Research Article: I thought I saw a pussy cat: Portrayal of wild cats in friendly interactions with humans distorts perceptions and encourages interactions with wild cat species

Date Published: May 1, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Esther van der Meer, Sandra Botman, Simone Eckhardt, Abi Tamim Vanak.

http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0215211

Abstract

Most people lack the opportunity to see non-domesticated animals in the wild. Consequently, people’s perception of wild animals is based on what they see on (social) media. The way in which (social) media portrays non-domesticated animals determines our perception of and behaviour to these animals. People like to interact with animals, which is why venues which offer the opportunity to interact with non-domesticated animals are popular wildlife tourist attractions (WTAs). However, these WTAs more often than not profit at the expense of animal welfare, conservation and human safety. Participation in such WTAs should therefore be discouraged. Through (social) media we are regularly exposed to images of non-domesticated animals in close interactions with humans. Exposure to such images seems to blur the line between what is a friendly domesticated animal and what is a potentially dangerous wild animal. Such images may also increase our desire to engage in interactions with non-domesticated animals ourselves and reduce moral concerns about the use of non-domesticated animals for such interactions, thereby promoting WTAs in which tourists can interact with non-domesticated animals. Wild cat species are commonly used in the wildlife tourism industry to interact with tourists. In this study, we determine whether portrayal of wild cat species in interactions with humans promotes WTAs with wild cats. We presented respondents with an image of a wild cat species (lion, cheetah, caracal) in a control setting, walked by a human (WTA), petted by a human (WTA) or in the wild and asked them to answer a fixed set of questions. We found that portraying wild cat species in interactions with humans reduced the fear of wild cats, encouraged people to regard WTAs with wild cats as acceptable and stimulated them to participate in such activities themselves.

Partial Text

Humans have a desire to view and interact with (non-domesticated) animals [1,2]. Connecting with animals has been shown to evoke positive emotions and improve human health and well-being [2,3]. Simply observing an animal can already reduce stress and increase positive mood [4]. It is therefore not surprising that people experience friendly encounters in which they can get close to, touch, and feel a connection with animals as very satisfying and emotional [5,6]. Our desire to interact with (non-domesticated) animals is so strong we are willing to pay for such encounters [7–9] and interactions with non-domesticated animals are popular wildlife tourist attractions (WTAs) [9]. Millions of animals [10] annually provide entertainment for at least 100 million tourists worldwide [11], generating substantial economic benefits for the tourist destinations involved [9]. Excluding hunting and fishing, WTAs are based on non-consumptive encounters with non-domesticated animals in the wild or in captivity [12] and cover a wide range of activities varying from excursions to watch free-ranging species like whales [13] or turtles [14] to direct interactions [9] like ride elephants [8] or pet and/or walk with lions [7].

We are repeatedly exposed to images of non-domesticated animals in books, movies and (social) media; the way we perceive the animals in those images is affected by how they are portrayed [35–39,71]. In (social) media, non-domesticated animals are regularly portrayed in interactions with humans (e.g. [42–49]). Although not empirically tested, it has been suggested that exposure to such images results in people becoming too familiar with non-domesticated animals, up to the point where they lose their instinctive fear and engage in dangerous behaviour [50,72] like taking selfies with wild animals [50,73,74], getting out of their car in a drive-through cheetah enclosure [72] or trying to stroke a wild lion on a safari [75]. In addition, portraying non-domesticated animals in interactions with humans may encourage participation in WTAs which provide us with the opportunity to engage in such interactions ourselves, at the expense of animal welfare, human safety and conservation [7–9,22,23,58,59,76].

Most people do not have the opportunity to watch non-domesticated animals in their natural environment and rely on (social) media to learn about these animals [26,27].

 

Source:

http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0215211

 

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