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Numerous solutions have been proposed to slow the accelerating loss of biodiversity. Thinking about biodiversity conservation has not, however, been incorporated into the everyday activities of most individuals and nations. Conservation scientists need to refocus on strategies that reshape ethical attitudes to nature and encourage pro-environmental thinking and lifestyles. Religions are central to basic beliefs and ethics that influence people's behaviour and should be considered more seriously in biodiversity discourse. Using data from the World Religion Database we conducted an analysis of the spatial overlap between major global religions and seven templates for prioritizing biodiversity action. Our analysis indicated that the majority of these focal areas are situated in countries dominated by Christianity, and particularly the Roman Catholic denomination. Moreover, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches appear to have the greatest per capita opportunity to influence discourse on biodiversity, notwithstanding the role of other religious communities in some key biodiversity areas.
Faith-based teachings on the environment have been identified as a potentially effective form of conservation outreach but one that remains largely untested. Indonesia contains 10% of the world's tropical rainforests and is the most populous Muslim country. A faith-based approach to conservation could therefore yield significant conservation benefits here. Within Islam several key principles in the Qur'an underpin and outline the role of humans in nature conservation. Here, we report on a Darwin Initiative project component that sought to assess the applicability of Islamic teachings to conservation action in West Sumatra. We developed water-conservation-themed sermons that were delivered by project-trained religious leaders in 10 mosques and nine Islamic boarding schools during the holy month of Ramadan. We conducted entry–exit questionnaire surveys to assess levels of concern, awareness and intent to act amongst male (n = 389) and female (n = 479) worshippers. The results revealed that greater attention should be paid to raising awareness of the linkages between Islam and conservation rather than on conservation principles alone, which were already adequately understood. This study provides the first insights into the important role that women could play within a faith-based project. Female respondents demonstrated greater knowledge and understanding of Islamic teachings about the environment and the services provided by watershed forests. They were also more likely to contribute to conservation activities, suggesting that future projects should seek to involve this often marginalized stakeholder group fully, as well as provide practical ways for men and women to transform words into action.
Sacred sites, particularly in forests, often form unofficial protected areas because their biodiversity is preserved and protected by the local people looking after the sites. Here, we survey the biodiversity of the Three Sisters Cave complex, a sacred site or kaya in a fragment of East African coastal forest in south-east Kenya. We show that, despite the tiny size of this non-gazetted forest reserve, it contains many of the threatened species of both flora (121 species) and fauna (46 species) representative of Kenya's coastal forest. Following the overexploitation and widespread destruction of coastal rainforests in Kenya, such sacred sites represent key biodiversity hotspots as well as forest islands in the now largely deforested coastal plain. Other non-gazetted forest sacred sites may represent undocumented sources of biodiversity that may contribute towards conservation of this threatened coastal habitat.
Human–wildlife conflict has been the focus of much research, and incidents of damage caused by wildlife to communities, as well as damage inflicted on wildlife by people, have been studied extensively to determine causes, conditions, impacts and mitigation strategies. However, few studies have explored the coping strategies employed by communities to deal with these stressful events. Understanding coping is important, as effective coping builds tolerance towards wildlife, whereas poor coping erodes tolerance and thus jeopardizes conservation. Interviews conducted with people who had experienced damage caused by wild elephants Elephas maximus in eight villages of Assam, in north-east India, found that the stress experienced by the communities as a result of the damage was eased by their religious beliefs associated with elephants, and their feelings of empathy towards these animals. Belief in the elephant as God and as avenger of wrong-doing further strengthened people's coping capacity. These findings have positive implications for elephant conservation, showing that people's tolerance towards marauding elephants can be based on religious beliefs rather than compensation for losses.
