Cute, Creepy, or Crispy—How Values, Attitudes, and Norms Shape Human Behavior Toward Bats

Tigga Kingston

Abstract Bat populations around the world are declining as a consequence of human activities. Bat conservation thus hinges on changing human behavior, but to do so, we must understand the origins and drivers of the behavior. As natural scientists, most bat biologists lack the knowledge and training to implement rigorous studies of the human dimensions of bat conservation, yet such studies are needed to guide successful intervention. As we travel through the Anthropocene, it is critical that bat conservation biologists adopt an interdisciplinary approach and work with researchers from the social sciences who hold these skills and knowledge. To facilitate conversation and collaboration with conservation social scientists, I review the key theoretical and empirical perspectives on human behavior toward wildlife and report on studies of bats in these contexts wherever possible. I also recommend ways in which bat biologists can use some of this knowledge to enhance less structured or opportunistic outreach efforts encountered during our research activities.


Human activities have wrought such intensive and extensive environmental changes to our planet that we now witness the dawn of the Anthropocene—the human epoch. The Anthropocene is not being kind to bats; populations are declining around the world (Voigt and Kingston 2016) in response to land-use change and management practices (Law et al. 2015; Meyer et al. 2015; Korine et al. 2015; Williams-Guillén et al. 2016), urbanization and intensification (Altringham and Kerth 2015; Arnett et al. 2015; Jung and Threlfall 2015; Rowse et al. 2016), disturbance and loss of roosts (Furey and Racey 2015; Law et al. 2015; Voigt et al. 2016), and direct exploitation for bushmeat and medicine (Mildenstein et al. 2016). As human populations grow and encroach on remaining bat habitat, human–bat interactions are increasing, often with negative consequences for both parties through disease relationships (Schneeberger and Voigt 2016), occupation of human dwellings (Voigt et al. 2016), and conflict over fruit crops (Abdul Aziz et al. 2015).

The Anthropocene is named for us, and solutions to our environmental problems rest with us, as Mascia et al. (2003) so concisely put it: “Biodiversity conservation is a human endeavor: initiated by humans, designed by humans, and intended to modify human behavior”—(Mascia et al. 2003, p. 650). Bat conservation is no different from any other aspect of biodiversity conservation in this regard; attempts to reduce the many threats to bats ultimately hinge on changing peoples' behavior (Stern 2000; Ehrlich and Kennedy 2005; Schultz 2011; St John et al. 2013; Veríssimo 2013; Clayton and Myers 2015). “People” may range from bat hunters in rural villages to government officials or politicians in administrative centers, but as stakeholders in the issues surrounding bats, they must be motivated to change their actions and decisions (Menon and Lavigne 2006). How do we determine the stakeholders involved and how do we then change people's minds and behavior? The scientific training of most bat biologists leaves us illequipped both practically (St John et al. 2010, 2014) and philosophically (Moon and Blackman 2014) and often extraordinarily naïve, when it comes to dealing with people. Surely, if we share our knowledge and “educate” people, they will change their ways. Hunters in Ghana and Indonesia will be so impressed by the importance of bats as pollinators of their favorite fruit, or so fearful of disease risk, that they will stop hunting them. US politicians will mandate turbine cut-in speeds that reduce bat fatalities once they appreciate the critical role that bats play in the suppression of agricultural insect pests. Home owners will learn to live with their seasonal “attic bats” because they are keeping down the summer mosquito population.

Unfortunately, providing people with environmental knowledge alone is rarely enough to promote conservation behavior, and there is an enormous body of research from the social sciences, primarily from social psychology (St John et al. 2010; Teel et al. 2015), addressing the theoretical constructs behind behavior change. These constructs have provided frameworks for empirical assessments of attitudes and behaviors toward the environment and wildlife, and new disciplines such as human dimensions of wildlife (Manfredo 2008; Decker et al. 2012) and conservation psychology (Clayton and Myers 2015) have arisen in recent years, as a growing numbers of social scientists specialize in environmental or biodiversity conservation. Indeed, the Society for Conservation Biology established a Social Science Working Group in 2003 (, and a recent report from the Group provides an excellent introduction to the conservation social sciences (Bennett and Roth 2015).

I advocate that if we are to be effective in tackling the human dimensions of bat conservation, we need to work collaboratively with scientists who understand and study people in the same depth that we do our bats! But communication across disciplines requires some measure of reciprocal understanding of the theory and practice of each discipline. The goal of this chapter is to facilitate conversation and collaboration with conservation social scientists. As is clear from Bennet and Roth (2015), there are many fields within the broad realm of conservation social science, but my aim is to introduce bat biologists to the core theoretical constructs behind behavior as applied to conservation and to report on empirical studies of human–bat relationships in these frameworks. Arguably, this task should have been left to a social scientist, but I hope that a natural scientist's perspective of the field may help make it accessible to my fellow bat biologists, who share my training, and avoid bias toward particular world views prevailing within the field. Nonetheless, the basic premise of the chapter is as follows:

very soon it will be unforgiveable to carry out second-rate social science in conservation, just as now it is unacceptable to use shoddy methods to monitor animal abundance (St John et al. 2013, pp. 357–358)

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