The lion may be "king of the forest," but tigers are bigger, smarter, deadlier and can be found across an impressive range that includes India, Southeast Asia and Russia. And like lions, tiger populations are dwindling.
New research by Boise State's Neil Carter published in the journal Biological Conservation titled "Gendered perceptions of tigers in Chitwan National Park, Nepal," looks at how human perceptions of tigers affect how willing human communities are to coexist with these large predators, and particularly at how women's attitudes toward tigers differ from men's.
"Recently the field of wildlife conservation has focused on human dimensions, but has been lagging other disciplines in terms of understanding gendered differences in attitudes and behaviors," he said. "We know that women and men behave differently, and behaviors have conservation relevance. We wanted to find out what is driving that difference to help us understand ways to develop better conservation interventions."
The research was motivated by three basic challenges:
1. Because they spend more time in the forest gathering resources, women are at a greater risk then men of a tiger encounter. 2. Women tend to have more fears in general and more fear of wildlife in particular. 3. Compared to men, women tend to have less information and knowledge about conservation and wildlife.
Carter and his co-author Teri Allendorf of University of Wisconsin-Madison identified a number of ways that men and women view tigers differently and how these differences might affect tiger populations in Nepal. Identifying ways to address these challenges is vital because women have so much influence inside and outside of their families.
"Women have a lot of influence on a household as well as on each other," Carter said, noting their traditional role as nurturers as well as their more social natures. "They control what information their children access and this strongly impacts human behavior."
While fear helps shape many women's attitudes toward tigers, Carter notes that the bigger challenge is in helping women overcome a lack of knowledge about the importance of tigers in the larger ecosystem and culture. Women surveyed were less likely than men to believe that their village would benefit from tourism if there were tigers in the forest, that tigers contributed to a healthy forest or that they are an important part of their culture.
In Nepal, many women receive minimal education and often know very little about the long-term effects of conservation efforts.
Carter and Allendorf hypothesized that if women had as much access to information about tigers and protected areas as men they would develop a more positive attitude and greater tolerance toward them. This could include formal education as well as interactions with protected area staff. Even more importantly, given women's influence in Nepalese social life, outreach programs targeted toward women could affect whole communities as well.
"Developing an awareness program targeted at women could lead to a generation growing up that better understands the importance of tigers to their culture, economy, and ecosystem and therefore is more likely to support tiger conservation," Carter said.
Carter also noted that understanding differences in gender perceptions of wildlife can have far-reaching effects, including helping to shape attitudes in Idaho and other western states about grizzlies, wolves and other large predators.
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