local ecological knowledge in the conservation of biodiversity in Hainan, China

SYMPOSIA and ROUND TABLE at the International Congress Conservation Biology (ICCB) 2021


Threatened by the global economy and associated social change, local ecological knowledge (LEK) is deep knowledge of a place and its natural components that has been acquired by indigenous communities who have adapted to it over thousands of years. LEK shapes human- environment interactions across much of the globe. It is a vital human resource for conservation because through it we might learn to appreciate the culturally-contextualised ways in which local inhabitants of an area perceive their relationships with nature, understanding which is essential for effective local engagement with conservation initiatives of their own and outsiders.

The proposed symposium aims to share and present experiences and case studies of biodiversity conservation efforts, from different geographical regions, based on the involvement of local indigenous communities and the good use and integration of their LEK.

Presenting and explaining the potential role LEK can play in conserving biodiversity and ecosystems, the symposium will explore the suitability and opportunity to acknowledge and incorporate LEK with western science in order to achieve more solid and sustainable conservation objectives on the ground, and the ethical issues that can arise in the process.


Integrating Indigenous Knowledge into Hainan Gibbon Conservation: Novel Conservation Tools and Insights? 

 Samuel T. Turvey and Heidi Ma 

Conservation within social-ecological systems can benefit from integrating knowledge and values of local communities, but requires understanding the unique insights, opportunities, and limitations of indigenous knowledge. The Hainan gibbon (Nomascus hainanus), the world’s rarest primate, is now restricted to a single protected area (Bawangling) surrounded by indigenous communities with long histories of using forest resources. Community-based interviews demonstrate that local ecological knowledge (LEK; experiential knowledge from lived interactions with local biodiversity) is consistent with independent data on the status of gibbons and other species across Hainan: landscapes where gibbons are extirpated show lower levels of respondent awareness or experience of gibbons compared to Bawangling. LEK data can thus provide important insights into the status of cryptic remnant populations when assessed in relation to data from known populations. Extensive gibbon-specific traditional ecological knowledge (TEK; cumulative body of knowledge passed down between generations) also exists in indigenous communities, including folktales, natural history information, and methods of gibbon exploitation. This represents a largely untapped resource that can be integrated into conservation outreach, to strengthen cultural connectivity with gibbons and pro-conservation attitudes and behaviours. Respondents from Bawangling and landscapes that recently contained gibbons report more gibbon-related folktales compared to landscapes where gibbons have been absent for decades; species-specific folktales might be lost rapidly because older community members are typically “cultural repositories” of stories. Local communities also exhibit “extinction amnesia”, with minimal awareness of species known to have been extirpated within living memory. Indigenous knowledge may therefore have limited use for reconstructing past biodiversity baselines.


The Ethno-ornithology World Atlas (EWA): affirming local voices in conservation

Satellite data demonstrate that globally significant biodiversity persists today chiefly in indigenous-managed lands and in sacred sites. At a landscape scale, these show how the wellbeing of both humans and the ecosystems in which they thrive rely on locally-embedded cultures imbued with a sense of the sacredness of human relationship with the land. The holistic nature of this perception is reflected in the term Biocultural Diversity.

Global science has always founded its ‘discovery’ of the world’s biodiversity on the ecological knowledge of indigenous people. Scientific biosystematics, and the species inventories on which conservation policy now depends, owe an immense debt to indigenous people. However, but for representation in the scientific names of a few species, this contribution has gone largely unacknowledged.

Developed since 2012 through a partnership between the Department of Zoology and School of Anthropology at the University of Oxford, U.K. and BirdLife International, the Ethno-ornithology World Atlas (EWA) is growing as a publicly-facing, internet-based, archive/showcase of local names and knowledge of birds in diverse languages. This knowledge comes in many forms including dance, artefacts, songs and  stories etc. handed down through generations. Adhering to the ethical code of the International Society of Ethnobiology with respect to Indigenous Intellectual Property Rights, the EWA concept and development, current and ongoing projects in www.Ewatlas.net and EWA’s future potential to affirm the importance of local people and cultures in conservation will be considered.

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