Children, Perception, and the Future of Conservation

Researchers explore the conservation values of children in North Carolina and in the Bahamas to better understand priorities for future generations.

Our views of the world are shaped by our surroundings and what we learn throughout childhood. How and to what extent children become acquainted with the natural world are important considerations for the future of conservation.

A recent study titled “Wildlife species preferences differ among children in continental and island locations” published in Environmental Conservation concluded that differences between childrens’ experience of the natural world on mainlands versus islands influences their perspectives on native wildlife. The study’s findings highlight the need for a closer look at environmental education.

The study focused on perspectives of children in North Carolina and the island of Andros in the Bahamas. The researchers conducted the study in order to understand how location might influence the conservation priorities and considerations children have for the world around them. Researchers found some views that raise conservation concerns, explains Hannah Shapiro, the lead author of the study:

Children on Andros showed a preference for feral cats, dogs and pigs, which are invasive species that can be more damaging in an island environment…That’s a concern for future wildlife-conservation efforts.


The Endangered Allen Cay Iguana is native to the Bahamas. Credit: Aurora Alifano

Preferential selection of non-native species is concerning for the future of conservation, but students living on Andros also voiced appreciation for a wider variety of taxa including birds, fish, and insects. Students raised on the mainland almost exclusively listed mammals such as deer, bears, wolves, and rabbits. The selection of mammalian megafauna by students in North Carolina suggests that they too prefer species that they are more likely to see, but select a narrow range of taxa. Researchers suggested that children on the islands selected a broader range of taxa due to the greater species richness and biodiversity they are exposed to routinely.

island conservation bahamas butterful

Butterfly on Allen Cay Island, Bahamas. Credit: Island Conservation

Researchers note that the students on Andros had more extensive environmental education with almost 1/3 of the students surveyed on Andros take part in Discovery Club, an environmental program that teaches students about key environmental issues. However, Discovery Club had not been teaching children about the impacts invasive species have on the native animals. Kathryn Stevenson, co-author on the study explained:

The Discovery Club curriculum deals specifically with declining species but it doesn’t focus heavily on invasive species. Discovery Club offers an ongoing way to build awareness of wildlife issues. Based on the findings, a recommendation would be to add a specific module on invasive species to help children learn about the impact on native wildlife.

Understanding how students value their surrounding environments is an important first step in educating them about the impacts of invasive species and other environmental concerns. What we learn and experience as children is carried with us through life; teaching students about conservation issues is a crucial consideration for a brighter future for all of our planet’s diverse species.

Featured photo: Brown Anole on Allen Cay, Bahamas. Credit: Island Conservation

About Emily Heber

Emily is a recent graduate from UC Santa Barbara with a BS in Zoology. As a student, she discovered that she had a passion for the conservation of endangered species and their ecosystems. Her background in informal education has allowed her the opportunity to share her passion for animals with others, something she seeks to continue doing while working with the communication team. In her spare time, Emily enjoys exploring the amazing hiking trails found in Santa Cruz and tries to SCUBA dive whenever possible. Emily is excited to join the Island Conservation team and to help share the amazing work that is being done here.

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