Reducing risky interactions: identifying barriers to the successful management of human-wildlife conflict in an urban parkland.
Managing activities that result in human-wildlife conflict is a challenging goal for modern scientists and managers. In recent years, the self-motivated feeding of wildlife by humans has garnered popularity but with consequent risks for the health and safety of both parties. This has resulted in calls for management in areas of high contact, for example, parklands. Traditional controls are typically utilised (i.e. signage, patrols), yet their success is varied, leading to a rise in research aiming to improve them. This research has primarily focused on language and design, with little attention paid to the role that audience type (i.e. international tourists vs. locals/residents) may play in their success. Proportions in audience type present can vary both between parks and spatially within a single park, however, controls are usually applied homogeneously with no consideration for how response may vary between these groups. Here, we performed a robust before-after study across two summers using a wild fallow deer population in a public park that are commonly fed by visitors as our model. We deployed controls, following best practice as outlined by the literature, and tested their overall effectiveness. We then identified key areas with differences in visitor type proportions and tested for variation in success between them. We found that the numbers of visitors feeding the deer significantly decreased overall after the introduction of controls, although interactions were not eliminated entirely. We discovered that the effectiveness of these controls varied with changes in visitor type, with the most positive effects occurring in areas with more international tourists and no significant effect occurring in areas dominated by resident visitors. Notably, of the food offerings remaining, the proportion of foods that could be perceived as 'nutritionally beneficial' increased in both sites, marking overall changes in the behaviours of even those visitors who refused to stop feeding. These findings highlight the importance of target audience research in human-wildlife conflict management. We recommend that authorities aiming to reduce these interactions perform systematic surveys to identify the audience type present and cater controls accordingly to maximise their success.