Protected areas (PAs) represent a central strategy in biodiversity conservation worldwide. Yet many PAs are weakened by people-PA conflicts resulting from the separation of natural resource protection from human considerations. Research at Masoala National Park in Madagascar focused on the following questions: (1) What are the factors that influence residents' perceptions of the Park and restrictions on use of natural resources in the Park area? (2) How do residents of communities on the periphery of the Park perceive and interact with Park staff, and what factors influence interactions and perceptions? A multi-method qualitative research approach was taken, including individual and focus group interviews, participant observation, archival research, and an environmental education and communication workshop. From July to December 2001, 119 semi-structured individual and group interviews were conducted with a total of 181 Masoala National Park staff, employees of non-governmental conservation organizations and community residents, focusing on two villages on the periphery of Masoala National Park. Factors found to influence the perceptions of the Park held by residents living in the Park periphery included the history of Park management, the degree of awareness of Park existence, types of interactions with Park staff and actual or potential benefits received from the Park. Inconsistency in past and present Park management goals has led to community confusion regarding the Park programme. Residents were largely aware of the Park's existence but were unfamiliar with its goals. Pressures on Park natural resources came from a variety of sources and occurred across a range of spatial and temporal scales, some of which were outside the control of Park managers. A conceptual framework represented relations between Park staff and community residents. Understanding people-PA interactions and perceptions can help guide future PA management strategies to increase conservation effectiveness, through efforts such as environmental education and communication programmes.
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