The general public prefers to support conservation projects that focus on a few, easily “loveable” species; consequently most of biodiversity is neglected. It is essential to redress such bias and to educate children about the value of a wide diversity of organisms, including those labeled by social bias as less appealing. Because snakes are among the most disliked animals, they are suitable candidates for such endeavor. We evaluated the impact of a single field trip on the attitudes of more than 500 schoolchildren. The participants were involved in snake catching and were allowed to manipulate nonvenomous snakes. The organizers limited their intervention to providing natural history information and carefully avoided saying that snakes should be protected. We used pre- and post-field trip questionnaires to gauge the feelings of the children. Although pre-surveys suggested that many schoolchildren like snakes a priori, their attitudes improved following field experience: almost all children declared then that they liked snakes and expressed a strong willingness to protect them. Such change was associated with an increase of the frequency in the responses of the terms linked with affectivity (e.g., “snakes are cute”…). Snake handling was the favorite activity, and physical contact with animals appears to be a crucial element to improve schoolchildren's attitude for an unpopular organism. Our results support the promotion of field trips that include physical contact with wildlife over the current trend in the educational systems that promote virtual approaches.
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Vol. 46 • No. 3