The natural environment underpins human well-being in diverse and complex ways, providing both material and non-material benefits. Effective conservation requires context-specific understandings of human interactions with, and conceptions of, nature. A focus on how cultural values and norms frame relationships with the natural world can enhance conservation efforts, and can prevent conservation actions undermining local culture and values, providing opportunities to reinforce them instead. Conservation, including the conceptualization and management of protected areas, has the potential to support or undermine these culture–nature relationships. A cultural values approach seeks to identify, understand and integrate considerations of cultural values into the design and implementation of conservation initiatives. Such approaches can realize diverse benefits, including maintaining and enhancing local culture (as a contribution to human well-being), deepening links between communities and conservation activities; facilitating parallel conservation of nature and culture; promoting non-material as well as material natural values; and allowing specific cultural values to inform and drive conservation efforts. Cultural values approaches thus help to enhance the equity, efficacy and acceptability of conservation practice. Fauna & Flora International has implicitly and explicitly acknowledged cultural values within project design and delivery for over 20 years. In 2011 a Cultural Values Programme was established to enhance the role of cultural values of species, places and practices, and of individual and group identities, within conservation. Here we describe our evolving approach to integrating cultural values into conservation practice, provide key lessons learnt, based on specific case studies, and relate these to wider conservation policy and practice.
There is a broad set of human beliefs, attitudes and behaviours around the issue of magical animals, referring to both mythical animals not recognized by science and extant animals that are recognized by science but have magical properties. This is a broad issue ranging from spiritual beliefs around mythical animals living in Malagasy forests, to cultural heritage associated with the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland. Beliefs and behaviours around magical animals can have positive and negative impacts on biodiversity conservation goals. Yet, so far, the discipline of conservation biology has not adequately considered magical animals, neglecting to account for the broader knowledge from outside the natural sciences on this issue, and taking a narrow, utilitarian approach to how magical animals should be managed, without necessarily considering the broader impacts on conservation goals or ethics. Here we explore how magical animals can influence conservation goals, how conservation biology and practice has thought about magical animals, and some of the limitations of current approaches, particularly the failure to consider magical animals as part of wider systems of belief and culture. We argue that magical animals and their implications for conservation merit wider consideration.
The emerging field of ethnoprimatology focuses on the conservation implications of ecological and cultural interconnections between humans and other primates. The ethnoprimatological research reported here examined how the Tonkean macaque Macaca tonkeana is situated in the folklore of villagers in Lore Lindu National Park, Sulawesi, Indonesia. Data were collected using ethnographic interview techniques. The interviews revealed that villagers envision monkeys and humans as biologically, ecologically and culturally interrelated. The perceived cultural linkages between humans and macaques, however, are more salient among the indigenous To Lindu than among migrants. For many To Lindu the folklore has resulted in a taboo that prevents them harming the macaques, despite the species’ frequent crop-raiding behaviour. The conservation significance of the taboo is therefore the local protection it affords this endemic primate. This research lends support for the incorporation of informal institutions, such as taboos, in the conservation management of protected areas.
The exploitation of natural resources by people generally has detrimental effects on nature but in some cases anthropogenic activities can result in changes to the natural environment that produce new habitats and increase biodiversity. Understanding and supporting such cultural aspects of land use is an important part of effective conservation strategies. The UK has a range of cultural landscapes that contribute to the landscape matrix and are often important for biodiversity. However, little research has been conducted on the relationship between various types of cultural landscapes or their effects on biodiversity. We examined the interaction between semi-natural sacred sites and lowland heathland in Cornwall, and the contribution these sites make to the overall biodiversity within the habitat. We found that semi-natural sacred sites had significantly higher levels of biodiversity compared to surrounding heathland; the existence and use of the sites created new and important habitats for rare and threatened heathland species; and the spiritual and cultural use of the sites aids the management of heathland. Promoting the use of semi-natural sacred sites could therefore contribute to biodiversity conservation. Furthermore, the cultural and spiritual importance of such sites potentially increases the availability of volunteer resources for their management. We highlight the importance of an integrated management approach for achieving effective biodiversity conservation in areas containing multiple types of cultural landscapes.
