How Superstitions and Myths Affect Animal Conservation
Caroline Ward had brought snakes back to camp with her, and the locals were not happy.
The Malagasy villagers who passed through the camp, located in Northwest Madagascar, cautioned Ward that she should kill the snakes before they killed her. (Never mind that the University of Leeds PhD student was studying the species, known locally as fandrefiala, for her conservation research.) Yet the reason for their fears wasn’t that the snakes were poisonous or aggressive—rather, it all had to do with the color of their tails. Because the fandrefiala has a tail the brick-red color of dried blood, the Malagasy believe that the snakes can transform themselves into spears, plummet out of trees and kill anything passing below them.
It was a connection that Ward’s PhD supervisor, Dr. George Holmes, had noticed in his field work all over the world: “magical” beliefs—a broad category that ranges from beliefs in mythical animals, to connections with animals’ fabled properties, to spiritualism and traditions—have an impact on the welfare of real-life animals and ecosystems.
Read the rest over at Atlas Obscura.