Public Release:  Relating animals to humans could help conservation projects

University of Kent

In a paper published by the journal Biodiversity Conservation, the researchers also suggest that anthropomorphism is overlooked as a powerful tool for promoting low-profile species that are either endangered or require urgent attention.

At present, anthropomorphism in conservation is limited to social, intelligent animals, such as chimpanzees, polar bears and dolphins. According to the research, this would imply that other species are not worthy of conservation because they are not like humans in the 'right' ways.

However, by making conservationists more aware of how people construct anthropomorphic meanings around species and how they engage with species and attribute value to their characteristics - e.g. people may attribute personhood or emotions to species that they play with, such as pets or even livestock - they can create conservation programmes which speak to people through their cultural expectations and emotional connections.

Co-author, Diogo Verissimo of the University of Kent's Durrell Institute of Conservation Ecology (DICE), said: 'Anthropomorphisation of species is a common way for people to relate to other species but as a conservation tool it is under-used and is not being utilised as a way of effectively promoting the relationships between people and nature through conservation programmes.

'Despite there being some limitations of using anthropomorphism, for example inappropriate expectations of animals' behaviour or species picking up negative social stereotypes by being human-like, there is a need for more research in marketing and social sciences that will lead to more effective used of anthropomorphism in conservation outreach.'

Lead author, Dr Meredith Root-Bernstein of the University of Oxford, said: 'Scientists have been wary of anthropomorphism for a long time, because it was seen as leading to unscientific hypotheses about animal behaviour. But as conservationists we can look at it as a kind of popular folk theory of the similarities between humans and all other species. These popular ways of relating to the natural world are powerful and we should try to understand and work with them.'

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'Anthropomorphized species as tools for conservation: utility beyond prosocial, intelligent and suffering species' (M. Root-Bernstein, L. Douglas, A. Smith, D. Veríssimo) is published in the 22nd volume, Issue 8 of 'Biodiversity Conservation' and can be viewed at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10531-013-0494-4#page-1

DICE is part of the University of Kent's School of Anthropology and Conservation.

For further information or interview requests with Diogo Verissimo from DICE, contact Katie Scoggins in the Press Office at the University of Kent
Tel: 01227 823100/823581
Email: K.Scoggins@kent.ac.uk

News releases can also be found at http://www.kent.ac.uk/news

University of Kent on Twitter: http://twitter.com/UniKent

Alternatively, contact the University of Oxford on +44 (0)1865 280534 or email press.office@admin.ox.ac.uk

Note to editors

The University of Kent - the UK's European University - was established at Canterbury in 1965. It has almost 20,000 students and operates campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome. It has long-standing partnerships with more than 100 major European universities and many others across the world, including institutions in Argentina, China, Japan, USA, Canada, Malaysia and Peru.

Kent is one of the few universities to be consistently rated by its own students as one of the best in the UK for the quality of its teaching and academic provision. This includes its 3rd place for overall student satisfaction in the 2012 National Student Survey. It was also ranked 20th in the 2014 Guardian University Guide, 28th in the Sunday Times University League Table 2013, and 28th in the Complete University Guide 2014.

In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, Kent placed 24th out of 159 participating institutions in the UK for its world-leading research, while 97% of its academic staff work in schools or centres where the research is rated as either internationally or nationally excellent.

It is worth £0.6 billion to the economy of the South East, with its students contributing £211 million to that total. The University also supports directly or indirectly almost 6,800 jobs in the South East (source: Viewforth Consulting, 2009-10).

In 2012, Kent launched a campaign to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

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