Relating animals to humans could help conservation projects

Aug 22, 2013

New research by conservationists at the universities of Kent, Oxford, Columbia (USA) and Monash (Australia) suggests that people's tendency to relate more to animals that bear a resemblance to humans (anthropomorphism) could help improve public engagement with conservation projects.

In a paper published by the journal Biodiversity Conservation, the researchers also suggest that anthropomorphism is overlooked as a powerful tool for promoting low-profile species that are either endangered or require urgent attention.

At present, anthropomorphism in conservation is limited to social, intelligent animals, such as chimpanzees, and dolphins. According to the research, this would imply that other species are not worthy of conservation because they are not like humans in the 'right' ways.

However, by making more aware of how people construct anthropomorphic meanings around species and how they engage with species and attribute value to their characteristics – e.g. people may attribute personhood or emotions to species that they play with, such as pets or even livestock – they can create conservation programmes which speak to people through their cultural expectations and emotional connections.

Co-author, Diogo Verissimo of the University of Kent's Durrell Institute of Conservation Ecology (DICE), said: 'Anthropomorphisation of species is a common way for people to relate to other species but as a conservation tool it is under-used and is not being utilised as a way of effectively promoting the relationships between people and nature through conservation programmes.

'Despite there being some limitations of using anthropomorphism, for example inappropriate expectations of animals' behaviour or species picking up negative social stereotypes by being human-like, there is a need for more research in marketing and social sciences that will lead to more effective used of anthropomorphism in conservation outreach.'

Lead author, Dr Meredith Root-Bernstein of the University of Oxford, said: 'Scientists have been wary of for a long time, because it was seen as leading to unscientific hypotheses about animal behaviour. But as conservationists we can look at it as a kind of popular folk theory of the similarities between humans and all other species. These popular ways of relating to the natural world are powerful and we should try to understand and work with them.'

Explore further: New orchid identified from Komodo

More information: Root-Bernstein, M. et al. Anthropomorphized species as tools for conservation: utility beyond prosocial, intelligent and suffering species, Biodiversity Conservation, Issue 8, vol. 22. link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10531-013-0494-4#page-1

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New orchid identified from Komodo

Jun 05, 2013

(Phys.org) —A new species of orchid has been identified on the South East Asian island of Komodo despite having been wrongly named for the past 300 years.

Iberian lynx attacks on farm animals are on the rise

Jun 11, 2013

Scientists working on the LIFE IBERLINCE project have spent six years studying the hunting behaviour of the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), registering a total of 40 attacks with 716 farm animals killed. Their ...

Recommended for you

Invasive vines swallow up New York's natural areas

8 hours ago

(Phys.org) —When Antonio DiTommaso, a Cornell weed ecologist, first spotted pale swallow-wort in 2001, he was puzzled by it. Soon he noticed many Cornell old-field edges were overrun with the weedy vines. ...

Citizen scientists match research tool when counting sharks

22 hours ago

Shark data collected by citizen scientists may be as reliable as data collected using automated tools, according to results published April 23, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Gabriel Vianna from The University of Wes ...

Researchers detail newly discovered deer migration

Apr 23, 2014

A team of researchers including University of Wyoming scientists has documented the longest migration of mule deer ever recorded, the latest development in an initiative to understand and conserve ungulate ...

How Australia got the hump with one million feral camels

Apr 23, 2014

A new study by a University of Exeter researcher has shed light on how an estimated one million-strong population of wild camels thriving in Australia's remote outback have become reviled as pests and culled ...

Former Iron Curtain still barrier for deer

Apr 23, 2014

The Iron Curtain was traced by an electrified barbed-wire fence that isolated the communist world from the West. It was an impenetrable Cold War barrier—and for some inhabitants of the Czech Republic it ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Squirrel
not rated yet Aug 23, 2013
The link looks as if it goes to a pdf of the article that is free rather than paywalled.

More news stories

Genetic code of the deadly tsetse fly unraveled

Mining the genome of the disease-transmitting tsetse fly, researchers have revealed the genetic adaptions that allow it to have such unique biology and transmit disease to both humans and animals.

Ocean microbes display remarkable genetic diversity

The smallest, most abundant marine microbe, Prochlorococcus, is a photosynthetic bacteria species essential to the marine ecosystem. An estimated billion billion billion of the single-cell creatures live i ...

Study links California drought to global warming

While researchers have sometimes connected weather extremes to man-made global warming, usually it is not done in real time. Now a study is asserting a link between climate change and both the intensifying California drought ...

Autism Genome Project delivers genetic discovery

A new study from investigators with the Autism Genome Project, the world's largest research project on identifying genes associated with risk for autism, has found that the comprehensive use of copy number variant (CNV) genetic ...