Monday, 4 June 2012

More on management of protected areas: the human dimensions.

Public relations are a huge part of conservation work
In the previous post I described two of the ten lessons that we, a bunch of conservation managers and researchers from eastern and southern Africa identified at a workshop in Serengeti. I started with the big lessons on making sure you start with boundaries that make ecological sense - and what can happen particularly to migrations if that's not done. There's more to learn on that score too, but I'll skip to one of the most important lessons we identified, that will come as no surprise to anyone working in the field: don't neglect public relations!

There are two groups of people that we identified as really important here - the general public, and the local population around protected areas. In many areas, poor relations with neighbours can be traced right back to the exclusion of people from their traditional grazing areas during protected area formation. This comes back to a point we've made before on the blog - that people were once part of these landscapes and the lack of current habitation is an artificial imposition of what is mainly a colonial-era romantic ideal of empty Africa. No wonder local people often feel hostile to the park, hostility which in turn leads to more illegal activity and a more negative perception of human-wildlife conflict. But equally, poor relations with the wider public mean that many Africans view their National Parks as rich white people's playgrounds, not for them at all. Such perceptions can lead to a widespread lack of support for conservation and, ultimately, a lack of political will to continue protection. In South Africa there's a lot going on to combat these problems - school visits are encouraged, entrance fees are very reasonable and accommodation is available for a variety of income groups. As a consequence, even in some of the areas where local hostility was historically high, tribal groups such as the Makuleke who have won back land they were disposessed of when Kruger was formed decided not to resettle the area, but to contract the park authority to continue to manage for ecotourism on their behalf. Other areas are allowing people to access the park to harvest thatching grass and medicinal plants, etc. And in Botswana's Okavango Delta, widespread antipathyto wildlife and tourism among neighbouring communities in the 1990s was reversed following implementation of a community-based natural resource management programme with revenues from tourism reaching community members (often through employment opportunities): poaching decreased dramatically and several mammal populations stabilised or increased by 2004.

The only Tanzanians I usually see in parks like Manyara are guides like these!
We've still got lots to learn in east Africa! Here, park fees are very cheap for nationals, but that ignores the fact you need a 4x4 to get around in the parks - which is well beyond almost everyone's means. Just as importantly, although the parks here raise money for the central government (50% of park fees go straight to the treasury - an idea that was completely unbelievable to our southern African visitors!), only tiny amounts make it back to the local communities - less, even, than the small amounts officially allocated: 1.8% of income was spent locally by TANAPA, when I last looked. We've got to do better than that here, and I'd love to see more Tanzanian's enjoying the parks for themselves too - can we persuade any of the safari companies to make their cars available at cost price to locals during the low season? Can we raise money to fund that somehow?

Subsistence poaching is still a major problem for many Tanzanian
protected areas - note the snare on this giraffe.
Related to this issue, but rather different too, was another mistake identified in southern Africa - insufficient law enforcement. Now, I have to confess that I was under the impression that southern African parks pretty much epitomise "fortress conservation", with big fences, highly trained and well equiped anti-poaching units and all the rest. But such efforts have only really managed to contain subsistance hunting for bushmeat - it's done little to halt the poaching of high value, commercial good like rhino horn and elephant tusks. And sadly, once these animals decline there are real impacts on ecosystems - it's only recently that white rhino numbers have got high enough for us to realise that they are important at forming species grazing lawns that are then used by a whole host of other animals. So what to do? Well, it certainly isn't wise to stop the law enforcement operations that are ongoing, but it clearly isn't enough on their own and more sucessful models have been shown - both the Botswana example I've already given, but also the story in Namibia, where where poaching of elephants and rhinos outside protected areas was almost eliminated initially by the employment of community game guards, and ultimately through the establishment of conservancies where control over the use of wildlife resources was delegated to representative local councils. There's lots to learn here in east Africa - but it's not going to happen without some major changes in the political landscape too, with corruption endemic in many places.

Pastoralism is probably the wisest land use in many buffer areas
The human dimension we're bringing out in these two issues is also very much there in another issue: that of buffer zones. In southern Africa there's been little regard for land-use in the areas around protected areas and, given that most parks are fenced, that might not seem like a problem. But our southern partners really saw this as a major issue for a whole nuber of reasons. Primary among this was the fact that now conservation is higher up the agenda, and a really money-earner too, it's not possible in most cases to enlarge the parks or protected areas, except in a few areas where land remained relatively unconverted thanks to happy accidents, like some parts of 'greater' Kruger and Addo Elephant Park. But it also means that in some areas of the parks certain management tools aren't possible - you can't have fires where residential housing is riche on the edge of the park. And we also now think that although many of the areas not in protected areas weren't core areas for wildlife, they filled an important ecological role as population sinks - as the population in the core areas increased following a few good years, animals would move out and into those less good areas, stabilising the population in the core areas, so when bad times came again the density wasn't too high there. So important was this process for some large animals like white rhinos, that it's now being put back into the parks in some areas artifically - sink areas are now marked in Hluhulwe-iMfolozi Park and any rhino dispersing to this area is captured and removed, which has, as hoped, resulted in a more stable population within the core area; but at a huge cost compared to maintining buffer zones nearby!

In east Africa we're much luckier than that - although there is a rise in some land-uses that aren't so compatible with wildlife in the areas around national parks, in most places it's not yet gone as far as in southern Africa. And there are still significant populations of pastoralist communities, who are looking for some security of tenure for their grazing lands. In fact, the pastoralist vs agronomist issue is a rather hot one in TZ at the moment. Pastoralism can be pretty wildlife friendly, and would be the optimal land-use in many buffer areas, so it would be a great opportunity for conservationists and pastoralists to fight together for a sensible land-use plan. Who wants to do it?

And that's probably enough for now - quite a few lessons for conservationists, all relating to the human dimension. If you want to read about some really successful project implementation, I really recommend the study in Botswana, but can't find a free version anywhere, sorry...

Main reference:

ResearchBlogging.orgMbaiwa, J., & Stronza, A. (2011). Changes in resident attitudes towards tourism development and conservation in the Okavango Delta, Botswana Journal of Environmental Management, 92 (8), 1950-1959 DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2011.03.009

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