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Sorcery and nature conservation


Representations of animals are diverse and can portray local understandings of nature conservation, information that is often missing from conservation debates. In Cantanhez National Park (southern Guinea-Bissau), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) are recognized as animals that share certain features with humans but live independently of them in the forest. However, chimpanzees are also integral to socially mediated, deep-rooted local narratives about sorcery and nature conservation. We use results from ethnographic research to explore local interpretations of chimpanzee attacks on people. Attacks by ‘bush’ chimpanzees occur when an animal is provoked by someone's actions towards it. Unprovoked attacks, however, are either interpreted as the act of a shape-shifted chimpanzee (i.e. a sorcerer) or as the responsibility of conservation stakeholders. In the case of unprovoked attacks, chimpanzee aggression is linked to a perceived abuse of power and to greed, with implications for nature conservation locally. Close analysis of local representations of animals contributes to a broader consideration of conservation priorities and practice.

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*Correspondence: Joana Sousa email:
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Environmental Conservation
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