It is often assumed that wildlife conservation cannot happen without sacrificing the development of local communities.

But across the globe, many conservation programs have strategically tied up with the local communities, thus providing a win-win situation for both the wildlife and the people who live nearby their habitat.

A positive human-wildlife relationship can improve conservation efforts and contribute to community welfare. Human-wildlife coexistence programs, when done rightly, can provide various ecosystem services: it helps to safeguard ecosystem health, improve agricultural stability, food security, and aid in the creation of new sustainable economies like ecotourism.

My introduction to these types of mutually beneficial programs was during my first job in India as a wildlife ecologist. Deep in the Western Ghat forest area of India, the locals near the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve had no problems with the conservation strategies employed in the region.

Local communities were sensitized about the core protected areas in the region and about the various programs implemented in these regions. These programs did not disrupt their lifestyle and many became partners in the successful implementation of the programs.

Incentive-Based Conservation Programs

In India, most of the corridors connecting large forest patches including protected areas (PAs), are shared by wild animals and people, especially people who are natural resource-dependent.

Human-wildlife conflict can be unavoidable at times in these regions. The economic and social losses due to human injuries and casualties, crop damage and livestock depredation lead to hostility and reduced support for wildlife conservation by local communities.

Some local communities respond to human-wildlife conflict by poisoning, shooting or trapping wild animals. But incentive-based mechanisms have been shown to be more effective and are proving to be better than the post-damage compensatory schemes.

Direct payments for ecosystem services (PES) is an effective conservation tool and is gaining the approval of the scientific community. PES is implemented by establishing appropriate prices and giving financial incentives to landowners in exchange for activities that support conservation initiatives.

Experts indicate that an incentive based mitigation strategy will encourage and help the coexistence of large mammals and humans. It is increasingly being implemented to garner the support of local people for conservation actions.

Involving Local Communities: Critical in Addressing Community Development

Case studies illustrating successful coexistence of coyotes in North America, gray wolves across the Northern Hemisphere, community-based conservation in Montana, urban black bears in Colorado, jaguars in Mexico, and African lions in Kenya – all point to community upliftment.

There also seahorse conservation programs in South East Asia that work closely with the local fishing community. In some regions, fishermen are given incentives for avoiding dangerous fishing methods and for identifying critical habitats. They act as co-researchers in studies that involve detailed assessment of the population and health of the habitat.

Many Elephant conservation programs in Africa and Asia develop solutions at the community level to reduce conflict through a better understanding of elephant ecology, biology, human needs, and elephant management technology.

Members of the local community experienced benefits, which ultimately influenced their willingness to engage in conservation activities. In India, the federal government has enabled local communities to act as “Joint Forest Management Committees/Ecodevelopment Committees” for protection of elephant habitat, including elephant corridors.

The examples are endless. Conservation strategies become successful when they consider human well-being and development into account, as opposed to merely focusing on protecting the habitat of a species.

This is one of the reasons why Developed economies are more successful in conservation strategies, as they have the financial means to accommodate the developmental needs of the communities that live in close proximity to wildlife.

Global conservation effort could reach new heights if due consideration is given to the local communities, their economic situation, and their participation in the programs.

Author

  • "Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), is an Environmental Researcher based in New Delhi, India. He served as a Graduate Research Assistant at the University of British Columbia, Canada and has worked in the fields of Conservation, Climate change and Energy."