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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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October-December 2016
Volume 14 | Issue 4
Page Nos. 293-415

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Introduction: Human-nature Interactions through a Multispecies Lens Highly accessed article p. 293
Alex Aisher, Vinita Damodaran
DOI:10.4103/0972-4923.197612  
This introduction brings together a group of papers focusing on conservation theory and practice, and argues strongly for a new place-based conservation through a multispecies lens. Honouring the work of Brian Morris, a scholar who has consistently forged a persuasive set of conceptual connections between science and society, and building on his insights into environmental history and human-nature interactions, we outline a vision of conservation that incorporates new narratives – at the intersection between the ecological and the social – to reimagine the world in the Anthropocene. This includes challenging the persistence of fortress, neoprotectionist and other top-down forms of conservation, through a recognition that conservation is deeply rooted in (human, nonhuman and more-than-human) senses of place. The introduction urges scholars to focus on landscapes as units of analysis: 'multispecies assemblages' that are easily overlooked at other spatial and historical scales. It calls for increased attention to the contact zones where the lives of humans and other species biologically, culturally and politically intersect, as a counterpoint to the dominant planetary perspective of earth systems and conservation science. It underlines the importance of deep relational analyses of human interactions with other life forms, through renewed attention to multispecies histories, locality, and forms of knowledge rooted in place. It is at this level, through historically nuanced accounts founded on a more place-based conception of ourselves as a species, that new narratives and answers to our current predicament will emerge.
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ARTICLES Top

'Tigers are Our Brothers': Understanding Human-Nature Relations in the Mishmi Hills, Northeast India p. 305
Ambika Aiyadurai
DOI:10.4103/0972-4923.197614  
Human-nature relations are diverse, multifaceted and often contradictory, especially the relationships with animals. Mishmi people living on the Sino-India border claim tigers to be their brothers and take credit for tiger protection as they observe taboos against hunting tigers. Drawing on this notion of relatedness with tigers, local residents of the Dibang Valley question the governments' recent plans to declare the Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary into Dibang Tiger Reserve and its scientific surveys of tigers and habitat mapping. This paper highlights how Mishmi people relate to tigers and how their understanding of tigers is in contest with versions of state and science, as national property or endangered species. Using in-depth interviews and participant observations in the Dibang Valley, I provide an ethnographic analysis of how different ideas of nature are played out by different actors in Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India. Tiger conservation projects bring these conflicting versions of nature together, creating unexpected encounters between Mishmi, state and scientists. This paper aims to contribute to the understanding of changing notions of nature in the age of globalisation and an increasingly interconnected world.
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Scarcity, Alterity and Value: Decline of the Pangolin, the World's Most Trafficked Mammal p. 317
Alex Aisher
DOI:10.4103/0972-4923.197610  
The pangolin, now recognised as the world's most trafficked mammal, is currently undergoing population collapse across South and Southeast Asia, primarily because of the medicinal value attributed to its meat and scales. This paper explores how scarcity and alterity (otherness) drive the perceived value of these creatures for a range of human and more-than-human stakeholders: wildlife traffickers, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners, Asian consumers of their meat and scales, hunters and poachers, pangolin-rearing master-spirits, and conservation organisations. Based on archival research and long-term ethnographic study with indigenous hunters in the Eastern Himalayas, the paper analyses the commodity chains linking hunters and consumers of pangolin across South, Southeast and East Asia. It shows that whilst the nonlinear interaction of scarcity, alterity and value is driving the current overexploitation of pangolins, for some indigenous hunters in the Eastern Himalayas, these same dynamics interact to preserve these animals in the forests where they dwell.
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Sustainable Development? Controversies over Prawn Farming on Mafia Island, Tanzania p. 330
Pat Caplan
DOI:10.4103/0972-4923.197607  
The world market for crustaceans has increased exponentially in recent years and so too have the number of production sites. However, the growth of this industry has not been without controversy, particularly regarding its environmental effects. In 2002, a large company based in Kenya applied to locate a prawn farm on Mafia Island, Tanzania, close to the Rufiji Delta. This scheme raised very differing views among various 'stakeholders': villagers living around the proposed site, the Mafia District Councillors (madiwan), government officials at varying levels, local and national activists (some in NGOs), the prawn farming company, and the experts whom they hired to produce environmental impact reports. There were opposing discourses around the rights of locals as citizens to retain control of 'their' resources, on the one hand, versus the needs of 'development' and the creation of jobs, on the other. There were also fierce debates about the importance and meaning of environment and sustainability, and the perceived role of corruption. This paper, based on fieldwork in 2002 and 2004, explores these complex debates and the ways in which the decision was finally made to allow the prawn farm to go ahead. It reveals the means by which the legal rights of citizens at the local level may be trumped by pressures emanating from those coming from above and outside who wield greater power.
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Conceptualising 'Core' Medicinal Floras: A Comparative and Methodological Study of Phytomedical p. 345
Roy Ellen, Rajindra Puri
DOI:10.4103/0972-4923.197608  
Although there have been comparative studies of the botanical content and patterning of ethnopharmacopoeias across different ecological zones, there are few attempts to compare these systematically within the same ethnographic and ecological areas in Southeast Asia. This paper undertakes a simple quantitative survey of the medicinal plant resources of three populations on the island of Seram in the Moluccas, and then compares the results with those from five populations on Borneo. The comparison reveals some surprising omissions and patterns, given what is known about the medicinal use of plants in island Southeast Asia from other sources. The paper discusses ecological, cultural, and methodological reasons for the lack of expected congruence. A model of medicinal plant resource pools is developed to aid comparison, and it is suggested that we need to examine carefully what might be understood by a 'core' medicinal flora. While biodiversity loss is evident in the areas where the studies have been conducted, and this may impact some actual and more potential medicinal plants, it is less likely to erode core ethno pharmacopoeias.
