We explored the perceptions held by subsistence farmers (living in communal lands within the CAMPFIRE programme area in northwestern Zimbabwe) towards the African lion (Panthera leo) and related conservation interventions undertaken by management authorities. Conceptually guided by the cognitive hierarchy, we used a semi-structured, face-to-face interview format to collect data across three different farming communities bordering Hwange and Zambezi National Parks. Ordinal regression models were used to analyse the data. Our results illustrate that farmers' perceptions towards lions were strongly negative and appeared to be associated with the geographic location in which the farmer lived, as well as the farmer's ethnic group. We also found that perceptions towards lions were not associated with specific livestock losses or to the potential benefits farmers received from wildlife conservation, e.g. school classroom blocks or road improvements. Instead, we suggest that fear of lions and perceived risk to livestock or human wellbeing may play a stronger role in shaping farmers' perceptions compared to actual livestock losses. Moreover, we suggest that sharing information across farmer social networks within a community area, along with the potential for media attention over sensational events, may also influence perceptions towards lions. Our results contribute a baseline dataset for future applied research in this area, and provide insight into developing locally-meaningful conservation interventions, including the type of information to be shared, channels for communication, and the benefits derived from participating in wildlife conservation.
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