Influence of Aesthetic Appreciation of Wildlife Species on Attitudes towards Their Conservation in Kenyan Agropastoralist Communities
The influence of human aesthetic appreciation of animal species on public attitudes towards their conservation and related decision-making has been studied in industrialized countries but remains underexplored in developing countries. Working in three agropastoralist communities around Amboseli National Park, southern Kenya, we investigated the relative strength of human aesthetic appreciation on local attitudes towards the conservation of wildlife species. Using semi-structured interviewing and free listing (n = 191) as part of a mixed methods approach, we first characterized local aesthetic judgments of wildlife species. With a Generalized Linear Mixed Models (GLMM) approach, we then determined the influence of perceiving four species as beautiful on local support for their protection (“rescuing them”), and of perceiving four other species as ugly on support for their removal from the area, while controlling for informant personal and household socioeconomic attributes. Perceiving giraffe, gazelles and eland as beautiful is the strongest variable explaining support for rescuing them. Ugliness is the strongest variable influencing support for the removal of buffalo, hyena, and elephant (but not lion). Both our qualitative and quantitative results suggest that perceptions of ugly species could become more positive through direct exposure to those species. We propose that protected areas in developing countries facilitate visitation by local residents to increase their familiarity with species they rarely see or most frequently see in conflict with human interests. Since valuing a species for its beauty requires seeing it, protected areas in developing countries should connect the people who live around them with the animals they protect. Our results also show that aesthetic appreciation of biodiversity is not restricted to the industrialized world.