SESSION 4 | OTHER-THAN-HUMAN POLITICAL ECOLOGIES OF WILDLIFE CONSERVATION

Session Organisers: Sayan Banerjee and Anindya Sinha

Session Abstract

Political ecology (PE) has played a pivotal role in examining human–wildlife interactions and their implications for conservation practice. The most commonly researched themes in this domain include impacts of animals on people and related responses from different human actors; nonhuman-mediated re-ordering of landscapes, resource access, lives and livelihoods of local communities; or state-, market- and community-driven actions, their repercussions and the impacts of human social categories on interspecies interactions. While such scholarship has broken new grounds in the understanding of how power and inequality mediate environmental outcomes, the other-than-human has typically been relegated to being a mere object in these endeavours, or as lifeless entities upon which human meanings are inscribed.  This is not to say that PE has ignored such questions (Walker, 2005; Turner, 2015), although there is scope for far greater attention. There are a number of approaches in cognate sub-fields that are beginning to take other-than-human lives and subjectivities seriously in their accounts of social and political life. For instance, ‘more-than-human’ geographers have argued that landscapes and lives are co-constructed by both humans and nonhumans (Hinchcliffe, 2003) while others have called for the development of multispecies ethnographies (Kirksey & Helmreich, 2010), integration of individual- and collective animal subjectivities into geography (Bear, 2011), and the construction of dialogues between geography and ethology (Barua & Sinha, 2017). Recent scholarship (for example, Barua, 2014; Munster, 2016; Lorimer et al., 2017; Evans & Adams, 2018; Govindrajan, 2018; De Silva & Srinivasan, 2019), careful to being attentive to animal lives within the mesh of material and symbolic politics through space and time, have also been successful in demonstrating the purposefulness of more-than-human political ecologies or a political ecology that considers other-than-human lives vital. PE has also started attending to the vernacular ecologies/ethologies of other-than-humans, as centred by the place-based communities and the conservation politics associated with such beings. We are thus organising two panels, comprising of one asynchronous workshop and one in-person event, with papers from both, the Global North and South, engaging with other-than-humans, particularly wild and feral nonhuman species, as actors in the political ecologies of wildlife conservation. We will examine what their lives can teach us about the PE of wildlife conservation or, in other words, explore the linkages between other-than-human agency, political processes and the broader conservation governance of wildlife.

INTRODUCTION
Sayan Banerjee, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India
RECORDING OF LIVE DISCUSSION

PRESENTATIONS

BEASTLY BEARS AND THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF CONSERVATION GOVERNANCE IN EUROPE
George A Iordachescu, Department of Politics, University of Sheffield, UK

Session abstract:

Brown bears are Europe’s largest carnivores, strictly protected although not considered endangered in some countries. The bears’ recent, strong comeback, however, poses significant challenges to understanding wildlife conservation politics across the region. Based on four months of multispecies ethnographic engagements in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains, I argue that bears are compelling actors to think with while making sense of the changing landscape of conservation governance. Despite being protected as an orderly keystone species, European brown bears transgress categorisation, being considered charismatic subjects that need protection when ‘in the wild’ but becoming a nuisance when habituated or beastly, a manageable game species. They are, thus, important actors in the current challenges faced by mainstream wildlife conservation, including land abandonment, ecosystem restoration or newer perspectives like rewilding. Governing bears is a messy endeavour; they belong to the state, are managed by game managers, but live their lives regardless of administrative boundaries or legal protection status. This paper advances beastly tales as a methodological option to recentre bears’ lives in conservation practice. Instead of favouring an anthropocentric perspective that makes them objects of intervention, I think with them and investigate what it means to navigate the Anthropocene as political actors. Beastly tales structure imagined or vernacular ecologies of bears beyond conservation policy and scientific practice, illuminating the entanglements of multiple environmental problems – deforestation, wildlife trafficking, waste pollution and habitat destruction – across the region.

FROM “JUNGLE KA RAJA” TO “PRASHASHAN KA BAGH’’: IMPACT OF TRANSFORMING IDENTITIES OF COMMON LEOPARDS ON ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PALSI COMMUNITY OF RUDRANATH, GARHWAL HIMALAYA, INDIA
G Mahesh and Palsi Community Members, Shepherds of Himalayas, India

Session abstract:

Palsi, an agro-pastoral community of Chamoli district, Uttarakhand state, northern India, practices seasonal migration, from the valleys to the bugyal (alpine meadows) of Rudranath. Along with their livestock, they follow trails that were laid down by their forefathers many generations ago. During the migration, there are frequent interactions between the community and common leopards. Most of these interactions are harmless but some may be tragic, resulting in extensive livestock losses and consequent economic and emotional impacts. In this presentation, we will discuss how spiritual beliefs, myths, folk stories, ecological observations and shamanic practices create fluid identities for the common leopard in the Palsi community. We will also explore the impact of Pahadi identity, dynamics with the Forest Department and COVID-19 on the emerging narratives that are indirectly affecting the Palsi community’s relationship with the leopards. We will also mention how the transforming identities of the leopards can affect the attitude of the Palsi and may emerge as a challenge towards its conservation. We will adopt a storytelling approach, focussing on narratives collected with the help of unstructured interviews, casual conservations, and personal observations during my interactions with the Palsi in Rudranath over the last three years.

