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International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management Vol. 6, Nos. 3–4, September–December 2010, 176–183 Conservation of the Asiatic lion: integrating the vision of park authorities with the values of local communities Maria Costanza Torri Department of Social Sciences, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada The Gir Protected Area in Gujarat, India, is the last remaining shelter of the Asian lion (Panthera leo persica). This article presents different visions on lion conservation and ecosystem management practices of the Maldhari people. We analysed how these could be incorporated in the management of local wildlife. The ﬁeld study was undertaken in the state of Gujarat, India, over a period of 2 months in 2003 and 1 month in 2008. Data were collected through individual semi-structured interviews with 35 villagers living at the periphery of the Gir National Park. Group discussions were also organised with villagers living inside this protected area. The socio-economic repercussions of conservation on the Maldharis’ livelihood were assessed by analysing factors such as access to basic needs, land use and natural resources in the forest. Changes within the Maldhari households resulting from delocalisation policies were also analysed. Results show that the cultural values of the Maldharis play an important role in maintaining the area’s ecological balance. Interview results highlight how the majority of the Maldharis, especially the elderly, consider the lions to be an integral part of their environment. This article shows that interactions between the lions and humans still represent an important aspect of the culture and local history of the Maldharis. It is important to rethink the current top-down conservation approach by adopting a more collaborative approach that integrates the vision on lion conservation of both park authorities and local communities. Keywords: conservation policy; local communities; Maldharis; Asian lion; Gujarat; India 2000; Agrawal and Redford 2006). In spite of the conser- Introduction vation and preservation efforts of natural resources within The conservation of natural ecosystems has long been on the functionality of these protected areas, the communities the agenda of institutions concerned with biodiversity. The living within them show very little enthusiasm for conser- vision of untouched wilderness has permeated global poli- vation efforts. This is attributed to a lack of understanding cies and politics for decades and has resulted in the classic of the signiﬁcance of the conservation schemes, which has ‘wilderness’ approach to biodiversity, which is assumed to resulted in accelerated conﬂicts between conservationists be optimal in undisturbed natural areas (Brockington and and indigenous people (Baviskar 2001; Berkes et al. 2003; Igoe 2006). The national government decides what areas Geisler 2003; Schmidt-Soltau 2003; Brosius 2004). will be chosen and holds sovereignty with nominal control It is necessary to have an understanding of the val- of the conservation areas (Geisler 2003). In many devel- ues attached to natural resources and wildlife by local oping countries, including India, policy inspired by the communities in protected areas, as this understanding will wilderness approach, such as the dislocation programmes, determine the success of its conservation goals (Holmes has had adverse social consequences on native populations and Scoones 2000; Agrawal and Redford 2006). The val- in these areas (Kabra 2003; Colchester 2004). The restric- ues attached to conservation by local communities often tions put in place by current conservation methods have depend on moral and ethical factors, such as interest in deprived indigenous communities of their ability to survive the survival and welfare of the present resource status and and to meet their basic socio-economic needs (Berkes et al. the willingness to protect these resources for the future 2003). (Gadgil et al. 1993; Gibson et al. 2000; Ravenel and In recent times, concern has been raised about the best Redford 2005; Scudder 2005). Ethno-zoological research practices that can be adopted within protected areas to groups have demonstrated the value of indigenous per- sustain conservation of natural resources (Heltberg 2001). ceptions and the richness of traditional knowledge of The realisation by many countries that the way forward in mammals for establishing common ground between human the control of conﬂicts within protected areas is to adopt activities and wildlife conservation (Thomas 2006). These measures that integrate the indigenous communities into initiatives emphasise the potential values and perceptions the conservation scheme is rapidly gaining momentum. In of local communities to contribute to wildlife conser- other words, there is a need to ensure that the bottom-up vation through integrated community land management management approach, rather than the top-down, is prac- practices. tised within these protected areas (Holmes and Scoones *Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ISSN 2151-3732 print/ISSN 2151-3740 online © 2010 