Indigenous communities worldwide have long relied on their environment for survival. Religious and customary beliefs that foster community conservation have not only bound these communities to ecosystems but also assisted in the conservation of species. We provide an example of how religion fosters the conservation of freshwater fishes in India. Since ancient times rural communities in India have revered fish species as symbols of divine power, and offered them protection in pools associated with temples. Such voluntary, informal institutions and arrangements continue to help conserve several freshwater fish species that are otherwise subjected to anthropogenic pressure in open-access areas. However, religious beliefs in India are waning as a result of increased urbanization, modernization of societies and disintegration of rural communities, and the sustainability of existing temple and community fish sanctuaries is questionable. We discuss the role of temple sanctuaries as an informal conservation strategy for freshwater fishes, and discuss the knowledge and policy gaps that need to be addressed for ensuring their future.
Signatory states of the Convention on Biological Diversity must ‘protect and encourage the customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices that are compatible with conservation or sustainable use requirements’. Thus the management of traditional hunting of wildlife must balance the sustainability of target species with the benefits of hunting to traditional communities. Conservation policies usually define the values associated with wild meats in terms of income and nutrition, neglecting a wide range of social and cultural values that are important to traditional hunting communities. We elicited the community-defined benefits and costs associated with the traditional hunting of dugongs Dugong dugon and green turtles Chelonia mydas from communities on two islands in Torres Strait, Australia. We then used cognitive mapping and multidimensional scaling to identify separable groups of benefits (cultural services, provisioning services, and individual benefits) and demonstrate that traditional owners consider the cultural services associated with traditional hunting to be significantly more important than the provisioning services. Understanding these cultural values can inform management actions in accordance with the Convention on Biological Diversity. If communities are unable to hunt, important cultural benefits are foregone. Based on our results, we question the appropriateness of conservation actions focused on prohibiting hunting and providing monetary compensation for the loss of provisioning services only.
Globally, some species and habitats receive protection through local belief systems (e.g. indigenous religions) and informal institutions (e.g. social norms and taboos). Where such systems represent the only form of protection for threatened species or environments, they may be critical to the survival of those taxa and sites. We evaluated the effectiveness of long-standing social taboos protecting the Endangered Sclater's monkey Cercopithecus sclateri and forest groves in a community complex in Nigeria. Across its range (southern Nigeria), Sclater's monkey is effectively protected only through informal institutions. At our study site, we conducted a census of the monkey population; measured the area of sacred groves; and compared our findings with estimates from 2010 and 2005, respectively. We observed a 36% increase in the monkey population (from 249 to 339 individuals) in a core survey area. No groves that we assessed in 2005 had been fully cleared. Although we observed a decline in tree cover for several sacred forests, most groves used regularly by monkeys had changed little. The social taboos related to monkeys and sacred groves remain largely intact; however, other factors threaten the monkey population and remaining forests in this community complex, including the removal of tree patches to accommodate the construction of large residential buildings and the demand for cropland, as well as increased dumping of waste in forested sites. This study highlights the conservation importance and limitations of local cultural protection, as well as the challenges presented when such protection conflicts with community-perceived development needs.
Despite conservation discourses in Madagascar increasingly emphasizing the role of customary institutions for wildlife management, we know relatively little about their effectiveness. Here, we used semi-structured interviews with 54 adults in eight villages to investigate whether sacred caves and taboos offer conservation benefits for cave-dwelling bats in and around Tsimanampetsotsa National Park, south-west Madagascar. Although some caves were described as sites of spiritual significance for the local communities, most interviewees (c. 76%) did not recognize their present-day sacred status. Similarly, only 22% of the interviewees recognized taboos inhibiting bat hunting and consumption. Legal protection of bats and caves through protected areas was often more widely acknowledged than customary regulations, although up to 30% of the interviewees reported consumption of bats within their communities. Guano extraction was often tolerated in sacred caves in exchange for economic compensation. This may benefit bat conservation by creating incentives for bat protection, although extraction is often performed through destructive and exploitative practices with little benefit for local communities. In view of these results our study questions the extent to which sacred sites, taboos and protected areas offer protection for bats in Madagascar. These results support previous studies documenting the erosion of customary institutions in Madagascar, including the loss of the spiritual values underpinning sacred sites. Given that many Malagasy bats are cave-dwelling species and that most depend on the customary protection of these sites, it is important to obtain a better understanding of the complex interactions between spiritual practices, taboos and protected areas in sustaining bat diversity.