Improving community attitudes towards conservation

An IIED-led project in Uganda supported community wildlife scouts and microenterprises to mitigate human-wildlife conflict (HWC) and improve community attitudes towards conservation, with the overall aim of reducing participation in wildlife crime.

Olivia Wilson-Holt's picture
Olivia Wilson-Holt is a consultant researcher in the biodiversity team in IIED's Natural Resources research group
17 October 2021
Truck on a road in a park.

Park-led, community-based activities have worked to change attitudes of local people to the wildlife in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda (Photo: Maciej via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

In Uganda, negative attitudes towards conservation can drive people towards wildlife crime. Previous IIED-led research at Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA) found that resentment over a lack of income earning opportunities and a lack of support from park authorities to address human-wildlife conflict (HWC) was driving local people to engage in illegal hunting or wildlife trade within protected areas.

But tackling this through increased law enforcement could worsen the already fragile community-park relationships.

In direct response to our research findings, IIED and partners started a project in 2017 to engage communities in order to reduce local participation in wildlife crime.

Building support for conservation

Working in nine villages adjacent to the Karuma Wildlife Reserve on the southeast side of MFCA, the project supported activities set out in the Community-Based Wildlife Crime Prevention Action Plan for MFCA, developed with our partner the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). The activities included:

Supporting community-based wildlife scouts

Working with UWA, the Wildlife Conservation Society provided training and support for these volunteer scouts, whose role is to protect local farmland adjacent to the reserve against crop raiding by wild animals, and to respond when incidents occur.

By enhancing their motivation and building their capacity to effectively respond to HWC, this approach aimed to reduce the costs that communities face from living adjacent to protected areas, and the subsequent anger that can result.

Wildlife-friendly enterprises

Village Enterprise trained and mentored people in how to form and manage wildlife-friendly microbusinesses. This included establishing business savings groups, which gave each business a start-up grant to seed their activities.

As well as helping people generate non-poaching income, this initiative provided an additional incentive for the wildlife scouts, as beneficiaries were largely selected from scout households. Also, by forming businesses that grow and sell chillies (which elephants do not eat), the intervention complemented the scout programme by reducing crop raiding especially by elephants that can cause devastation in a short space of time.

By improving local people’s attitudes towards protected areas and boosting positive UWA-community engagements, these interventions aimed to reduce participation in wildlife crime.

To measure the project impact, the team monitored attitudes and perceptions among wildlife scouts and enterprise beneficiaries, people in project villages who were not involved in the project and UWA rangers stationed at the reserve.

More positive attitudes all round

The project team asked scouts and enterprise programme participants at the beginning, middle and end of the project about their attitudes towards: UWA, revenue sharing, living near wildlife, living near a conservation area, asking for help with HWC, and providing information to UWA and wildlife scouts.

The results show that, overall, people’s attitudes and willingness to engage in UWA-led conservation efforts both improved over time.

At the end of the project, the team also asked those who had not been involved in either programme about their awareness and perceptions of the two interventions and UWA. Most (85%) were happy about the presence of scouts, and 94% said they benefited from having scouts in the village.

Support for the enterprise programme was similarly strong. Of those who were aware of the programme, 96% were positive towards it and 99% felt they had benefited from having the programme in the village.

The impact of the business savings groups on wider attitudes towards saving money was particularly significant: 60% of those surveyed reported that they had joined a group, and half of these had done so within the project period. This suggests that seeing the benefits of being part of a business savings group influenced behaviour in the villages beyond project beneficiaries.

Of the people who reported a change in attitude towards UWA rangers, 80% were more positive. Interviews with UWA rangers suggested that this attitudinal change is also translating into behavioural change. For example, their relationships with people in project villages had improved, as had information sharing. They attributed these shifts to improved levels of mutual trust.

Overall, the results show strong local community support for the project activities and improved attitudes towards wildlife and conservation activities among project beneficiaries and the wider public.

Although there were difficulties measuring the project’s impact on illegal wildlife trade – which were also made more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic – it suggests that community-based interventions can influence people’s decisions. This includes reducing their likelihood of engaging in wildlife crime, which was the overall project aim.

The ‘Implementing park action plans for community engagement to tackle IWT’ project is grant-funded by the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund through UK government funding.