Institute of Social Anthropology

Prof. Dr. Haller, Tobias

SNSF-Project: Convivial Constitutionality

Karl Herweg

Human-Predator Interrelations in Complex Social-Ecological Systems

The project Convivial Constitutionality tries to make a contribution to the new debate on alternative approaches to nature conservation. It is inspired by research at Wageningen University entitled Towards Convivial Conservation: Governing Human-Wildlife Relations in the Anthropocene (CON-VIVA), which attempts to overcome human-animal dualism in current environmental protection strategies (e.g. by integrating predators for the recovery of ecosystems). However, this strategy may lead to conflicts between local populations and predators. The Convivial Constitutionality project will now explore this gap. The question is how the relationship with local people can be demonstrated using the example of three known and protected predators from three continents (wolf in Romania, Europe; lion in Kenya, Africa; jaguar in Colombia, Latin America). By means of research approaches and methods of social anthropology, three comparative doctoral theses will explore how coexistence with these predators was institutionally regulated by the local population groups in the past and integrated into religious perspectives. These local groups have developed a long experience, extensive knowledge and apparently successful institutions in dealing with these animals, which are now to be researched using social anthropological methods. However, since the survival of these predators is impaired in these three areas due to colonization, land grabbing and trophy hunting, the question arises as to how these local groups could envisage the development of new sets of rules for the coexistence of man and predator. In this second area, experimental means are used to work out in a participatory way how these local groups would imagine the formation of new institutions from their perspective, which involves all actors in a participatory act of rule-making (constitutionality approach). 

Project lead: Prof. Dr. Tobias Haller

Project team members: Lisa Alvarado, Ariane Zangger, Samuel Weissman

Duration: 01.01.2021 - 31.12.2024

Financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation

The jaguar (panthera onca) is highly endangered in South America and especially in Ecuador (Boron et al. 2018). Although there are efforts to protect the jaguar on different levels, there is a lack of knowledge about how many animals still exist, how large their territories are and how they move through the fragmented landscapes (Olsoy et al. 2016, Boron et al. 2019). There is also a lack of knowledge about how the local population treats the animals. Religion can play an important role here. Especially shamanism seems to interconnect human and jaguar spheres, a point that will be further analyzed in this research. Research in other countries has shown that jaguars normally migrate over large territories and often remain unobserved by humans (Olsoy et al. 2016). Conflicts can arise when jaguars attack human livestock during their migrations.

Despite this conflict, humans and jaguars have co-existed in Ecuador for centuries, and our research aims at documenting and analyzing this situation. First, a detailed analysis of institutions managing the relations between humans, especially indigenous people, and jaguars over time is intended to shed light on the historical context, which in a second step will provide the background for the research on today’s negotiation between different ontologies, including environmentalist, indigenous, and others. We expect to find different perspectives and reasons to live alongside the jaguar. Finally, discussions about local-level initiatives to live along with jaguars might provide examples to follow in other places.

This research is carried out by Lisa Alvarado

Photo by Prashant Saini
Ecuador mit Regenwald
Shaman in the forest - Photo by Lisa Alvarado

The Carpathians, known for their rich biodiversity and large carnivore population (wolf, bear, lynx), have almost half of their total area in Romania (Anuarul statistic al romaniei 2017: 3). The Carpathians harbor 30% of the European wolf (Canis lupus) population (Young et al. 2007: 547), and the Romanian part is even considered as the “only place in Europe outside Russia where healthy populations of all three large carnivore species live” (Promberger and Mertens 2001: 173). It is therefore not surprising that Romania still has a lively traditional pastoral way of life in which large carnivores have always been present and have a significant influence, especially as almost one third of the population works in the agricultural sector ( 2019, Fox 2011). Together with their flocks of sheep, goats or cows, Romanian shepherds move across the pastures with the seasons, accompanied by guard dogs, and thus spend their lives in close proximity to their animals both day and night. 

We therefore assume that the narratives, ideologies, protection strategies and political ways of thinking of Romanian farmers differ significantly from those in Switzerland, and that the handling of livestock and large carnivores is based on specific, locally established knowledge systems and experience. However, these historically grown knowledge systems, experience and local and national institutions are subject to constant change due to changes at the political (socialism/post socialism), economic and social level, which need to be investigated. This research might therefore gain insight into ways of dealing with such circumstances that can be discussed regarding other cultural contexts.

This research is carried out by Ariane Zangger

Wolf pack (ZVG)
Romanian Shepherd
Romanian shepherd in the Carpathians with his sheep, cattle dog and herd protection dogs - Photo by G. Musina 2020

In 2015 the incident of a lion (Panthera leo) pride being poisoned in Kenya made headlines worldwide. The case involved a well-known lion pride and invoked an international debate surrounding human-lion conflicts where many narratives collided over who or what is to blame and how this might be solved. It is by no means a singular event that took place in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, and incidents involving killing of lions or other wildlife conflicting with humans are frequent (see Gadd 2005; Hazzah et al. 2014). Our research will focus on the areas of interaction where such frequency is most pressing, namely where agro-pastoralists deal with predation in everyday life. As Goldman, Roque de Pinho, and Perry (2013) argue on the basis of ethnographic research done in Kenya and Tanzania, often projects to mitigate human-predator conflicts involving the lion are simplified by conservation authorities, linking them either to ‘cultural’ or ‘retaliatory’ behaviour. They criticise the methods currently employed, even by progressive projects, to generate improved relations between locals and lions, which in this case are mainly concerning Masai, as their rangelands and with it their ability to manage the commons successfully have been greatly reduced through the colonial and post-colonial process of common land and green grabbing and are now often in close proximity to or overlapping with protected areas. 

It is therefore proposed that our research should be aimed at addressing issues where local institutions can be or have been adapted to support bottom-up institution building, as these are most likely linked to local knowledge systems that have a history and well-founded practice of managing the commons and dealing with their surroundings. Masai, for instance, do not consider the lion to be solely a problem animal, but see it as part of their environment and primarily use hunting to manage predation on their livestock (Goldman, Roque de Pinho, and Perry 2013 ). Without laws to legally hunt, the issue will be especially important in contexts of green- and commons grabbing.

This research is carried out by Samuel Weissman.  

Lion in the grass
One of the LWC’s lionesses wearing a collar for monitoring - Photo by S. Weissman 2016
Constitutionality: Conditions for Crafting Local Ownership of Institution-Building Processes

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The Constitutionality Approach: Conditions, Opportunities, and Challenges for Bottom-Up Institution Building

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Human Ecology: Special Issue

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Science Part: Convivial Constitutionality

Convivial Constitutionality_Proposal SNF.pdf (PDF, 242KB)