Do Dragons Prevent Deforestation? Indigenous Belief and Conservation in a Social-Ecological System in Kiang West, the Gambia
ASHLEY MASSEY, SHONIL BHAGWAT AND JOSH FISHER
University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Over twelve percent of the Earth’s land surface is currently categorized as ‘protected.’ However, this classification does not include areas customarily conserved by indigenous beliefs and practices such as taboos, spirits and juju. The international conservation community has recently begun to recognize the contribution of customarily conserved areas to biodiversity conservation including the provision of ecosystem services inter alia pollination, watershed protection and serving as refugia for wildlife in the landscape. This research employs a case study approach to consider the conservation implications of the belief in mythical ninkananko, or dragons, in Kiang West, the Gambia. The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) of the ninkananko areas, a national park and forest parks is compared in Landsat images from 1984, 1988, 1991 and 2006. Thus this study considers the efficacy of formal and informal institutions in a social-ecological system over a 22-year time scale. Analysis of interview and social survey data identifies demographic factors correlated with whether respondents profess belief in the ninkananko and describes the current cultural resonance of the belief.
Keywords: Customarily conserved areas, deforestation, remote sensing, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, belief systems, social-ecological systems, cultural change