By Laura L. Griffin, Amy Haigh, Kimberly Conteddu, Maverick Andaloc, Paul McDonnell, and Simone Ciuti.
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The self-motivated feeding of wild animals by humans is a rising source of human-wildlife conflict, especially in popular parklands. The associated health and safety concerns have led to these interactions often being banned, yet this rarely stops them from occurring altogether. Now, researchers are trying to improve the management tools being used to reduce these interactions by identifying what is limiting their success.
We performed our study in Phoenix Park, Dublin, where the local fallow deer are commonly fed by park visitors, despite it being prohibited. We introduced new signage, gave out posters and infographics to local businesses, and applied ranger patrols. Normally these tools are applied across parks as a whole, without considering whether the types of visitors present in different parts of the site will be affected differently. In Phoenix Park, we know that one side of the Park (where the female deer reside) receives resident visitors almost exclusively, whereas on the other side (where the male deer reside) about 2/5 visitors are international tourists. We decided to test whether the success of these popular, traditional tools varied between these two areas and their associated audiences.
We collected information on the number of people feeding in 2018, before the release of our management tools, and then again in 2019 after their release. We found that the amount of feeding interactions dropped significantly in the male deer area, where there were comparably more international tourists, but there was no change in the female area. Both areas showed a slight shift in the types of food being offered to the deer, with visitors who kept feeding offering more foods like fruit and vegetables rather than crisps and chocolates. This indicates that these resident visitors noticed the signs, but refused to stop feeding altogether.
From these findings, we would recommend that managers aiming to reduce feeding interactions apply these tools in areas with comparatively more international tourists. However, more consideration needs to be taken on how to manage this in local residents. As the literature indicates that a sense of ownership of an area and habitual behaviours caused by repeat visits may prevent compliance with park rules, we suggest exploring the use of community champions, local school talks, and local media campaigns to try and make feeding less socially acceptable in the area, and encourage future research into the associated effects.