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Understanding the bushmeat hunting crisis in African savannas using fuzzy cognitive mapping and stakeholder knowledge

Julia L. van Velden, Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Australia
Boyson H. Moyo, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), Lilongwe, Malawi
Helen Ross, School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
Duan Biggs, Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Australia; Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, School of Public Leadership, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa; Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology, Stellenbosch University, Matieland, South Africa


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Critical conservation issues such as bushmeat hunting, which exist in complex social, political, and policy landscapes, require the incorporation of diverse sources of knowledge as a key aspect of decision making. We demonstrate the utilization of both individual and collective stakeholder knowledge to contribute toward decision making. We used fuzzy cognitive mapping in a two-stage process to investigate bushmeat hunting and consumption in Malawi as a case study, and arrived at models of the bushmeat hunting and consumption systems in the form of cognitive maps. We also explored the effect of three different intervention scenarios, namely wildlife farming, microenterprise initiatives, and ecotourism. We found that the concept of hunting was perceived as more complex than consumption, and that poverty, human population, and political will were shared as important drivers of both issues. The two-stage process we used indicated that individual and group phases were equally important. Key concepts were drawn out during the individual elicitation stage, while the participatory group phase allowed nuanced understanding of many of these concepts. We found that wildlife farming was predicted to be the most effective scenario for meeting many of the key state outcomes for both hunting and consumption. These results provide an example of using fuzzy cognitive mapping in a multistage process and illustrate its utility for arriving at decisions regarding interventions in complex social-ecological systems.

Key words

cognitive models; expert systems; mental models; participatory models; poaching; social learning; wild meat

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087