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Community Conservation and the Future of Africa's Wildlife

The term community-based conservation (CBC) refers to wildlife conservation efforts that involve rural people as an integral part of a wildlife conservation policy. The key elements of such programs are that local communities participate in resource planning and management and that they gain economically from wildlife utilization. In part, CBC is seen as an alternative to the more exclusionary protectionist policies of the past, which often alienated rural people from conservation efforts.

The new approach acts to make rural people a constituency for wildlife and therefore active backers of wildlife protection. Africans, however, are struggling with severe social and economic problems such as poverty, long-standing economic stagnation, rapid population growth, and environmental deterioration. Because of the pressures that Africans face in making a living, the application of CBC may not occur as readily or as successfully as its advocates would hope. It may also be that the approach is being oversold. I use brief case studies from Madagascar, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland to highlight the possible conflicts between rural people's economic needs and the implementation of community conservation. In addition, the CBC literature treats the role of protection vaguely, as it does the question of what might happen if CBC fails to achieve wildlife conservation goals. Community-based conservation is an obvious advance over past practices because of its inclusive philosophy, but if rural people accept CBC because of its economic benefits, they may reject it at some point in the future if a better economic alternative is presented. Thus, CBC programs can work to produce a better relationship between wildlife and people, but only a vast improvement in the lives of rural Africans will ultimately produce a more secure future for the continent's wildlife.

Jeffrey Hackel

Conservation Biology, 13 (4), 726-734 (1999)

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