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/21513732.2011.576400 http://www.infomaworld.com International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management 177 The aims of this study are threefold: The park of Gir has numerous distinct faunal species, with approximately 320 species of mammal, 300 species � First is to analyse the top-down conservation of bird, 26 species of reptile and more than 2000 species approach present in Gir by showing the impact of the of insect. The carnivorous group mainly comprises the current conservation policy on the cultural heritage Asian lion (Panthera leo persica), leopard (Panthera par- of the Maldharis and their livelihoods. dus), jungle cat (Felis chaus), hyena (Hyaena hyaena) and � Second is to analyse the different perceptions of the jackal (Cuon alpinus). The main herbivores are represented interrelationships between lions and human beings by the chital (Axis axis), nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), and the visions of wildlife management practices sambar (Cervus unicolor) and chinkara (Gazella bennet- held by the Maldharis. tii). Among the smaller mammals, porcupine and hare are � Third is to discuss the possibilities of a more collab- common but the pangolin is rare. The reptiles are repre- orative approach in wildlife conservation that inte- sented by the mugger marsh crocodile (highest population grates the vision and values of both park authorities among all protected areas in India); Indian star tortoise and local communities. and monitor lizard can be found in the water areas of the sanctuary. Snakes are found in the bushes and forest, and The ﬁeld study was undertaken in Gir National Park, pythons are sighted frequently along the stream banks. Gir over a period of 3 months in 2003 and 2008. The data has been used by the Gujarat State Forest Department, were collected through individual interviews and discus- which adopted the Indian Crocodile Conservation Project sion groups with selected members of the Maldhari com- in 1977 and released approximately 1000 marsh crocodiles, munities. Individual interviews were also carried out with which had been raised in the Gir Rearing Centre, into ofﬁcers of the Forest Department in Gir and with members the Kamaleshwar Lake, other reservoirs and small water of two local NGOs. bodies in and around Gir. The ﬁrst effort to protect the Asian lion took place Study area in 1900, when the nawab (local prince of Gujarat) for- bade the hunting of lions on his land. In 1911, all sport The Gir Protected Area is located in the western part hunting activity was ofﬁcially forbidden by the English of the Indian state of Gujarat and covers a total forest administration (Singh 2000). There are roughly 55 tradi- area of 1882.64 km (Saberwal et al. 2001), and it was tional houses (nesses) of Maldharis, a local population who created in 1965. Including a sanctuary of 1153 km ,it live inside this protected zone. Most of the Maldharis who comprises various reserved forests that had been declared lived in the Gir region were forced to leave in relocation as protected areas since 1882. The terrain is rugged, hilly programmes between 1973 and 1987. After this relocation, (altitudes between 152 and 530 m above sea level) and which was imposed by the local conservation authorities, palaeotropical, with dry deciduous and thorn forests as well only 360 households remained in the forest. The Maldharis as shrubland and some wetland biomes. There are 81 com- mon tree species, dominated in some parts by teak (Tectona who still live in close contact with the lions and the wild grandis), 48 species of herb and shrub and 15 species of fauna are mostly shepherds and mainly practise subsis- grass. Due mainly to past incidents of logging, grazing tence economy, living on the sale of buffalo milk, which and ﬁre, many parts of the forest have changed from its is sold in Sasan in the district of Junagadh and in adja- original plant cover and are now dominated by thorny and cent regions (Figure 1). The Maldhari population also practises agro-forest activities and marginal agriculture, poisonous plants. Figure 1. A Maldhari shepherd (photo © M.C. Torri). 178 M.C. Torri cultivating mainly wheat, rice, mango and cotton. The the majority were men (17 out of 24). The main topic ecosystems transformed by human activity are also con- addressed in these groups was the local perception of con- stituted by plots left for grazing purposes, most of which servation activities undertaken by the authorities in the are highly exploited because of the lack of appropriate protected area and the socio-economic impact of reloca- planning measures. tion of the human settlements outside Gir. In an attempt to compensate for the lack of cultural and linguistic back- ground that can only come with long-term commitment in a speciﬁc community, four local interpreters of the Methods same ethnic group as the interviewees were employed. Two Field research was conducted in the Gir National Park, of them, recruited with the support of the District Rural Gujarat, during August and September 2003 and in July Development Agency (DRDA), a governmental organisa- 2008. Thirty-ﬁve semi-structured interviews were carried tion