FERAL ECOLOGIES: RETHINKING THE IMPACT OF ‘NUISANCE’ ANIMAL DESTRUCTION AND THE ‘INVASION’ OF FERAL SPECIES
Jacquelyn J Johnston, Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies, Florida International University, Miami, USA

Session abstract:

Florida is home to over 500 ‘non-native’ species of animals, some also considered ‘invasive’ or ‘feral’. Their impact on ‘native’ animals and local ecosystems is well documented in ‘wild’ spaces but their interactions with urban ecosystems and other urban animals have rarely been investigated. This paper focuses on the green iguana in urban South Florida and investigates the narratives that make feral animals killable in the name of conservation, while their predators (considered indigenous to this region) are also rendered killable through ‘nuisance’ policies and laws. The result is a self-perpetuating system of privatised urban animal destruction that exacerbates the unchecked reproduction of unwanted feral species and kills thousands of other urban animals in the process. Further, some of the ‘expert’ iguana hunting companies have created a market for the service of removing and destroying iguanas and their predators, as also offering ‘vacation hunting experiences’, like other trophy-hunting expeditions. I argue that we must rework the binary-driven epistemologies that make most animals killable in urban spaces and propose rethinking future policies in ways informed by direct animal observation and multispecies ethnographies. Urban political ecology holds the potential for exploring these egregious abuses against animals, who dare to live among humans in densely populated areas, while work highlighting the erratic and contradictory laws currently in place can confront these ongoing injustices against urban animals.

ECONOMIES OF BEES AND HUMANS IN FACE OF COMMODIFICATION. A CASE STUDY FROM THE CHIQUITANIA DRY FOREST IN BOLIVIA
Stefan Ortiz-Przychodzka, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany

Session abstract:

The Chiquitania region in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands is home to the biggest and best-preserved dry forests in South America. It is heavily pressured by expanding agro-industries, commodities and livestock production, and associated with the propagation of massive fires and deforestation that have destroyed millions of hectares since 2018. In this context, some indigenous communities have managed to sustain their way of life, based on hunting, small-scale agriculture and timber. This study is an exploration of the multiple relations that indigenous people in Chiquitania maintain with other-than-humans, and how they are stressed by the surrounding dynamics, promoting the commodification of relations with land, forests and diverse beings. Our initial fieldwork in 2021 indicates that these multiple relations are a manifestation of co-constitutive economies, in which fear, adaptation, reciprocity, exploitation, and mutual dependencies are the evolving forces, sustaining human and other-than-human livelihoods. Timber extraction and wild honey harvesting emerge as two key practices linking together the livelihoods of bees and humans. I discuss how these practices are bound together in place-making processes, involving the agency of humans, trees and bees, and argue that, despite their fragility, these processes might have the potential to counter the damaging effects of commodification, caused by agro-industrial expansion. This paper also synthesises my earlier assessments of the role of place-making and relational values in the co-constitution of more-than-human economies.

THE GANGES RIVER DOLPHIN IN INDIA: FROM BIOLOGICAL ENTITY TO POLITICAL RESOURCE
Nachiket Kelkar, Wildlife Conservation Trust, Mumbai, India

Session abstract:

The Ganges river dolphin is endangered due to poor river flows, caused by dams and barrages, fisheries-induced mortality, and water pollution. In India, although declared the National Aquatic Animal in 2010, it faces serious imminent threats from commercial waterways and river-interlinking projects. A wave of awareness programmes, doled out by multiple institutions and witnessed by several riverside communities in the Gangetic plains of northern India, have the mandate of spreading ‘positive’ discourse about flagship programmes for Ganga river cleaning and dolphin conservation by the Indian government, even recruiting local stewards for further outreach. This unprecedented level of attention, in public experience and news media alike, have forged new ‘environmental identities’ and influenced existing identities, leading to group formation, conflicts and changing caste politics among targeted communities – especially fisher folk – key stakeholders in river conservation. Moreover, international and national science/conservation platforms and institutions subtly compete over establishing identities as the ultimate river dolphin spokespeople. Here, I argue that these shifts in river dolphin conservation in India have changed the species itself, from a biological entity to a political and symbolic resource, with significant implications for its ecology. I predict that such a transformation will prevent us from adequately addressing the severe and complex challenges that remain, and examine this contention by integrating field observations on the above phenomena with insights from social identity theory and science-technology-society studies.

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[…] colleague Dr George Iordachescu is part of the Other-than-human political ecologies of wildlife conservation session organised by Sayan Banerjee and Anindya Sinha. Together, the presentations reunited under […]

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