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Termites, Mud Daubers and their Earths: A Multispecies Approach to Fertility and Power in West Africa p. 359
James R Fairhead
DOI:10.4103/0972-4923.197613  
The termites and mud-dauber wasps of West Africa build earthen structures in which their eggs and larvae develop. This paper examines how these insect earths are understood and used in West Africa, focusing on their direct consumption (geophagy) and medicinal qualities. Existing research reveals these earths to be enriched in minerals otherwise lacking in the diets of the region, and suggests that insects may also introduce anti-microbial properties into them. The paper examines the place of these earths in the lives of those who use them and through a 'multispecies' approach provides new insights into the ecological dimensions to 'religious' thought and practice, and of the respect that these insects command.
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Tree Symbolism and Conservation in the South Pare Mountains, Tanzania p. 368
Pauline von Hellermann
DOI:10.4103/0972-4923.197615  
This paper explores the trees that shape the Pare landscape in Tanzania, and the multiple meanings attached to them by local people. Three main groups of 'symbolic' trees are identified. First, indigenous trees that constitute hundreds of sacred groves dotted across the landscape symbolising communal identity, history, and belonging. Second, fast growing exotic species such as eucalyptus and grevillea, planted in a series of colonial and postcolonial initiatives, symbolising not only progress, modern land management and environmental improvement, but also wealth and landownership. Finally, (largely exotic) fruit trees and (largely indigenous) trees used for fertilisiling farms, signifying good homes and farms. The paper describes how these three types of tree symbolism embody different ways of relating to place and conservation practices, and discusses the insights a pluralistic understanding of such symbolism offers for conservation policy in this region.
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The Forest of Our Lives: In and Out of Political Ecology p. 380
Bengt G Karlsson
DOI:10.4103/0972-4923.197611  
In this article, I seek to bring together a number of environmental histories to think about the place of forest in our lives. It is partly autobiographical in the sense that it concerns forest issues that I, for various reasons, have been entangled with recently. These are the making of carbon (REDD+) forests in Northeast India, preservation of the urban forests and planting of indigenous trees in Karura forests in Nairobi, Kenya, and the transformation of Swedish forests into vast industrial plantations. I come to these issues with little knowledge about the forest ecology or the flora and fauna, as such, but rather as a scholar with earlier experience of analysis of the social and political dynamics involved in conflicts over forests, that is, how differently powered actors seek to appropriate, stake claims to or control the forest. Hence, my point of departure and analytical framework is largely that of political ecology. In a conversation about the work of the anthropologist Brian Morris, I will point to the thinness of such an approach and open up aspects that are critical to Morris' way of engaging with the interactions of people, plants, insects, and animals. This, I will argue, is a truly grounded environmental anthropology.
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A Cultural Herpetology of Nile Crocodiles in Africa p. 391
Simon Pooley
DOI:10.4103/0972-4923.197609  
Human-wildlife conflict is a growing problem worldwide wherever humans share landscapes with large predators, and negative encounters with eight species of the crocodilians is particularly widespread. Conservationists' responses to these adverse encounters have focused on the ecological and behavioural aspects of predators, rather than on the social, political, and cultural contexts, which have threatened their existence in the first place. Few studies have thus far tried to understand the rich, varied, contradictory, and complex relations that exist between particular humans and human societies, and particular predators and groups of predators. It is in the spirit of Brian Morris's explorations of the interactional encounters and co-produced sociabilities that exist between humans and animals in specific places and regions that this paper offers a cultural herpetology (an account of human-crocodile interrelations) of the Nile crocodile (Crocodilus niloticus and C. suchus) in Africa. It draws on extensive historical documentation of the interactions of humans and crocodiles across Africa to examine how diverse and complex human responses to Nile crocodiles have been, and continue to be, and suggests some implications for improving human-crocodile relations.
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Animals' Role in Proper Behaviour: Cheŵa Women's Instructions in South-Central Africa p. 406
Leslie F Zubieta
DOI:10.4103/0972-4923.197606  
The most common role of animals in the Cheŵa culture of south-central Africa is twofold: they are regarded as an important source of food, and they also provide raw materials for the creation of traditional medicines. Animals, however, also have a nuanced symbolic role that impacts the way people behave with each other by embodying cultural protocols of proper — and not so proper — behaviour. They appear repeatedly in storytelling and proverbs to reference qualities that people need to avoid or pursue and learn from the moral of the story in which animals interplay with each other, just as humans do. For example, someone who wants to prevent the consequences of greed is often advised to heed hyena stories and proverbs. My contribution elaborates on Brian Morris's instrumental work in south-central Africa, which has permitted us to elucidate the symbolism of certain animals and the perception of landscape for Indigenous populations in this region. I discuss some of the ways in which animals have been employed to teach and learn proper behaviour in a particular sacred ceremony of the Cheŵa people which takes place in celebration of womanhood: Chinamwali.
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