in the area that tries to promote integrated develop- out among a cross section of the communities living at ment programmes for the Maldharis, were ﬁeld workers the periphery of the Gir National Park in the villages of with previous professional experience among Maldhari Kadell and Alavani. In an attempt to select a representa- villagers. Being aware of the fact that translation from dif- tive sample of village society, parameters such as gender, ferent backgrounds may facilitate access to different social groups, two English-speaking villagers were also recruited. age and economic conditions were taken into account. The Moreover, to protect respondents’ privacy, we ensured that economic background was evaluated on the basis of aver- interpreters who assisted in translation lived in different age monthly income and the number of livestock owned villages from the interviewees. All the interviews were by the household of the interviewee. The age of intervie- recorded and transcribed in Gujarati. These scripts were wees ranged between 25 and 68 years. Due to social and subsequently translated into English and the two versions cultural norms, interviewing women was hindered because were compared for data triangulation. of the status of being an ‘outsider’ to the community. As Additionally, open-ended, in-depth interviews were a result, two-thirds of the interviewees (i.e. 23 individuals) carried out with seven ofﬁcers of the Forest Department of were men. Half of the villagers interviewed were selected the reserve, three members of DRDA, a local governmen- using a snowball technique, which means that the person tal organisation, and an activist of Saurashtra Paryavaran interviewed was referred by another person. In order to reduce the pitfalls associated with this sampling method, Sanrakshan Samiti (SPSS), a local NGO that works with the other part of the group was matched with a sample of the Maldharis. These interviews lasted approximately 1 h 10 randomly selected members of the community. and were carried out in English. The topics of these The impact of the current conservation policies on interviews concerned the conservation policies undertaken Maldharis’ livelihoods was assessed by asking villagers and the risks to which the lions in Gir were confronted. questions regarding access to basic social services, differ- Special emphasis was put on the issue of the impact of ent land uses and access to natural resources in the forest. human activities in Gir and the issue of Maldhari relocation The presence of possible social changes within Maldhari policies in this protected area. households was also analysed. The different perceptions of interrelationships between lions and local communities were investigated by asking questions regarding the pos- Results sible complementarities between humans, livestock and Conservation and social impact on local communities: wildlife. Questions regarding the use of the ecosystem and the delocalisation of Maldharis different resource use between lions and livestock were The programme of delocalisation of the Maldharis outside also explored. the Gir was based on the assumption that the Maldharis Some of the interviewees, especially the elderly and could easily shift from pastoral to agricultural activities. women, were not very comfortable with expressing their However, this was not the case. The majority were not opinions about Forest Department ofﬁcials. This could be assigned the land plots that the authorities promised as explained by the presence of unequal power relations that a condition of the delocalisation programme. Some other characterised the relationship between villagers and forest members of these communities, not being aware of the authorities. Nevertheless, having understood the neutral- value of the land and of the tenure system, sold plots ity of my position and being assured that the name of that the government had assigned to them for very low interviewees would not be disclosed, the villagers became prices. progressively more conﬁdent and ready to share their point of view during the interviews. Two group discussions were also carried out in order to complement and cross-check Economic consequences of the delocalisation programme the data previously collected in the individual interviews with randomly selected villagers. In order to facilitate inter- The interviewed Maldharis still living in the forests action between the members, the groups consisted each afﬁrmed that, due to a lack of experience, the Maldharis of 12 villagers who were not previously interviewed. The who left Gir experienced considerable ﬁnancial loss age of these villagers ranged between 28 and 62 years and and were considerably impoverished. The interviewees International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management 179 emphasised how members of their communities who have economic uncertainty for these communities. Before the been displaced also lost their livestock during the process declaration of Gir as a protected area, the Maldharis pre- of relocation, with herds having died or been sold. pared ghee (butter) from the milk of their buffalo and It is ironic to note that while many Indian and for- sold it