Context . Given the decline in amphibian populations worldwide, it is essential to build a better understanding of human behaviours that jeopardise their survival. Much of the literature regarding the social–psychological determinants of behaviours related to wildlife has focussed solely on general wildlife beliefs rather than specific attitudes towards a particular species.
Aims . The goal of this study was to assess how individuals’ behavioural intentions towards a rare and little-known species, the hellbender salamander (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), are influenced by their attitudes towards the animal and their more general beliefs about wildlife.
Methods . Questionnaires were distributed to landowners in Missouri (n = 1 065) and Indiana (n = 1 378) in counties where the hellbender is known to exist. A multinomial logit regression model was used to assess the relationship between basic wildlife beliefs, species-specific attitudes and behavioural intentions towards the hellbender.
Key results . The response rate was 36.6% in Missouri and 41.0% in Indiana. The more value individuals placed on non-hunting wildlife experiences, the less likely they were to say they would engage in a behaviour harmful to the animal (β = –0.47, P = 0.030). The more negative the attitudes towards the hellbender held by individuals, the less likely they were to say they would remove the hook (β = –0.55, P < 0.001), put the animal back (β = –0.77, P < 0.001), or call a resource professional (β = –0.33, P = 0.023). A comparison of the Akaike information criterion (AIC) scores and model log-likelihood values without (AIC = 2 858.36; LLV = –1 395.18) and with (AIC = 2 232.60; LLV = –1 077.30) the species-specific attitude measure showed that its inclusion improved the model.
Conclusions . Positive attitudes towards the hellbender and mutualistic wildlife beliefs were related to non-detrimental behavioural intentions. However, attitudes towards the animal were found to be a stronger and more consistent predictor of behavioural intentions than basic wildlife beliefs.
Implications . Efforts to conserve rare or little-known species should focus outreach strategies on developing positive attitudes towards these species, so as to achieve desired changes in behaviour.