copyright Alex Berger

CONFLICTING INTERESTS? Exploring conservation and human-animal relationships

Conflicting Interests? exploring conservation and human-animal relationships was an event which took place on Saturday 2nd November 2013 at the Horniman Museum's Garden Pavilion. Organised the Royal Anthropological Institute's Education Outreach Programme in association with the Horniman Museum the event formed part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science 2013. The aim of the event was to explore how different cultural understandings and relationships with animals affect conservation practices. In addition, the event aimed to demonstrated the interconnections between the lives of people and animals in relation to conservationa and ecosystem management. Presentations of research around the world were given by anthropologists, conservationists, and biologists. Participants were able to learn about the often competing needs of wildlife and interrelated groups such as: local communities, subsistence farmers, hunter-gatherers, NGOs, eco-tourism companies and commerical enterprises. The presentations below given an indication of the breadth of topics covered at the event. Conflicting Interests was very well received with 90 attendees which included teachers, students, journalists and members of the general public. Conflicting Interests was organised by Nafisa Fera  and Susanne Hammacher (RAI) in collaboration wtih Robert Storrie and Tom Crowley from the Horniman Museum's Anthropology Department.

Wolf: a social and cultural creature  

Professor Garry Marvin (University of Roehampton)

As a social anthropologist working in the field of human-animal studies I am interested in how animals figure in human cultures – how they are imagined, represented, experienced and encountered. Animals have an existence/identity independent of humans – they have an anatomy, a physiology, ways of behaving and living etc. but once humans begin to think about them, experience them, interact with them, form relationships with them, they are drawn into human cultures/societies and they become cultural creatures. This is a condition from which it is impossible for the animal to escape, except by escaping from human attention altogether and being what they are rather than what humans believe them to be and force/impose them to become. How the wolf is imagined, experienced and culturally constructed is fundamental in how it is treated. The wolf was eradicated from much of North America and Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries but it is now re-emerging or being re-introduced. For many this is a return that is welcomed, for others it is feared and rejected. In this talk I will explore key cultural images of the wolf, how these led to campaigns of extermination and how an understanding of the wolf as a social and cultural creature is essential for conservation programmes related to their re-emergence.

copyright David HarperBarriers for conservation? Elephants, people and fenced landscapes in northern Kenya

Lauren Evans (PhD Candidate University of Cambridge)

Human-elephant conflict (HEC) is a complex and intractable problem in Africa: threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers. Electrified fences are increasingly being built along hard boundaries to prevent elephants moving from where they are tolerated onto agricultural land, where they are not.  Fences are often seen as a panacea by farmers, conservationists, wildlife managers and politicians.  They offer a technical, apolitical and win-win solution to HEC that protects both elephants and smallholders’ livelihoods by neatly compartmentalising a landscape into nature and society.  However many such fences have failed in their objectives as elephants adapt to break new fence features or due to a lack or collapse of institutional capacity for maintenance.  By aggressively demarcating a boundary, electrified fences inevitably create categories of inclusion and exclusion for people living by them.  This talk will draw on my study of a large electrified elephant fence in northern Kenya that dissects a mosaic of private, government and communal land, which was shaped by its pastoral history and recent colonial past.  Actors involved in the maintenance of the fence are diverse and include smallholders, pastoralists, conservationists, large-scale ranchers and elephants. Their interactions with the fence varied from planning it, to building, supporting, ignoring, undermining or breaking it.  I will explore the motivations of these actors to understand why fences vary in their ability to separate people from elephants.


Is cultural diversity being sacrificed for biodiversity? A hunter-gatherer point of view from Congo

Dr. Jerome Lewis (UCL)

Western trained conservationists practice a model of conservation that assumes people to be the problem. Certain animals are classed in terms of their scarcity - as rare and/or endangered species. According to this logic if these animals and their environment is protected from people then it will be fine. Policing protected areas then becomes the primary cost of conservation projects.  By contrast the Mbendjele Pygmy hunter-gatherers' economy is structured on the principle that nature will always be abundant if people share properly whatever they extract. But the capitalist extractive system now imposed on their forest is based on the systematic extraction of resources for sale on international markets by private companies owned by international elites. These organisations hoard profits and share little with the local communities impacted by their activities. In a short film some Mbendjele men and women express their understanding of the situation and what its impact is on their lives and culture.


Pastoralist livelihoods and wildlife conservation in East Africa

Professor Katherine Homewood (UCL)

East African arid and semi-arid lands are home to many of the world's pastoralists and most spectacular savanna  wildlife populations, attracting substantial conservation and tourism revenues. Yet many of these people are among the poorest in the world, and the wildlife is in unsustainable decline. National governments, international donors and conservation agencies favour win-win solutions through conservation with development. Maasailand is a hotspot of conservation, poverty and new initiatives to redistribute tourist income. I will be talking about pastoralist livelihoods and how these are changing, the status and trends of wildlife populations, tourism revenues, and conservation and development initiatives in East Africa and Maasailand. I set out a multi-site study of Maasai livelihoods looking at the extent to which wildlife revenues contribute to pastoralist livelihoods and whether this translates into a robust basis for coexistence.


copyright Caroline RossBaboons, Cows and Crops: Why baboons are a pest in Nigeria 

Dr. Caroline Ross (University of Roehampton)