outside the park. Currently, all ﬁnancial transac- eign experts attempted to ﬁnd effective strategies to tions of villagers living in the park have been prohibited conserve the local biodiversity and wildlife of Gir, the by the local authorities. The Maldharis have also experi- socio-economic consequences of the forced eviction and enced some internal social conﬂicts due to the restrictions attempted conversion of 500 families to farming totally imposed by local authorities. Traditionally, when the fam- ignored the fact that the Maldharis have been shepherds ily size increased due to the birth of children, sons would and stockbreeders for generations. A project centred on leave their family nesses and would move into other parts pastoral activities and creation, for example, of dairy coop- of the forest with their spouse and new baby. However, eratives would have allowed the Maldharis to succeed in an restrictions on the expansion of the nesses oblige the vil- activity where they already had competence, which would lagers to share the same dwelling. This has increased have given them a greater chance of success. Nevertheless, tensions within families; young interviewees especially this was not considered by the local authorities. The vil- emphasised this problem. lagers interviewed emphasised how their displacement The Maldharis who still live in the park overtly showed caused a loss of economic independence, which resulted their disagreement vis-à-vis possible displacement of their in large numbers becoming low-qualiﬁed workers in local villages. Despite this, in 2002 the authorities of the park sugar factories or day labourers for landowners of the told 24 families to leave their nesses in less than 1 month. district. This has caused progressive disintegration of not The Forest Department afﬁrmed that this measure was only their socio-economic system but also their values applied to the villagers but that some still remained ille- and culture. As a villager noted: ‘Sometimes it happens gally in the park, which presented problems with the justice that we, the villagers living in the Gir, help each other system. The militant of SPSS, a local NGO, afﬁrmed by lending money to buy fodder for livestock in case of that this measure was very probably the beginning of a necessity. Who will help us during the hard times if we deﬁnitive relocation process for entire villages still located are far from Gir?’ These villagers are apprehensive that inside the park. This attempt at deﬁnitive delocalisation these linkages could be weakened and possibly disappear by the authorities was interrupted because of a mass in case of displacement. Some displaced Maldharis have protest organised by the villagers and supported by local left their lands and returned to the forest of Gir against activists. the order of the authorities. Nevertheless, the Maldharis, whose presence in Gir is still unofﬁcially tolerated by The Maldharis’ perceptions of their role in wildlife park authorities, must face harsh living conditions. After conservation the ofﬁcial displacement of 1972, the park authorities no longer ofﬁcially recognise the permanent presence of the The point of view of the Maldharis living in the park of Maldharis or allowed use of the land or access rights; the Gir generally differs from the opinion of forest ofﬁcers legal status of the population of Maldharis remains highly in the park. The Maldharis consider themselves to be a uncertain. part of the ecosystem of Gir, where they have been liv- One major concern of the Maldharis interviewed was ing for centuries, and also consider themselves a part of the law that prevents transfer of grazing permits (maswadi). the solution, while the local authorities see them as one of These permits are essential for the survival of these com- the major problems in conservation of lions in this area. munities. In the past, grazing permits had been granted to The Maldharis believe that their presence does not harm every Maldhari family. Currently, the Forest Department the ecosystem, but on the contrary they are beneﬁcial to does not allow transfer of these permits through inheritance the maintenance and balance of the ecosystem. According and does not concede any new permits. Thus, the number to them, as wild herbivores feed on leaves and herbaceous of villagers who possess grazing permits remains static, in plants, they regulate proliferation and renewal of trees. spite of an increase of the population. A man in his sixties From their point of view, buffaloes graze on a greater vari- noted: ‘Before we could transfer the grazing permit from ety of herbaceous plants, thus regulating the proliferation generation to generation but this practice has been forbid- of wild grasses. A Maldhari shepherd in his late ﬁfties den by the forest authorities. . . . we totally depend on the noted: ‘if the antelope and the deer were not there, there forest authorities here. . . they can come at any moment and would be too many trees and shrubs, and no young trees or ﬁne us. . .’