Attitudes toward vertebrate scavengers in South Africa’s North-West and Gauteng provinces

  • Niall Walkden

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

Scavengers are a keystone species in nearly every major ecosystem. Vertebrate scavengers in South Africa are crucial to ecosystem stability but some face imminent threat of extinction from anthropogenic sources. Research suggests that attitudes toward scavengers are poor, often resulting in persecution and lethal control. However, there is limited empirical evidence describing attitudes towards scavengers in South Africa and presently research fails to adequately address the social and cultural factors that may influence people’s perception of scavengers.

This thesis aimed to understand the attitudes towards scavengers and the factors influential in their formation, using four focal species: brown hyena Parahyaena brunnea, black-backed jackal Canis mesomelas, Cape vulture Gyps copotheres and white-backed vulture Gyps africanus. Utilising an interdisciplinary mixed methods approach, its objectives were to assess attitudes in two provinces in South Africa towards scavengers and to investigate the influence of individual human characteristics, intrinsic animal attributes and knowledge on the perception of scavengers’ affect and utility.

The attitudes of residents of North-West and Gauteng provinces towards scavengers was generally positive but significantly less so compared to more predatory species. This implies that people may have an aversion to scavenging as a feeding strategy. Path analysis showed affect scores were driven primarily by participants’ engagement with nature and by their vicarious experience with animals. Utility was similarly driven by vicarious
experience as well as the socio-economic status of participants. Four central themes were identified as influencing people’s perception of scavengers: anthropomorphism of scavengers and scavengers’ association with death influenced affect, while benefits provided by scavengers and risks posed by them influenced utility. In addition, scavengers were a desirable sighting for tourists despite being one of the least valuable carnivore species. More experienced tourists showed less preference for big five species compared to scavengers, in addition to appreciating wider biodiversity.

Factors influencing attitude were varied and complex, highlighting the need for mitigation strategies to address a range of social, cultural and ecological drivers. Knowledge of scavengers and of nature were identified as key components of fostering positive attitudes towards scavengers and may offer insights to the perception of other maligned or unfamiliar species.

Considering these findings, education programmes must engage people by offering opportunities to take part in nature activities and by improving public knowledge of scavengers. Support must be given to vulnerable communities who may be at risk to encourage an increased awareness of conservation. These efforts are vital to limit the persecution of scavengers, ensuring people value them for the essential ecosystem services they provide

Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorAnja Rott (Supervisor) & Andrew Church (Supervisor)

Cite this

Attitudes toward vertebrate scavengers in South Africa’s North-West and Gauteng provinces
Walkden, N. (Author). 2019

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis