Investigating the effects of community-based conservation on attitudes towards wildlife in Namibia
Community-based natural resource management programs can recover wildlife and deliver tangible benefits such as financial gains to local communities. Less-tangible impacts like changes in attitudes towards wildlife are not as well-understood, yet in the long-term, positive attitudes may be an important determinant of sustainability in such programs. We investigated the connection between actual and perceived benefits of a community-based conservation program in Namibia and residents' attitudes towards wildlife. We administered a questionnaire with a specific focus on attitudes to >400 community members across 18 communal conservancies that generated either (i) high benefits from tourism, (ii) high benefits from hunting, or (iii) low/no benefits. We used an empirical modelling approach that isolated the impact of conservancy-level benefits, while controlling for a variety of factors that can also influence attitudes towards wildlife. Using an information theoretic and model-averaging approach, we show that all else equal, respondents living in conservancies generating high benefits from hunting had more favourable attitudes towards wildlife than those living in conservancies generating low benefits (as expected), but also as compared to those living in conservancies generating high benefits from tourism. A variety of individual-level characteristics, such as the costs and benefits (both tangible and intangible) that respondents have personally experienced from wildlife, as well as demographic factors, were also important in conditioning attitudes. Our results demonstrate that community-based conservation programs can positively impact attitudes towards wildlife, but that this is conditioned by the type and magnitude of benefits and costs that individuals experience from wildlife, all of which should be assessed in order to most effectively support such programs.