Change in American's attitudes towards wild animals

George, K. A., Slagle, K. M., Wilson, R. S., Moeller, S. J., & Bruskotter, J. T. (2016). Changes in attitudes toward animals in the United States from 1978 to 2014. Biological Conservation, 201, 237-242.

This study, conducted in 2014, used an online questionnaire to evaluate the attitude of 1287 Americans towards 26 different animal species.  The results were then compared to those of a similar study conducted in 1978.  Attitudes remain very similar, however wild animals previously seen as harmful or unattractive (e.g. wolves, coyotes, bats, sharks and vultures) seem to have become more popular with time.

The aim of this study was to investigate if American attitudes to domestic and wild animals are changing to reflect the apparent increase in concern for animal welfare.  A group of 1287 people completed online questionnaires in 2014.  They were asked to rate their feelings towards different animals on a scale from 1-7, with 7 representing the strongest feeling of dislike. All were first asked about wolves, coyotes and cougars, and were then asked about 11 other species which were randomly selected from a group of 23.  The results were compared with those from a similar study conducted in 1978 which used paper questionnaires.

Attitudes in 2014 were very similar to those in 1978.  In particular, positive attitudes to domestic pets remained the same.  However, feelings to several wild animals generally regarded as unattractive or dangerous (bats, sharks, vultures, wolves coyotes and rats) have become more positive. 

Public concern for animal welfare is increasing

Public concern for animal welfare is increasing in the UK, the USA and many other countries.  Examples include the public reaction to the killing of 'Cecil the lion,' the reaction to the documentary ‘Blackfish’, and the increasing public desire to purchase ethically-sourced animal produce. The people questioned in 1978 had a much less favourable attitude towards animals which were considered as unattractive or harmful towards humans. Cockroaches, mosquitos and rats were unpopular, as were predatory species such as wolves and coyotes.  In contrast, domestic and more attractive species were held in a higher favour, such as dogs, swans and horses. Attitudes towards domestic animals were generally popular from both groups, with attitudes towards wild animals seeming to have improved.

This change in attitude may represent an increase in concern for the welfare of wild animals and more support for policies that concern their protection. The continued positive attitudes towards domestic animals is also likely to maintain the concern for their welfare.

World Animal Protection’s view

We believe this study provides an interesting insight into attitudes of American people towards animals.  It is encouraging that attitudes towards less popular wildlife seems to be improving.  World Animal Protection believes that it is critical to understand the public’s attitudes towards animals and their welfare and the factors which influence this.