. hay could grow. And if the buffalo were not there too, there would be too many plants for the hay and neither the young nor young trees could grow’. Social consequences of the conservation policy in Gir The villagers interviewed drew attention to the fact that Complementarities between humans and wildlife they are deprived of basic social services such as drinking water, medical services and schools because they have The Maldharis emphasise the ecological complementari- refused to leave the park. Living in the park also entails ties between their livestock and the conservation of big 180 M.C. Torri carnivores in the park. Although they do not have ‘formal’ increasing problems these populations currently face due ecological knowledge, they have a systemic vision of their to possible displacement imposed by the local authorities. environment and assign an intrinsic value to every living The term ‘reserve’ is now associated with the danger of being in maintenance of the balance of the ecosystem of ‘eviction’ from the forest and loss of any rights to nat- the forest. In particular, the Maldharis say that their live- ural resources. This might make efforts of conservation stock’s grazing activity plays an important role in the park undertaken by the authorities unpopular and could make in preventing ﬁres that occur during periods of drought, it difﬁcult to create any form of cooperation and involve- thus preventing proliferation of some wild species to the ment in wildlife conservation between villagers and forest detriment of other species that ultimately contribute to the ofﬁcers. conservation of forest biodiversity. Involving local communities in wildlife conservation Role of livestock in the ecosystem in Gir According to the Maldharis, the presence of livestock Since the beginning of the 1990s, authorities have imple- contributes in creating favourable conditions for the lion, mented projects of land management inside and around as livestock help control the density of vegetation that the protected area, which entail reforestation, soil qual- would make lions hunting activities more difﬁcult. The ity improvement and creation of water sources vital for Maldharis are also aware of the importance of their live- wildlife, especially during the drought period. The current stock to assure a food source for lions, especially dur- plans of management aim at reducing conﬂicts existing ing periods of drought and shortage of wild prey. When between humans and lions by improving the natural habi- there is a food shortage, the Maldharis habitually throw tat of the forest for the wild fauna, which also include the carcasses of their livestock into the forest, thus allow- future displacement of part of the lion population from Gir ing lions to have at least a small amount of food; this to other parks in northern India. behaviour shows their consideration towards this large Although forest management initiatives are important carnivore. in protecting the ecosystem and the local wildlife, the The interviews carried out highlight how the major- majority of forest ofﬁcers in Gir conceive the manage- ity of Maldharis, especially the elderly, respect the lions ment of the forest as a technical operation that can only and consider them to be an integral part of their environ- be achieved under the supervision of specialists represent- ment. Some elderly Maldharis emphasised how, in the past ing the Forest Department. Many of them have difﬁculty when the lions were more numerous in Gir, they could in shifting towards a concept that includes forest manage- often listen to their roar in the forest and that interactions ment initiatives that would also include the socio-economic with this big predator were quite frequent in the jungle. An well-being of local communities in a possible interaction elderly shepherd noted: ‘When the authorities of the park between forest ecosystems and rural societies. The forest came here to Gir, we had already been living here for sev- ofﬁcers often assume the role of the ‘policemen of the eral generations. The lions were always present in regions forest’, ‘defenders’ of wildlife against local communities where we live with our livestock. If they chase us away who, they consider, are fully responsible for forest and from here, the lions will leave this area too. We always soil deterioration. This vision is shared by numerous for- lived with them and we should be allowed to continue to est ofﬁcers in Gir and is reﬂected in their behaviour. This do this’. constitutes a major obstacle for the creation of partnerships The interactions between lions and human still rep- between these two local actors in Gir, as well as in many resent, especially for older generations, an aspect of the other protected areas in India. culture and local history of the Maldharis. They have developed a sentiment of respect towards the lion: ‘We like them and we will protect them’, afﬁrmed an elderly Maldhari. The Maldharis generally do not complain about Difﬁculties in community participation in forest attacks of lions on their cattle: ‘If we want to graze our management animals in Gir, the kingdom of the lions, we must pay them a fee’. The Maldharis accept the losses of livestock, Currently, villagers who live in Gir, assisted by a local without generally entering into conﬂict with lions. This NGO, are encouraged to implement actions of community- point