How can we tackle interruptions to human-wildlife feeding management? Adding media campaigns to the wildlife manager's toolbox.
In recent years, wildlife managers have been seeking ways to reduce the occurrence of independent, recreational human-wildlife feeding interactions, which continue to gain global popularity and may have negative effects for the humans and wildlife involved. Current popular methods, such as signage and posters, have yielded mixed results and their application is often interrupted, although the effects of these interruptions on feeding levels are currently unknown. This has led to calls to both identify a management option that can be applied successfully from a distance and to determine whether this action may assist in recovering long-term programmes from the potential effects of interruptions. Marketing and media tools have been shown to successfully change human behaviours in conservation campaigns, flagging them as a potential tool that could be applied to human-wildlife feeding management. Here, we performed a 4-year study using a wild fallow deer population in a popular urban green space as our model system. We tracked changes in human feeding behaviours across four different management stages. These included premanagement (stage 1), during traditional management (i.e. 'don't feed the deer' signage, stage 2), mid-interruption (i.e. COVID-19 pandemic, stage 3) and during the application of a structured media campaign (stage 4). We found that feeding by visitors decreased during traditional management (stage 2), but rapidly returned to premanagement levels during the interruption (stage 3) despite traditional controls still being in place. However, we discovered that feeding dropped significantly after the release of a media campaign (stage 4), despite the audience and conditions being unchanged. We also identified which imagery and educational messages resonated with viewers; information that can be applied to future campaigns in other locations. We, therefore, recommend that wildlife managers both investigate and be prepared for the negative effects that interruptions of any type (e.g. the recent COVID-19 pandemic, other interruptions to funding) may have on ongoing management campaigns of this ilk. We recommend that media campaigns be explored as a potential tool to reduce the occurrence of the unregulated feeding of wildlife by humans in these sites, thereby promoting better human-wildlife coexistence.