local ecological knowledge in the conservation of biodiversity in the Syrian steppe

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.



Use of Local Ecological Knowledge in the conservation of globally threatened fauna species

Local Ecological Knowledge can be used fruitfully in the search, survey and monitoring of rare and elusive fauna species - where rarity and elusiveness are often features of globally threatened species. Locals with a life experience in dealing with natural ecosystems and their associated wildlife (usually senior hunters but also fishermen, shepherds, foresters etc.) have a deep knowledge about rare species and their habitats: they can help to find them, to reconstruct their habitat and food selectivity, breeding cycles, population trends, conservation status etc.. The key is to design a culturally sensitive and scientifically rigorous methodology in order to decode this precious knowledge, filtering out any background “noises” and biases. Based on a scientifically robust methodology of data collection what is often called (and dismissed) as anecdotal information by academia can be instead transformed into valuable scientific and crucial conservation information and data.

This presentation reports 2 case studies where a methodology was successfully applied in two very different geographic, ecological and cultural landscapes: 1) the central arid steppe of Syria (Near East) inhabited by the last nomadic Bedouin herders, the stage of the search in 2002 for the critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis (An-nug), whose eastern migratory population was regarded to have vanished from the whole region since 1989 - and from Syria in the early 1930; 2) the tropical rainforests of Samoa (Polynesia), ancestrally controlled and preserved by the local villagers of the archipelago: this was the stage of the search for the enigmatic and highly cryptic, endemic and critically endangered Tooth-billed Pigeon (Manumea /Didunculus strigirostris) in 2016-2017. The last 7 surviving individuals of An-nug in the whole Near East were re-discovered in 2002 (making international media headlines) based on TEK. The nomads were instrumental in a community-protection program from 2002 to 2011. In Samoa a pool of senior experienced indigenous hunters, thoroughly selected nationally, assisted conservationists and Govt. staff to reconstruct the status of conservation of the species in the archipelago (at the very brink of extinction), to update the Manumea Recovery Plan (2020-2029) and to provide clues in relation to the mystery of its call.



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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