Towards equitable conservation: Social capital, fear and livestock loss shape perceived benefit from a protected area

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Providing sufficient benefits to local people can be an important component of effective and equitable conservation, especially where local communities face substantial opportunity costs or disbenefits from conservation. However, the distribution of benefits to local people is often inadequate or inequitable. In this study we investigated the heterogeneity in the extent to which people living near Hwange National Park (HNP), Zimbabwe, perceive benefit from the presence of the park. Specifically, we examined the relationships between a diverse set of candidate predictor variables and perceived benefit from HNP. Our candidate predictor variables broadly relate to personal assets, social capital, value orientation, fear of lions, and belief and participation in human-wildlife conflict mitigation schemes. One third of respondents reported that their household experienced at least some benefits from HNP. Of all respondents, 6% perceived their household to benefit strongly from HNP and 2% very strongly. Livestock loss to wildlife was the most important factor for predicting perceived benefit, with those suffering more loss less likely to perceive benefit. Multiple demographic factors predicted perceived benefit with, for instance, older people and those with less education perceiving less benefit. Employment in conservation-related work positively affected perceived benefit, whereas fear of lions had a negative impact. Social capital appeared to have a positive influence on perceived benefit from HNP. The relationship between social capital and perceived benefit was positive and plateauing, which suggests that social capital is especially impactful on the benefit perceived by individuals reporting the least social capital. We also found a positive association between belief in compensation schemes and perceived benefit from HNP. We posit hypotheses for this association but are unable to determine the underlying drivers of this relationship. Finally, participation in the community guardians programme, a human-lion conflict mitigation programme, was positively related to perceived benefit from HNP. Thus, our findings emphasise the value of considering a diverse array of factors when investigating park-people relationships and yield insights for improving the equitability of conservation in and around HNP and similar systems.

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Journal of Environmental Management