Public Perception of Mammals and Mammal Conservation in Fairfax County, Virginia




Wong, Dorothy L.

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A social survey was conducted to investigate public perception of mammals and mammal conservation issues in Fairfax County, VA, including local level of knowledge of mammals; perception of wildlife issues and participation in environmental activities; and support of mammal conservation issues, education, and policies. In general, local knowledge was low in some aspects. However, the majority of subjects thought that many urban wildlife issues were local concerns and threats, partook in several environmental actions, and strongly supported mammal environmental issues, education, and laws. The frequencies and percentages of demographic groups were found. Demographic groups included residency, age, gender, occupation, education level, household annual income, environmental group membership, and formal environmental education. Pearson’s chi-square test, one-way ANOVA, regression, or independent groups t-test were used to investigate variables between demographic groups. Local level of knowledge varied, depending on the type of knowledge tested. No one (0%) knew the correct number of local mammal species in the area; however, most people (62%) were able to correctly identify four mammal species from photographs. Many subjects knew that certain mammal species occurred locally, but, they also thought other mammals inhabited the area when they did not. Occupation influenced both the mammal identification and knowledge of wildlife mammal species indices. Residency, gender, and age also affected the knowledge of wildlife mammal species index. Occupation played a role in willingness to plant a wildlife garden. Participation in ecological activities (such as recycling; buying organic and eco-friendly products; using energy saving light bulbs and devices; and watching nature television programs) appeared to be high, with people doing many of the activities ‘occasionally’ to ‘frequently’. In the participation in ecological activities index, age, occupation, income, formal ecological education, and environmental group membership were factors in participation. In the urban wildlife concern index, just 35.1% of survey participants thought that all six listed urban wildlife issues (mammal induced flooding; mammals attacking people; mammal species attacking pets; wildlife mammal property damage; vehicle collisions caused by mammal species; and mammal diseases) were local concerns. Females generally considered more issues to be concerns than did men. For environmental threat perception, urban development (72.7%) and habitat degradation (61.3%) were seen as the most serious threats. In the environmental threat perception index, the listed environmental issues were overall seen as ‘moderate’ threats to local mammals. Women thought that the listed environmental issues were generally greater threats than men did. Most people considered mammal conservation ‘important’ (35.3%) or ‘very important’ (59.3%), especially older subjects and people with a higher level of education education. Nearly every participant (95%) seemed to support more mammal conservation in schools, though slightly more women backed it than men. Most people viewed mammal conservation laws as ‘very important’ (42.2%) or ‘important’ (51%) but women (47.4%) and members of environmental groups (60%) tended to think that laws were slightly more important than men (37.5%) and non-members did (38.2%), respectively. Subjects were nearly evenly split on how effective they thought the current mammal conservation laws were, such as the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. Slightly more people believed these laws were ‘ineffective’ (32.6%) or ‘very ineffective’ (9.6%) than ‘effective’ (26.7%) or ‘very effective’ (3%). Only household annual income influenced perception of effectiveness of the laws. However, most people (73.4%) said they supported both laws. Older subjects and people with more education were more likely to support them than younger individuals and subjects with less education. Occupation and education level also had an effect. Most people also ‘agreed’ (39.4%) or ‘strongly agreed’ (30.8%) with the creation of new mammal conservation laws. Ecological group membership influenced support of the creation of new legislation. Lastly, the majority of people (67.6%), especially those with formal environmental education (81.8%), stated that if a politician or political party backed mammal conservation legislation, people would view that politician or political party more favorably. People with more formal environmental education perceived politicians who supported conservation legislation more favorably than subjects without formal ecological education.



Urban wildlife, Fairfax County, Public perception, Mammals, Conservation