How attitudes to wolfs and bears change

Submitted by editor on 5 May 2015.

Many countries have put increased focus on the conservation of large carnivore species, leading to an increase in the populations of these species. While this is positive in terms of conservation this has led to a number of social conflicts, especially with respect to increasing bear and wolf populations.

Sweden is a divided country when it comes to attitude towards large carnivores and there are large geographical variations with respect to attitudes towards both bear and wolf. People that live in the Swedish carnivore area are less positive towards animals as such, and want fewer animals in the country than people living in other areas of Sweden.

Our article "Direct experience and attitude change towards bears and wolves", examines why and how these conflicts arise by analysing the role of direct experience of bear or wolf in relation to public attitude change. Direct experience is known to be able to change attitudes as it in essence gives the individual a new perspective. Seeing a bear or wolf in the wild affects people and their attitudes towards these animals, which in turn might explain why popular attitudes tend to change as population sizes increase. 

Direct experience with large carnivores is inherently subjective: Hearing a wolf howl or seeing a bear in the wild means different things for different people, and this makes the overall effects of population increase hard to predict without empirical data. Using our survey data collected from the Swedish public we observed that direct experience with bear and wolf correlated with less positive attitudes towards bear and wolf, and with favouring more restrictive policy goals for these species.

This lead us to the conclusion that direct experience is a likely link between population size and attitudes and that it might partially explain how and why people in rural areas tend to be less positive towards bears and wolves.

Our project: Sustainable rural development - for or by the people? Is a FORMAS funded project that focus on the use of natural resources, rural-urban relations, and collaborative processes. The current article contribute to these goals by examining the attitudinal differences between rural and urban areas with respect to bears and wolves, and how these differences might affect rural development in Sweden in the future.

The paper is part of the Special issue in May, on Management of large carnivores in Sweden. As always in wildlife Biology, the paper is free to read online.

Max Eriksson