A mismatch of community attitudes and actions: a study of koalas
Shumway, N, Seabrook, L, McAlpine, C, & Ward, P 2014, Landscape and Urban Planning, vol. 126, pp. 42-52.
In southeast Queensland, the attitudes of residents toward koala conservation were found to be significantly influenced by their area of residence, which in turn influences the likeliness of an individual to take actions to help conserve the iconic species. Suburban residents’ attitudes toward koala conservation were much less favorable than those of peri-urban and eco-village residents. Social demographics such as income level and age are less influential on attitudes towards conserving koalas, though it was found that gender may influence the likelihood of an individual to participate in conservation actions.
The presence of koalas in urban settings may cause conflicts between humans and koalas, and this can hinder the planning and success of the threatened species’ conservation. In a study designed to understand community attitudes toward koala conservation in Elenora and Currumbin Waters on the Gold Coast, Queensland, it was found that the area of residence of a respondent had a significant effect on that respondent’s attitude. In suburban areas, residents had a less positive attitude toward koala conservation in their local area compared to those in peri-urban and eco-village areas, and were also less likely to partake in activities that help conserve the koalas in their neighbourhood.
Residents with more exposure to nature and wildlife (in this case, peri-urban and eco-village residents) often have deeper connections with their local environment and are more informed of the threats that face wildlife. Furthermore, the more connected individuals are to nature, the more understanding they are likely to have of its values and benefits to humans. These more informed individuals may therefore be more likely to act to conserve the koala in their local area. Gender was the only social demographic factor that appeared to influence the respondents’ likelihood of engaging in koala-friendly behaviour. The authors found that women were more likely to drive slowly at dawn and dusk or support reduced speed limits in koala habitats than men, despite both genders sharing highly positive views of the intrinsic value of koalas. This demonstrates the complexity that social demographic factors can contribute to conservation initiatives. The ignorance of residents to the impacts that their dogs may cause to local koala populations, despite acknowledging the threat of dogs generally, was another challenge pointed out by the authors. This finding along with those previously mentioned highlight the importance of education in changing community attitudes about the conservation koalas.
Social research provides a platform for more informed management, giving managers and policy makers a better understanding of the attitudes and knowledge base of residents, as well as where to focus education to encourage community involvement.
Summarised by Cherie Chan
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