A quantitative model to fine-tune tourism as a black rhinoceros (diceros bicornis) conservation tool in North-West Namibia
Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2016.
ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The conservation of valued species is challenging given the complexity, diversity and dynamism of the social-ecological systems (SES) within which conservation problems are situated. The dramatic escalation in poaching and illicit trade in high-value species such as tiger Panthera tigris, elephant Loxodonta africana, and white and black rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum and Diceros bicornis), exemplifies these challenges and solutions largely remain elusive. While the policy response has primarily called for increased investment in enforcement strategies, effective solutions will likely require a context-specific, stakeholder-driven mix of top-down and bottom-up mechanisms grounded in theory that more realistically represents human behaviour. In this context, designing and implementing mechanisms that change how high-value species are valued by developing or strengthening local institutions that embody these values can become the basis for a shift in social norms that portrays poaching as an intolerable act. In this dissertation, I make a case for initiating such behavioral change in rural communities living alongside many highly valued wildlife species in north-west Namibia by developing an economic and socio-political relationship between rhinoceros and local communities that harness human values to deliver greater return-on-investment for rhino conservation initiatives. My primary goal in this study was to describe in both theory and practice tourism’s potential as a rhinoceros conservation tool and to fine-tune a sustainable operational model grounded in quantitative interdisciplinary analysis. I applied a problem-oriented approach that illustrated in theory and practice how such community-based strategies, specifically an evolving rhinoceros-based tourism case in north-west Namibia as a case, that explicitly incorporate local values and institutions, are a foundation for effectively combating rhinoceros poaching. I then described and analyzed key operational challenges associated with both design and delivery that could threaten the long-term sustainability of a rhinoceros conservation tourism enterprise. By employing an information-theoretic approach, I modelled the key factors that drive rhinoceros disturbance directly during encounters with tourists and indirectly from other tourism-related activity and infrastructure. Model outputs yielded an evidence-based encounter protocol that reduced rhinoceros disturbance events from 26% to 5% in just two years and a rotational use policy for the operating area that reduced the total amount of tourism-induced habitat loss from 15.7% to 7.1% and high-value habitat loss from 32.8% to 20.7%. Governance problems were also examined by employing a policy sciences approach to characterize the decision context and appraising the decision process. My appraisal of the decision process identified strengths such as the inclusive nature within each function, comprehensive intelligence gathering, and the participant’s willingness and ability to reconcile different perspectives and objectives by finding common interest solutions based on shared values such as respect for human and rhinoceros well-being. The policy process could be improved by mandating top management conduct more site visits with deeper interactions with site-level managers, guides and trackers and more frequent and independent appraisals are compiled. Lastly, a series of prototypic elements that are transferable include the establishment of a shared decision-making arena, adopting a fully inclusive management-oriented research agenda, employing a strategic messaging approach as a means to motivate compliance and increase philanthropic behavior by tourists, and emphasizing a learning approach through role reversal opportunities that harness values for guides and trackers. In order to facilitate effective replication, I recommend establishing deeper engagements with conservancy(s) who host emerging rhinoceros tourism enterprises and expanding the research agenda to include tourism’s broader role towards influencing pro-rhinoceros behavior change in both tourists and neighboring communities. Overall, this body of novel research demonstrates how an evidence-based, policy-oriented management approach can help improve tourism’s contribution towards the conservation of an endangered species. Furthermore, it establishes a clear, transferable set of prototypical elements that are projected to help ensure any future expansion of rhinoceros tourism ventures are built upon solid foundations.
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