Pastoral Tribes in the Middle East and Wildlife Conservation Schemes: The Endangered Species?

By Chatty, Dawn | Nomadic Peoples, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Pastoral Tribes in the Middle East and Wildlife Conservation Schemes: The Endangered Species?


Chatty, Dawn, Nomadic Peoples


Wildlife conservation schemes, which by design set out to protect endangered fauna and flora, have a relatively recent history in northern Arabia. Their philosophical underpinnings, though, stem from a long African colonial and post-independence tradition. In East Africa and elsewhere, pastoral populations were long ago forced off their grazing lands, in order to create parks and sanctuaries for wildlife and tourists (Howell 1987, McCabe et al. 1992, Turton 1987). The assumption then was that local populations overstocked and overgrazed the natural environment and were thereby obstacles to effective natural resource management. `Scientific' management of these areas required the removal of the indigenous population for the long-term benefit of these wildlife preserves. Over the past decade however, there appears to have been a change of heart, and some conservationist circles do now hold conceptual discussions of `conservation with a human face' (Bell 1987), and the need for community participation (Cernea 1991, IIED 1994). Studies based on a few promising examples of African conservation efforts are now emerging, where indigenous human populations appear to be effectively integrated into conservation and development projects (IIED 1994).

When transposed to the Middle East, Africa's new-found conservation wisdom loses something in the translation (Figure 1). As I shall demonstrate, using a case study of an internationally-supported, wildlife reintroduction project in Oman, conservation schemes in Arabia have continued to regard local populations as obstacles to be overcome--either with monetary compensation or with special terms of local employment--instead of partners in sustainable conservation and development. Without partnership, these conservation efforts are doomed either to ultimate failure or, at the least, to costly programmes which `guard' the wildlife from the human element. Syria is now developing its own protected wildlife reintroduction area in a part of the desert that provides crucial winter and spring grazing for the herds of a number of Bedouin tribes. The current well-being and subsistence of these communities is at stake. If the Bedouin can be drawn into the planning and implementation of an efficient land-use and water management system, which incorporates them and their livestock into the equation, there is a chance that the wildlife reintroduction project will succeed. On the other hand, if the final design and implementation of the wildlife project ignore the human element then the outcome will be very costly and unsatisfactory.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Recent Historical Precursors to Current Conservation Paradigms

Government organised parks and protected areas first made their appearance in America and Europe during the last century. Significant areas of land were set aside as wilderness, to be preserved `untouched by humans', for the good of man. In 1872 a tract of hot springs and geysers in northwestern Wyoming was set aside to establish Yellowstone National Park. The inhabitants of the area, mainly Crow and Shoshone native American Indians, were driven out by the army, which took over management of the area (Morrison 1993). In the United Kingdom, conservationists were mainly foresters whose philosophy stressed that the public good was best served through the protection of forests and water resources, even if this meant the displacement of local communities (McCracken 1987: 190). This expertise and philosophy was transferred abroad to all of Great Britain's colonial holdings. Now, a century later, most national parks in the developing world have been and, to a certain extent, continue to be, created on the model pioneered at Yellowstone and built upon by the early British colonial conservationists. The fundamental principal of operation remains to protect the park or reserve from the damage which the indigenous local communities inflict.

In Africa problems like soil erosion, degradation of rangelands, desertification, and the destruction of wildlife have been viewed as principally due to local, indigenous misuse of resources. …

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