Tiger landscapes are home not only to an incredible array of biodiversity but also to local communities who depend on this same land for their livelihood, culture, traditions and social existence.
Tigers live in some of the most densely populated regions of the world and finding effective ways to partner with people living and working in these areas is vital for the long-term recovery of wild tigers.
Living with tigers
Tigers are an apex predator that play an important role in maintaining the earth’s ecosystems. This big cat also requires large spaces and large numbers of prey across different habitat types making them vulnerable to human interference. As human populations grow and spread rapidly, finding solutions to conserve large carnivores and enable local communities to thrive has become a challenge.
For people living in a tiger landscape the impact of wildlife conservation is diverse. Positive effects on a community include direct monetary impacts through increased tourism, employment within protected areas or indirectly through ecosystem services. While negative impacts encompass loss of land and access or usage rights, loss of decision-making power over resources, impacts on livelihoods and increased risk of human wildlife conflict including increased psychological impacts related to fear of conflict incidents. Often these costs and benefits are unevenly distributed with the most marginal and vulnerable people bearing the cost and those that are more powerful reaping the benefits.
Partnering with local communities
On the ground examples in different tiger range countries have shown that communities are key to successful tiger conservation. While there is consensus among governments and conservation organisations on the need to engage with communities that live in and around protected areas, there is a lack of practical guidance on how to work with these communities. WWF’s People Centered Tiger Conservation approach tackles this issue – how to work with communities as partners in long term tiger conservation?
The main objective of the People Centered Tiger Conservation approach is to become trusted partners in an equal relationship with communities in tiger landscapes by better understanding the priorities and values of local people; maintaining dialogues and sustaining long-term engagement; and seeking innovations together. The partnership is based on trust, transparency and continuous monitoring of the impact of biodiversity conservation on local communities.
People Centered Tiger Conservation recommends overlaying the drivers of social processes and human behavior together with the ecological mapping of landscapes. This will lead to more informed decision making on planning and conservation to enable human tiger coexistence under changing conditions.
"Communities living around protected areas and in important corridors are the strongest determinant of conservation successes. Building trust, understanding community diversity, priorities, power dynamics and allowing the long timescales necessary to develop effective partnerships with communities is essential to successful conservation outcomes in our tiger landscapes." - Smriti Dahal, Communities Lead, WWF Tigers Alive Initiative.
How is this approach different from current community engagement?
Across all tiger landscapes various people centered approaches are already underway and form a critical backbone of tiger conservation. Indigenous people, local communities and other stakeholders which share space with tigers are critical to the long term survival of the species. While WWF has a strong understanding of the biological and ecological aspects of tiger landscapes, our understanding of the social dynamics of these landscapes is much weaker.
Indigenous peoples, local communities and other stakeholders and their economies are changing faster than our programs can adapt to. Many of our current community based programs do not have the ability to adapt in many cases to deal with such chronic change - something we are working to change. Current monitoring of livelihoods and community-based programs is focused on to what degree do communities benefit from those programs (e.g through income, jobs or access to training). The theory being if communities benefit financially, they will support the conservation effort. But this doesn’t account for the non-monetary costs of conservation (e.g. loss of access to land and usage rights) and can create a perception of welfare-based projects that can lose the link to conservation impact over time. Monitoring of these programs needs to incorporate these missing factors and strengthen local ownership and buy-in towards the conservation goal.
The Tigers Alive Initiative, through its People Centered Tiger Conservation approach, is working to address these shortfalls and is driving the much needed shift from seeing communities as beneficiaries of conservation projects, to seeing them as partners in tiger conservation.
This is the first part in a series on People Centered Tiger Conservation.
Part two in the People Centred Tiger Conservation series, Social Landscape Mapping: Ensuring community partnerships for tiger conservation can be found here.