April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A new study from Michigan State University reveals it is much easier to feel positive about the endangered Bengal tiger in your backyard if you live on the good side of town. The study, published in AMBIO, examined what factors influenced people’s attitudes towards the tigers that share their neighborhood in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, which is home to some 125 adult tigers. The decision to map people’s attitudes represents a novel approach from the research team.
“Harmonizing human-wildlife relationships is key to sustainably conserving wildlife such as the endangered tigers,” said Jianguo “Jack” Liu, MSU’s Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability, director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS). “People’s attitudes towards tigers shape the fate of tigers.”
A map of attitudes toward tigers – a clear plotting of the haves, the have-nots, and how social status shapes different views of wildlife conservation – was created by Neil Carter, PhD student at CSIS who has spent years studying how people and tigers co-exist in Nepal.
The researchers surveyed 500 Chitwan residents to find that it’s not so much the contact a person has with a tiger – a scare, an attack, losing livestock. Instead, neighborly feelings towards carnivores, they found, is something of a luxury and depends on the person’s social and economic status.
The study area included 100-square miles of forest and settlements on the west side of Chitwan. The people in this area who report supporting the protection of tigers live in the more prosperous east side. The eastern neighborhoods are comparatively urban, with residents who are more economically secure, have more clout with the local government and have more resources beyond just those the forest provides.
When surveyed by the researchers, the residents of the more prosperous east side were more likely to report positive attitudes toward tigers. The team found this was because these residents profited directly from the tigers’ presence – they work as guides or porters for tourists, for example. They are also more educated, feel that you can control your surroundings and influence the world around you, then you tend to be more positive about whatâ€™s in the forest.
Residents on the more rural and isolated west side, on the other hand, depend more directly on the forest for sustenance. Carter suggests the daily dependence on the forest not only makes them more vulnerable to tiger attacks, but also makes conservation regulations more burdensome and fuels tiger intolerance. The west side residents also tended to feel less empowered, with less input into regulations and less recourse when things aren’t going well.
“This is important to know from a wildlife conservation standpoint,” Carter said. “There’s reason to expect people on the west side to be less compliant with conservation policies, for example, by killing tigers in retaliation to attacks or to harbor poachers.”
The lessons learned in Nepal shed light on what makes or breaks conservation efforts around the globe in areas where people live next door to wolves, coyote, bears – animals that inspire fascination and fear. Human buy-in is essential for conservation efforts. The team hopes their work will allow conservation managers to create maps of attitudes toward many other wildlife species.
“It surprised me how powerful the effect of the social, cultural and economic factors had on their attitudes,” Carter said. “This is showing us that conservation is not just the wildlife issues. It’s very much about managing people and their needs, and knowing where to focus attention.”