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Integrating traditional knowledge when it appears to conflict with conservation: lessons from the discovery and protection of sitatunga in Ghana

Jana M. McPherson, Centre for Conservation Research, Calgary Zoological Society
Joy Sammy, Centre for Conservation Research, Calgary Zoological Society; Protected Areas and Poverty Reduction Canada-Africa Learning Alliance, Vancouver Island University
Donna J. Sheppard, Centre for Conservation Research, Calgary Zoological Society; Nature Conservation Research Centre; Protected Areas and Poverty Reduction Canada-Africa Learning Alliance, Vancouver Island University; Rural Studies, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph
John J. Mason, Nature Conservation Research Centre
Typhenn A. Brichieri-Colombi, Centre for Conservation Research, Calgary Zoological Society
Axel Moehrenschlager, Centre for Conservation Research, Calgary Zoological Society

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-08089-210124

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Abstract

Cultural traditions can conflict with modern conservation goals when they promote damage to fragile environments or the harvest of imperiled species. We explore whether and how traditional, culturally motivated species exploitation can nonetheless aid conservation by examining the recent “discovery” in Avu Lagoon, Ghana, of sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekii gratus), a species familiar to locals, but not previously scientifically recorded in Ghana and regionally assumed extinct. Specifically, we investigate what role traditional beliefs, allied hunting practices, and the associated traditional ecological knowledge have played in the species’ discovery and subsequent community-based conservation; how they might influence future conservation outcomes; and how they may themselves be shaped by conservation efforts. Our study serves to exemplify the complexities, risks, and benefits associated with building conservation efforts around traditional ecological knowledge and beliefs. Complexities arise from localized variation in beliefs (with cultural significance of sitatunga much stronger in one village than others), progressive dilution of traditional worldviews by mainstream religions, and the context dependence, both culturally and geographically, of the reliability of traditional ecological knowledge. Among the benefits, we highlight (1) information on the distribution and habitat needs of species that can help to discover, rediscover, or manage imperiled taxa if appropriately paired with scientific data collection; and (2) enhanced sustainability of conservation efforts given the cultivation of mutual trust, respect, and understanding between researchers and local communities. In turn, conservation attention to traditional ecological knowledge and traditionally important species can help reinvigorate cultural diversity by promoting the persistence of traditional belief and knowledge systems alongside mainstream worldviews and religions.

Key words

Anlo-Keta Lagoon Complex; community-based conservation; local knowledge; shrines; traditional beliefs; traditional ecological knowledge; traditional species harvest; Tragelaphus spekii gratus

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087