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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Owls, otters, octopuses, and us : examining human-wildlife relationships, attitudes, and perceptions Callahan, Megan Marie


Human and non-human animals have had a rich and complicated relationship throughout history, with each having a profound influence on the survival and development of the other. Increasing population and environmental pressures facing both groups have altered these relationships considerably, and have inspired scholars across fields to look more closely at the nature and defining factors of human-animal relations. This dissertation seeks to examine more fully the relationship between humans and animals, specifically wildlife, in order to characterize more deeply the relationships and experiences of humans and animals, the ways in which animals are being perceived by human communities, and the changing state of these perceptions in the current period. The thesis itself comprises four different studies examining elements of this human-wildlife interface. The first study looks at existing literatures on human-wildlife relationships and I identify emerging trends, including determinations of “wild,” perceptions of wildlife, and dimensions of relationality, in addition to exploring the advantages and disadvantages of multi-disciplinary work. The second study explores a case study of animals residing at an aquarium to consider temporally enduring human-wildlife relationships. I show the need for a spectrum of analysis to evaluate animals as opposed to simple terms of wild or tame. This spectrum more closely approximates the wide variety of living animals and also addresses the labor of wilding and de-wildling animals that is necessary in an aquarium setting. The third study examines perceptions people hold towards a wide range of wildlife species. I show how people ascribe many different cognitive and emotive traits and capabilities onto species, which is itself dependent upon taxa. Counter to expectation, cognitive traits are ascribed more than emotive traits. The fourth study experiments with an educational card game featuring animals and their host ecosystems. I show that by using this mode of engagement, perceptions of wildlife can be changed and subsequent behaviors linked to those perceptions may also change. Combined, these chapters seek to understand and categorize the various ways in which humans and wildlife relate to one another with the hope of ultimately identifying strategies to facilitate the survival and success of both.

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