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Ten years of adaptive community-governed conservation: evaluating biodiversity protection and poverty alleviation in a West African hippopotamus reserve

  • DONNA J. SHEPPARD (a1) (a2) (a3), AXEL MOEHRENSCHLAGER (a4), JANA M. MCPHERSON (a4) (a5) and JOHN J. MASON (a2)

Community-based natural resource management has been accused of failing on social, economic or ecological grounds. Balanced assessments are rare, however, particularly in West Africa. This paper examines the first 10 years of Ghana's Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary using an evaluation framework that considers socioeconomic and ecological outcomes, as well as resilience mechanisms. Building upon traditional taboos against the killing of hippopotami, this initiative has attempted to conserve an imperilled large mammal, protect biodiversity and alleviate abject poverty amidst a bush meat crisis and complex ethnic diversity. Findings show that the Sanctuary has improved local livelihoods by spurring economic diversification and infrastructure development rates 2–8 times higher than in surrounding communities. Simultaneously, threats to biodiversity have subsided, hippopotamus numbers have remained stable and the Sanctuary's riparian habitats now harbour more bird species than comparable areas nearby. Improved social capital, true empowerment, an equitable distribution of benefits, ecological awareness among children and support for the Sanctuary, even amongst community members who were disadvantaged by its creation, speak to good long-term prospects. Risks remain, some of which are beyond the community's control, but evidence of socioecological resilience suggests that capacity exists to buffer risks and foster sustainability. Lessons learnt at Wechiau translate into recommendations for the planning, implementation and evaluation of future community-based conservation initiatives, including greater interdisciplinary integration and the use of adaptive co-management approaches.

Corresponding author
*Correspondence: Dr Axel Moehrenschlager e-mail:
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