is well illustrated by a Maldhari in his mid-forties based conservation, but the majority of them refuse to who said: ‘Sometimes, the lion and other carnivores in collaborate with the park authorities. Cooperation between the reserve attack my livestock. But let’s suppose I kill the forest authorities and local communities took place a lion. The forest ofﬁcers will catch me. . . . All the once during the severe drought in 1997. As mentioned ear- people of the village would come and punish me. They lier, the relationship between forest ofﬁcers and Maldharis would make me pay, for example, a ﬁne or they would is generally tense and characterised by reciprocal dis- insult me and my family’. However, some biologists say trust, especially around the delicate issue of the Maldharis’ that this traditional attitude could change because of the displacement. International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management 181 In the region of Gir there is also an active DRDA, of ‘transfer’. This transfer implies transfer of technical a governmental organisation that tries to promote inte- knowledge, transfer of means, but also transfer of norms grated development programmes for the Maldharis, for and values, following a globalising approach (Rangarajan example, the TRYSEM (Training for rural youth for and Shahabuddin 2006). In this logic, ‘participation’ of self-employment) and the DWACRA (Women and chil- the villagers meant making them take part in activities dren development in the rural areas). These programmes, conceived outside their reality through motivating them while being necessary to improve the life conditions with economic incentives. When a conservation project of these local populations, do not take into considera- intervenes with objectives and procedures that come from tion the link between local communities and the forest; external actors, it inevitably risks modifying the inter- they underestimate the deep link between rural develop- nal balance and sociocultural regulation system that exists ment and ecosystem conservation as well as the cultural among different groups of a community. The management and socio-economic bonds that unite the villagers to the practices for resources are a dynamic expression in space forest. and time of the social relationships, which are intrinsically In 1997, the World Bank, through a project co-ﬁnanced complex and changeable (Larson et al. 2003; Naughton- with the global environmental facility (GEF), tried to Treves et al. 2005). Thus, the realisation of conservation mobilise the villagers in Gir with micro-plans for the objectives promoted by outsiders through creation of alter- implementation of conservation measures for soil and for- native activities around the protected zones will not always est restoration, along with the creation of committees to be a viable solution. interact with the park authorities with the objective of pro- moting a joint partnership in conservation. This project, Involving local communities through ecotourism as it was conceived, aimed at reducing human pressures on the forest ecosystem and was based on the assump- According to Saberwal et al. (2001), the Maldharis in Gir tion that human activities are harmful to the environment. should be involved in new options such as ecotourism. This conservation approach did not involve the Maldharis They maintain that in this way the present conﬂicts between in the forest management of Gir and limited their ‘partic- humans and lions could be reduced as the income from eco- ipation’ to the acceptance of development initiatives and tourism would help the Maldharis compensate for access conservation initiatives. These ideas were conceived out- and loss of use through restrictions over forest resources. side of their local reality; there was no effort to sustain and However, tourism as it is currently conceived does not develop local community institutions, traditional practices allow taking advantage of the ecological knowledge of or knowledge. the Maldharis. In most cases, the villagers are consid- The conception of this type of project, the idea, the ered as an ethnographic object of curiosity by visitors. method (how it should be achieved) and the main princi- The nesses of the Maldharis constitute a must-halt by the ples (underlying ideas) came from external ‘experts’ who 150,000 tourists who visit the park annually (Figure 2). assess situations and explore possible solutions for local Often ignored are the norms of privacy and respect; tourists communities. The logic of this type of project is one attempt to see inside and photograph the nesses. This Figure 2. A ness of a Maldhari family (photo © M.C. Torri). 