Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

William E. Hammitt

Committee Members

Boyd L. Dearden, Gordon M. Burghardt, Richard J. Strange, John C. New


Wildlife viewing has become a popular recreational pursuit in the United States. However, little has been documented about visitor perceptions of wildlife at specific locations. An ideal site for conducting such a study was the Cades Cove region of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Wildlife were abundant and often visible in Cades Cove, resulting in many positive human-wildlife interactions.

A total of 400 visitors were interviewed in their vehicles at the end of an 18 km one-way road through the Cove. Sampling was conducted during July and August of 1983. Participants were asked to take a 10-page questionnaire home to be completed at a more convenient time. The mail return rate for the completed questionnaire was 85%.

The opportunity to view wildlife was a very important factor in visitation of Cades Cove; 92.3% of the respondents noted wildlife viewing as a reason for their trip to Cades Cove. More than half (58.1%) left their vehicles specifically to observe wildlife, and 56.1% also photographed them.

At least 38 species of wildlife were observed by visitors, the most common being white-tailed deer (91.0%). Other commonly reported animals included crows (70.8%), groundhogs (51.5%), black bears (29.3%), gray squirrels (28.8%), wild turkeys (19.3%) and "other birds" (28.8%). Animals commonly seen outside of the Park or not immediately perceived as wildlife (e.g. crows, squirrels, songbirds) were often not reported until visitors were shown a list of wildlife.

Rankings of visitor preferences and expectations for viewing wildlife, and actual observations of wildlife were all correlated with each other (range of tau = .63 - .75). Participants who were interviewed in their cars expected to see white-tailed deer more than other species, but stated a preference for bears. The most preferred animals reported by questionnaire respondents were deer, bears, turkeys, eagles, and raccoons, respectively. The least popular animals included snakes, bats, and lizards. Preferred groups of animals were often aesthetic or important culturally and historically. Commonly feared, and domestic animals were least preferred.

Analysis of attitudes toward specific management issues demonstrated that: (1) most people would not object to markers on deer, particularly if the reason for the markers' existence was explained by the NPS and/or the color of the markers blended with the pelage color; (2) most people supported reintroduction of some animals (e.g. elk, river otters, undomesticated bison, and peregrine falcons), while being less enthusiastic toward re-establishment of wolves and mountain lions; (3) although exotic species such as wild hogs and coyotes were not preferred animals for viewing, they were not as universally rejected by the public as the Park Service might prefer; and (4) more people supported the present NPS management of overpopulated deer (i. e. transport out of the Park for populating other areas for eventual hunting) than any other alternative. Additional analysis demonstrated that attitudes were not highly influenced by current NPS wildlife information, that a wildlife brochure should be developed specifically for Cades Cove, and that all information sources should try to improve attitudes toward wildlife and wildlife management as well as provide knowledge.

In general, visitors were not very knowledgeable in any of six areas of wildlife and wildlife management (range = 44.6% - 58.2% correct answers). The most influential variables associated with knowledge were time of day when viewing took place and educational background. Visitor age, hunting orientation, and type of area where the respondent grew up were not related to any knowledge index. Reading the park wildlife brochure also appeared ineffective in significantly increasing knowledge for the items investigated. Knowledge was, at best, weakly correlated with attitudes toward wildlife and wildlife management.

Existing data on the wildlife resource in Cades Cove were integrated with information generated by this study about visitor preferences and needs for wildlife in order to develop wildlife viewing programs. The major questions of visitors (e.g. when and where to see different species) were answered using results of past research in Cades Cove on such animals as bear, deer, raccoon, groundhog, and skunk. Numerous alternatives for providing wildlife viewing opportunites were also outlined from integrating results of this survey with a review of the literature on management and interpretation of wildlife. The most notable recommendations for Cades Cove included providing more wildlife habitat along streams and fences, subdividing some fields, developing two short wildlife loop trails and three quiet walkways, adding a few paved pulloffs in key wildlife viewing areas to avoid traffic jams, and increasing emphasis on wildlife in the interpretation of Cades Cove.

A theoretical model was proposed to explain how various factors may be influencing how people think and act toward wildlife. While this survey was not designed to test the model, the theoretical framework may be useful in understanding some of the results and providing guidance for future research.

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