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Does Otis the bear encourage help for conservation?

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480 Otis on July 1, 2022. Photograph courtesy C. Rohdenburg

By Mike Fitz

When you watch any of the wildlife or animal-themed cams on discover.org, then you recognize that they supply an distinctive lens via which we are able to view the lives of particular person animals. The gorilla Pinga’s management and maternal devotion allowed her blended household group at GRACE to heal from trauma. The California condor Inikio survived wildfire solely to be prematurely evicted from her nest by one other condor. The legendary brown bear Otis is a quintessential instance of longevity and flexibility in bears.

Throughout my bear cam reside chats, I focus so much on the lives of particular person bears after which relate these bear’s experiences to larger concepts. Understanding how Otis has tailored to a decrease rank within the bear hierarchy, for instance, permits us to raised perceive how previous bears adapt to vary and problem.

Nevertheless, there’s comparatively little within the scientific literature exploring how private connections to particular person animals have an effect on an individual’s help for conservation. In actual fact it’s been argued that it is a myopic technique, and most conservation efforts concentrate on the species stage. The person animals that we watch on discover.org every have a big and devoted following, so how may our connection to particular person animals affect our help for conservation of a species? A new paper, of which I’m a coauthor, finds that particular person and favourite animals can have a big, optimistic affect on our attitudes towards conservation efforts.

My analysis colleagues on this challenge developed a web-based survey of bear cam viewers that was accessible in summer time 2019 and summer time 2020. When survey members had been requested if they might establish particular person bears 14% of viewers mentioned sure, 56% responded generally, and 30% mentioned no. Viewers who might establish particular person bears had been additionally requested what number of particular person bears they might establish. Twenty-one % of these respondents indicated they might establish one bear, 45% might establish 2–4 bears, 20% might establish 5–7 bears, and 14% might establish greater than 7 bears. When requested if they’ve a favourite bear 53% responded sure and 47% responded no.

So what do these outcomes imply? Not a lot till we examined the solutions to follow-up questions. Specifically, viewers had been requested to fee their settlement with the assertion “the power to study and/or establish particular person bears influences my willingness to help conservation packages.” The query was on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Those that might establish particular person bears agreed with that assertion at considerably increased ranges (4.86 ± 1.86) than these respondents who couldn’t establish particular person bears (3.31 ± 1.80). Importantly, those that mentioned that they had a favourite bear reported even increased ranges of help for bear conservation (5.01 ± 1.58). These outcomes are in step with one other examine primarily based on the identical survey that discovered the power to establish particular person bears positively influences an individual’s willingness to pay to guard particular person brown bears. Moreover, deliberately watching the bearcams when a selected bear was on display yielded higher conservation outcomes in keeping with the survey outcomes (that’s, when you mentioned you watched the bear cams extra when Otis or 503 or one other favourite bear had been on digital camera then you definately had been extra more likely to state you supported bear conservation).

A separate sequence of questions within the survey aimed to guage an individual’s emotional connection to brown bears via a statistical methodology referred to as conservation caring. This can be a numerical measure of an individual’s optimistic emotional connection to species or place. These questions had been on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 9 (strongly agree). The next rating indicated a better emotional connection. Viewers who might establish particular person bears had considerably increased conservation caring ranges (7.06 ± 1.68) than viewers who might solely establish particular person bears generally (6.81 ± 1.54) and viewers who couldn’t establish particular person bears (5.85 ± 1.70). Conservation caring ranges additionally climbed with the variety of bears an individual mentioned they might establish.

When you can’t establish bears on the bear cam, then don’t fear. It’s not a contest and I’ll proceed to work to offer everybody the instruments and tales that permit us to attach with particular person bears. I additionally know there are numerous individuals who nonetheless take care of bears drastically however don’t place as a lot of an emphasis on attending to know people. What’s extra necessary is that we acknowledge the individuality of untamed animals and acknowledge that they aren’t automatons appearing merely on intuition. They suppose and really feel and their lives are necessary within the conservation of complete species. Different Otis-like bears doing Otis-like issues roam over wild areas of North America, and if we are able to safe and keep wholesome habitat for Otis then different bears will profit.

We hope to develop on these outcomes and publish extra concerning the affect of particular person bears on conservation. I’m additionally desirous about exploring how interpretive occasions—such because the reside chats and Q&As that I lead in the course of the bear cam season—provoke individuals to behave to preserve bears and different wildlife. In spite of everything, it’s one factor to say you help wildlife conservation, nevertheless it’s one other factor to take motion.

Many viewers of discover.org know that watching wildlife via webcams generally is a highly effective and significant expertise. With the statistical help of this and future research, maybe we are able to encourage extra parks and guarded areas to make the most of webcams and interpret the lives of particular person animals to construct better help for wildlife conservation.

I’d wish to thank the researchers who made this examine doable—Jeff Skibins (who drafted this paper and did the information evaluation) and Lynne Lewis and Leslie Richardson (who had been instrumental within the survey design and implementation). I’d additionally wish to thank the Katmai Conservancy for overlaying the expense to make the paper accessible to everybody via open entry.

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