182 M.C. Torri behaviour is encouraged by the tourist guides. This is biodiversity that are based on cultural values are often a lack of respect towards the villagers and has made much more sustainable than those based only on legislation them more suspicious and distrustful of outsiders. No eco- or regulation (McNeely 2001). Examining environmental tourism activity that does not respect local reality can be relations and constructions of nature from a cross-cultural accomplished without a real mentality shift by the tourists. perspective would not only deepen understanding of Currently, there is no sensitisation information given to indigenous perceptions but also provide insights into cul- tourists concerning the problems that the Maldharis face; tural implications of the conservation approaches adopted on the contrary, the idea that their presence is harmful by local authorities. Such a paradigmatic shift needs to to the local ecosystem is often underlined by the guides emerge if the complexity of ecological and social rela- – guides take tourists to zones where biodiversity has tionships underlying processes of biodiversity loss is to been eroded and say that the ecological degradation is due be approached and effective solutions to environmental to grazing activities and tree falling carried out by the problems found. Maldharis. Conclusion Discussion This study illustrates the ecological and sociocultural con- Biodiversity conservation in India, as in most parts of the text of the Asiatic lion’s habitat, by examining the species’ world, is a complex and often contentious issue. What on conservation problems. As shown, this species is highly the surface appears to be a simple issue of protecting wild threatened because of loss and degradation of habitat, animals and plants from forces beyond their control, on two factors that are also mentioned repeatedly in the sci- closer inspection quickly dissolves into a complex tangle entiﬁc literature as main catalysts of species extinction. of conﬂicting issues – human rights versus the protection Understanding the ecological impacts of these processes of animals and forests; the exclusion of humans from pro- requires natural science investigations, but understanding tected areas versus the possibility of human coexistence the options for conservation initiatives requires social sci- with wildlife; and exclusive state control over protected ence investigations. It is clear from the case study that the areas versus increased local participation in protected area cultural attitude and values of the Maldharis in Gir have management. In Gir, restrictions imposed on the Maldharis played a critical role in helping to maintain the habitat by the forest authorities and the delocalisation programme and a harmonious relationship vis-à-vis wildlife. As shown pose a severe threat not only to their economic security but in this study, these communities possess a relevant under- also to their culture and identity. standing of the ecosystem and have a historical relationship Due to the complexity of conservation of an endan- with the territory and the wildlife, which positions them gered species such as the Asiatic lion, the answer to the as important potential contributors to conservation of the question of how and by whom biodiversity should be pro- Asian lion. tected must be based on an interactive dialogue between The conservation measures should better integrate local populations and conservation authorities. This is vital management of the ecosystems with values and percep- in order to understand the expectations and potential con- tions of local populations. The real support of a community tribution of local communities, such as the Maldharis. This for the conservation initiatives implies that the role of is especially important since forest ofﬁcers have a tendency these communities should be recognised and accepted to project their own categories and priorities on local pop- by the authorities, not just consist of a formal consul- ulations, showing them their best way forward, as in the tation. In a complex and delicate situation such as that case of relocation. The case study presented shows how, in Gir Park, an institutional structure at grass-roots level in the case of the Maldharis, the cultural system is charac- is necessary to support and backup ofﬁcial conserva- terised by a concept of nature, in which humans are part tion efforts. The real success of interventions aiming of nature. One important lesson from the Maldhari com- to promote conservation requires the understanding and munities in Gir is that values and beliefs are important in acceptance of economic and cultural aspects that charac- encoding the ethics of wildlife conservation. As Rappaport terise the local communities. Conservation of the environ- (1984) and Anderson (1996) pointed out, the use of emo- ment conceived in this new cultural context can lead to tionally powerful cultural symbols, such as the lion, is human development and integration between humans and important to implement a moral code. In accordance with wildlife. these authors and the cultural ecology school of thought, the case study shows that the incorporation of values and beliefs into biodiversity conservation efforts is more likely Acknowledgements to succeed than the use of purely scientiﬁc and ecological The author is most grateful to the communities of the Gir arguments. 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International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management – Taylor & Francis
Published: Dec 1, 2010
Keywords: conservation policy; local communities; Maldharis; Asian lion; Gujarat; India
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