Gashaka Gumti National Park is the largest National Park in Nigeria and one of the last refuges of the Nigerian-Cameroonian chimpanzee and other endangered species such as the Giant forest hog, wild dogs and the rare Adamawa mountain reedbuck. Gashaka Gumti is unusual among African National Parks in having large ‘enclaves’- areas within the park where people are allowed to live and graze their cattle. In addition many people live and farm near to the park borders.  Our work on baboons has revealed the advantages that the animals gain from living alongside people. Access to highly nutritional agricultural crops allows baboons living around villages to grow faster and breed more rapidly than their forest-dwelling relatives, and these animals appear to be larger and healthier too. As we might expect from this, we find that baboons, and many other wild animals, will often prefer to eat human produce even when wild foods are plentiful.  However, the farming community is, not surprisingly, unhappy about sharing their produce with local wildlife. This conflict over resources can lead to crop-raiding animals being injured or killed and a general lack of support for conservation in the area. Although our early work suggested that crop-raiding was a major concern, more detailed ethnographic and ecological studies suggest that the situation may be more complex. Our work with Fulani pastoralists living in the enclaves has revealed that disgruntlement with wildlife may be exacerbated by other challenges of living in a remote area, such as limited access to roads and health care. Such work shows us that we need to consider far more than direct human-wildlife interactions when thinking about conservation policy.


Photo copyright shah-bossou Chimpanzees, people and the oil palm: cultural adaptation, changing values and perceptions, and modern challenges 

Dr. Tatyana Humle (University of Kent)

Countries such as Guinea and Sierra Leone are not only home to some of the largest remaining populations of the West African subspecies of chimpanzee, but also host vast numbers of native oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) and areas of land sought after for large scale oil palm industrial development. The feral oil palm often acts as a prime resource for both humans and chimpanzees across vast mosaics of fallow areas, cultivated fields, riverine areas, forest fragments and human settlements. Since the majority of chimpanzees in both these countries occur outside protected areas, many populations rely on the oil palm, as well as possibly human cultivars, for their subsistence. Such landscapes have in some cases sustained human-chimpanzee co-existence for generations; however, more recent rapid changes in landscape structure and use are posing new challenges and fuelling increased intolerance towards chimpanzees and other wildlife. Our research centres on understanding how human and chimpanzee behaviour, perceptions and culture influence their ability to share a same landscape and on assessing the main challenges to people’s livelihoods and tolerance towards wildlife. The case of the oil palm illustrates perfectly the complexities of co-existence and the challenges that lie ahead for biodiversity conservation and development. Variation in how and where chimpanzees use the oil palm reflects both their ecological and cultural adaptation to human-modified landscapes. Chimpanzee communities across West Africa may use the feral oil palm for nesting and/or for feeding purposes, while the oil palm provides humans with numerous products of immense domestic and commercial value. It is essential for us to understand these patterns of use and evaluate the oil palm’s contribution to the persistence of chimpanzees and other wildlife and local peoples’ livelihoods. Such work could help shape sustainable land use management and economic development on both a local and national scale, concurrent with an agenda of co-existence rather than one risking fuelling intolerance and conflict.

copyright Colin the ScotA conservation crisis: The cultural dimensions of the illegal trade in rhino horn

Dr. Samantha Hurn (University of Exeter)

This talk will explore the transnational trade in endangered wildlife, with particular focus on the current ‘rhino crisis’ in South Africa. Levels of rhino poaching have reached unprecedented highs in the last year, as organised crime syndicates manage the supply chain to feed demand for rhino horn products across much of Asia. Rhino horn, along with many other parts of many other critically endangered animals are credited with numerous medicinal and social powers, from general panacea and cure for cancer, to status symbol for the upwardly mobile. Rhino horn is ground into a powder and ingested by consumers striving for greater health, wealth and happiness. This process of incorporation, of taking part of a powerful, valuable and endangered animal into the body, creates a particular set of relationships, breaking down boundaries between human and animal as consumer takes on the symbolic qualities of the consumed. Anthropologists have an essential role to play in mediating between the different parties involved in the procurement, transport and consumption of rhino horn.


copyright UK Home OfficeTrade in Endangered Species: Business, Law and Politics

Professor Vincent Nijman (Oxford Brookes University)

Wildlife trade is the basis of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development providing an income for some of the least economically affluent people and it generates considerable revenue nationally. In Asia the unsustainable trade in wildlife has been identified as one of the main conservation challenges. For the general public, and indeed most policy makers, when thinking of wildlife trade, elephants, rhinos and tigers come to mind. While these species are (legally or illegally) traded in relative small numbers, trade in wildlife generally is measured in metric tons or in the tens of thousands, the least. I here give an overview of the trade in wild animals from and in Southeast Asia, focussing on international trade and trade that is regulated through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES). International trade in these species totalled some 35 million individuals over a ten-year period, with 30 million (~300 species) of them being wild-caught. Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia are the major exporters of wild-caught animals and the European Union and Japan are the most significant importers. China acts as an important importer and exporter. While this represents the legal and regulated trade in wildlife, illegal and undeclared trade adds considerably to these numbers. Based on surveys and analysis of available datasets I illustrate the nature of the trade in these endangered species, and show how interests conflicts between different parties. Examples are drawn from the trade in seahorses, frogs, lizards, and tortoises, amongst others, showing the industrial scale of wildlife trade from Asia and highlighting discrepancies in reported trade as well as ethical and legal challenges when regulating this trade.

In addition to the presentations participants had the opportunity to visit the wonderful exhibitions at the Horniman Museum, in particular the Bioblitz exhibition that was of particular relevance to the topic of the event.

Take a look at our Conflicting Interests? exploring conservation and human-animal relationships on Flickr!