published on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 in the international journal for conservation Oryx, the paper titled “Utility of a psychological framework for carnivore conservation” is co-authored by Jianguo "Jack" Liu, CSIS director and distinguished Professor at MSU University who holds the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability, and Shawn Riley, an associate professor of fisheries and wildlife at MSU.

Carter previously conducted research in Chitwan National Park located in Nepal, where 125 adult tigers are currently found. These tigers live near humans, and as a result, endanger the lives of the people that depend on the tiger´s natural habitat to live. Between 1998 and 2006, 65 humans died from tiger attacks, and because these tigers are also known to kill livestock, humans sometimes kill them in return.

The research that Carter and his associates conducted has provided an innovative way to decide where conservation is needed around the world, especially where dangerous animals occur near humans. This groundbreaking research seeks to understand the outlooks of people that live near endangered species, such as coyotes or deer.

However, the way humans feel about dangerous animals differs from the feelings held towards creatures that are more docile. Fear, control, and risk all make for complicated conservation efforts. According to Carter, laws and policies are not enough to conserve dangerous species, like the tiger, because humans will continue to poach or ignore the plight of the animals.

“You can't just remove all the tigers, or the grizzly bears, or other carnivores that may pose a risk to people. Managing animal populations in this fashion is not a viable option for protected species,” stated Carter. “It's imperative to come up with ways that people and carnivores can get along.”

Carter and his associates surveyed 499 people that live near Chitwan National Park, asking them how they felt about the size of tiger populations possibly rising in the future. They also inquired about past encounters with tigers, as well as how culture and beliefs may affect their preference for or against the tigers.

Surprisingly, the results showed that fear was not the major reason for a preference against tigers. The people surveyed responded with a mixture of answers pertaining to the logical benefits and risks of having tigers nearby. Despite the results, more study is required to fully understand the relationship between tigers and humans.

“We expected that interactions — real experiences with tigers in the wild would be most influential,” stated Carter. “Someone who had three cattle killed would have different tolerance than someone who hasn't. Perhaps, if you're exposed to something all the time, the fear stops becoming the powerful predictor.”

Besides the anticipated reactions from those affected by tigers directly, or those who were not affected at all, the study showed that a lack of knowledge about the tigers influenced the people surveyed into negative responses. The fact that some people did not understand that the tiger is beneficial to its environment was prominent throughout the study.

“That's a real simple educational opportunity,” stated Carter. “People can be shown that tigers regulate the populations of deer and boar, which cause real economic damage to crops. If they don't see the connection then that's a lost opportunity.”

Carter´s research also includes camera traps, which the team used to understand the tigers and how people move about in the tiger´s range. His research is typical to CSIS, which combines ecological studies and social sciences to help humans and animals share the environment and thrive together.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Rhinoceros and Tigers Conservation Fund. It was part of the Partnership for International Research and Education among MSU, the University of Michigan and seven other institutions in the United States, Nepal, and China.