May 27, 2021
A study conducted by the University of Stirling and the National Parks Agency (ANPN) on human-wildlife conflict in Gabon sheds new light on how to balance agriculture and conservation. Designed from the results of a digital tablet game, this innovative research project involved farmers from Orkney Islands in Scotland and Gabon, asked to choose how to manage the wildlife that would damage their crops, in this case the Orkney geese and the elephants of Gabon.
In this game, designed by the Stirling researchers, farmers had to choose to scare, kill wildlife, or sacrifice certain crops to allow wildlife to coexist on their land. The game provided an environment to explore the propensity of local farmers to engage in killing elephants. However, the results showed that it was difficult, if not impossible for farmers to kill pachyderms beyond the damage they caused in their path. The balance of biodiversity and food production guided each of their decisions.
“We were surprised with the results. Shooting and eradicating animals was perfectly possible in the game, and would have been the easiest option for farmers, because if you scare them, they will come back and eat your crops. But they didn’t choose to kill all the wildlife. As I have said, in fact, wildlife is part of our life,” said lead researcher Professor Nils Bunnefeld from the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Stirling, saying these responses show that farmers’ actions for in-game conservation actually hinged on trust that they had in the system offered to them, rather than just raking in points—or, in real terms, earning money.
In Gabon, elephants are protected. Killing them is not allowed by law. Therefore, getting direct answers about the killing behavior is difficult due to its illegal nature. “In the game, we found that where farmers felt they had a say in government policies, and s they lived near a national park and had seen local investments, they showed greater tolerance towards elephants, which farmers felt they had no say in management and those who lived near forest concessions,” said Professor Bunnefeld.
Funded by the ConFooBio of the European Research Council, in particular for the creation of the game using the Netlogo software, this study was carried out on a sample of 260 farmers in Gabon and 84 in Orkney. Details of the study can be found HERE.
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