To tell a different story: unexpected diversity in local attitudes towards endangered aye-ayes Daubentonia madagascariensis offers new opportunities for conservation.
1. Human-wildlife interactions are usually centred on the conflict between local populations and species that are perceived as problematic. To better understand the human dimension, social science approaches are increasingly incorporated to delimit opportunities for coexistence and species conservation. 2. Here we explore local attitudes and beliefs about one of these 'problematic' species, the Endangered Aye-aye Daubentonia madagascariensis, the largest nocturnal primate on earth. We conducted a literature review on published beliefs and narratives about the Aye-aye followed by 83 semi-structured interviews in 11 villages in northeastern Madagascar. 3. The Aye-aye is generally perceived as a bad omen throughout its range. In many places it has to be killed on sight, while in others it is forbidden to be killed. We did not find any positive attitudes towards this species in the literature. However, this was not reflected by our interviews: although 47.0% of respondents held a negative attitude, more than half had a neutral or even positive attitude towards the Aye-aye (36.1 and 18.1% respectively). Positive attitudes were linked to perceived pest control services on major cash crops. 4. Negative attitudes are mostly related to the perception that when an Aye-aye comes to a village, catastrophic things (e.g. deaths of community members) will happen, or that it destroys a village. These major narratives were mostly consistent within villages (79.5 ± 20.7% SD of respondents; range 50-100%) but considerably differed between villages. Negative attitudes towards the Aye-aye were solely based on vague and generic narratives that are not reflected by its (true) ecology. Positive and neutral attitudes instead were related to observable behaviours benefitting people (i.e. pest control services) or curiosity about the species. This case study illustrates how even firm narratives can vary locally offering valuable starting points for targeted conservation or education programs. We therefore identified the Makira region of northeastern Madagascar as a potential stronghold for Aye-aye conservation if specific actions highlighting its beneficial value could be initiated. In general, conservation practitioners should feel encouraged to look beyond the often told stories about 'their' target species and listen to local voices more often.