Human Wildlife Co-Existence (ALERT)
2015 - Present
CAWR Research Theme
Sustainable Development Goals
1, 2, 3, 4 & 15
Conservation psychology is a relatively new research area and concerns both theoretical and applied research. Its main focus is to understand the relationships humans have with other animals and the natural world more broadly. Key areas of interest are the conditions under which people will actively conserve threatened or endangered species - even when to do so may come at a personal cost. Dr Jackie Abell and Dr James Bennett of CAWR are currently involved in on-the-ground research based in Zambia and Zimbabwe, in association with the African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (ALERT).
One example of this collaborative research concerns human-wildlife co-existence (HWC). Across Africa conflict between people and animals is one of the main threats to the continued survival of many species. HWC also offers a significant threat to local human populations. People lose their crops, livestock, property, and sometimes their lives. The animals, many of which are already threatened or endangered, are often killed in retaliation or to 'prevent' future conflicts (known as Problem Animal Control: 'PAC'). Conserving wildlife may not be top of the local people’s, or government's, agenda.
One way HWC can be addressed is through effective conservation education. Conservation education is a tool that is gaining increasing currency in conservation more broadly. The research team are investigating the effectiveness of conservation education, as well as the most impactful way of delivering conservation education in countries where teaching and learning resources can be scarce.
The researchers have developed a tool to assess a conservation education syllabus which is culturally appropriate in Africa. They have also designed and implemented a conservation education syllabus founded in problem-based learning, to explore African wildlife and its social, cultural, economic and ecological value to the continent, current threats to the local and wider natural environment, and work collectively to develop environmentally sustainable ways of living in a context where resources are scarce. For example, in Livingstone, human communities find themselves living cheek-to-cheek with wild elephants. Many local people’s livelihood depends on farming. When elephants eat their vegetable crops, trample through their homes and threaten their lives, the local people understandably become less tolerant. The aim of the project is to encourage positive attitudes towards conservation, and foster long-term constructive behaviours so that local people benefit from conserving wildlife. In doing so, our work seeks to protect people and animals currently considered ‘pests’, such as elephants and lions. This work utilises academic and practical know-how in education, innovative learning, social psychology, and wildlife conservation.
The development of the conservation syllabus began in 2012 by ALERT/Lion Encounter. In 2013 researchers at Coventry University began to work with them to develop it further using proven learning techniques developed in the social sciences. The research team have successfully piloted assessment tools to measure the effectiveness of this conservation education programme in target HWC hotspot local communities in Zambia and Zimbabwe. The next step is to expand on this further to include adults as learners and problem-solvers in the course and train local communities to facilitate these workshops.
Funding is a major issue in the delivery of the education. Schools are often poorly resourced, without electricity, providing the research team with the additional challenge of developing educational tools that do not rely upon a power supply, or more than the most basic of materials. This research recognises that tackling wildlife conservation problems requires the development of multi-disciplinary teams to address the human and animal aspects of wildlife conservation. A good place to start is with the people who will be the future of effective conservation practices in Africa; its children. For conservation to stand a chance in Africa, the people need to care about the species under threat and benefit from its presence.
This educational tool operates alongside other practical HWC strategies which includes the protection of livestock corrals from predators.