Attitude change towards wildlife and the role of environmental education
Dalum, M.J. van
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Many wildlife populations have shown an ability to live side to side with humans. However, conflicts in forms of depredation and fear still cause low tolerance among people toward wildlife, often resulting in lethal control. Positive attitudes among the public and locals may increase tolerance toward wildlife and is the first step to behavioural change. An attitude is a persistent evaluative bias of a certain object or issue and is based on beliefs and evaluations made out of underlying, personal values. Evaluations follow from emotional responses related to personal relevance and previous experiences with wildlife. Attitudes vary in strength and resistance to persuasion, which is determined by the degree of consistency and ambivalence in beliefs and evaluations. Strong attitudes are mediated by emotions and affect attention, perception, storage and retrieval of information from memory. Factors like age, gender and general education level cause variation in attitudes toward wildlife. A more direct influence on attitudes has personal relevance in terms of economic loss or gains, fear, affection for wildlife, or pleasure experienced from wildlife. Local factors such as the chance of encountering wildlife, agreement with the current wildlife management system, socially shared attitudes and cultural transmission of beliefs seem to have great impacts on attitude formation toward wildlife. Environmental education can help form and change attitudes in favour of wildlife coexistence and can be used to reach local people, the public and children at schools. Proper communication, understanding the attitudes held by the audience, and building environmental responsibility together with people helps foster positive attitudes. The provision of factual information alone rarely leads to attitude change, but positive experiences with wildlife linked to positive emotions do. Art can possibly reach a large proportion of the public and creativity orientated wildlife education can be readily applied in schools. Taken together, attitudes towards wildlife are formed and shaped by personally relevant factors, social and cultural factors and especially emotions.