The Aye-aye (the most controversial primate on earth and subject of our study).
Photo credit: André Binotto.

Read the article here.

Some animal species are seen as problematic by people living next to them. In many cases, social science can help to understand the underlying conflict. We studied local perceptions of the Aye-aye, a nocturnal primate species from Madagascar. We collected literature data on these perceptions and conducted 83 semi-structured interviews with community members from eleven villages.

Our review of the literature found that the Aye-aye is usually perceived negatively, and that many people fear it. To prevent expected bad luck, people often kill Aye-ayes when they see them next to their villages. This was reported in the literature in most cases. In contrast to our literature review, in our interviews we found many people with a positive (18%) or neutral (36%) attitude towards the Aye-aye. Less than half of the respondents (47%) confirmed our negative expectation from the literature review. These negative respondents reported that seeing an Aye-aye means bad luck or people will die. Some people also told us that they would have to leave their village and build a new one, if an Aye-aye comes to their homes. People from the same village usually told the same story, but these stories were different across the villages.

Positive attitudes were linked to observable behaviors like the Aye-aye feeding on pest insects, whereas negative perceptions could not be explained by the ecology of the animal. Our study is the first to describe positive attitudes towards this animal and offers new ideas to protect the species. The study region could become a stronghold for Aye-aye conservation. In conclusion, we encourage researchers to look into detail and not to expect to find everywhere the same attitudes as are reported in the existing literature.