Knowledge of returning wildlife species and willingness to participate in citizen science projects among wildlife park visitors in Germany.
Successful conservation efforts have led to recent increases of large mammals such as European bison Bison bonasus, moose Alces alces and grey wolf Canis lupus and their return to former habitats in central Europe. While embraced by some, the recovery of these species is a controversial topic and holds potential for human-wildlife conflicts. Involving the public has been suggested to be an effective method for monitoring wildlife and mitigating associated conflicts. To assess two interrelated prerequisites for engaging people in Citizen Science (CS)-knowledge of returning species and respondents' readiness to participate in CS activities for monitoring and managing these species-we conducted a survey (questionnaire) in two wildlife parks located in different states of Germany. Based on 472 complete questionnaires, we developed generalized linear models to understand how sociodemographic variables and exposure to the species affected visitors' knowledge of each species, and to investigate if sociodemographic variables and knowledge influenced the likelihood of visitors to participate in CS activities. Almost all visitors were aware of the returning wolf population, while knowledge and awareness about bison and moose were significantly lower. Knowledge of the two herbivores differed geographically (higher knowledge of moose in the north-eastern state), possibly indicating a positive association between exposure to the species and knowledge. However, models generally performed poorly in predicting knowledge about wildlife, suggesting that such specific knowledge is insufficiently explained by sociodemographic variables. Our model, which explained stated willingness in CS indicated that younger participants and those with higher knowledge scores in the survey were more willing to engage in CS activities. Overall, our analyses highlight how exposure to large mammals, knowledge about wildlife and human demographics are interrelated-insights that are helpful for effectively recruiting citizen scientists for wildlife conservation.