Give a dog a bad name

September 12, 2017

Peoples’ perceptions of wildlife may or may not be right, but they are the basis of their actions, writes David Macdonald in reporting on a new study of predator conflict in Iran, led by WildCRU doctoral student Mohammad Farhadinia.

Mohammad has led a trail-blazing study of Persian leopards, beautiful cats that share their habitat with wolves. In a paper just published in Biological Conservation, Mohammad reports on our questionnaire survey of the attitudes to these two charismatic carnivores in northeastern Iran. We conducted semi-structured questionnaire interviews with almost 80% of herders living in 26 villages around three national parks, and discovered that the perceived role of leopards in depredation was negligible compared with that of wolves. Indeed, the stockmen judged that wolves were responsible for an average of 5.7 times more annual losses per herd by than were leopards (although, and importantly, non-predatory causes of death were much more important than the combined efforts of both leopards and wolves – most importantly diseases). Hardly surprisingly, therefore, the interviewees were much more hostile toward wolves, lamenting in particular the economic burden they imposed. None of this was surprising, but what was unexpected was the hostility towards leopards provoked by the general mood of dislike for predators. A situation analogous to a landscape of fear prevailed: the villagers were sensitised to predation by the wolves, and then generalised this fear, and dislike, to the much less problematic leopard.

The old adage has it that ‘if you give a dog a bad name’ the reputation sticks – in this case, it emerges that it sticks to the cat as well. The importance of this study is that it reveals the importance of cultural beliefs and perceptions in driving peoples’ attitudes and thus behaviour towards wildlife.

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