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"People should also look after the people": relational values of wildlife and collectively titled land in Ilkisongo Maasai group ranches in Southern Kenya

Ryan Unks, University of Lyon, Lumičre Lyon 2, Department of Geography, France; National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, University of Maryland; Post-doctoral Affiliate, PASTRES Programme, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
Mara J. Goldman, Department of Geography, University of Colorado-Boulder, Boulder, Colorado; Institute for Behavioral Science, University of Colorado-Boulder; Centro de Estudos Internacionais (CEI), Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Portugal
François Mialhe, University of Lyon, Lumičre Lyon 2, Department of Geography, France
Joana Roque de Pinho, Centro de Estudos Internacionais (CEI), Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Portugal; Institute for Social Research in Africa (IFSRA), Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso


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Categorically distinct instrumental values and non-instrumental “cultural” values of “nature” are central to ecosystem services assessments and many wildlife conservation interventions alike. However, this approach to understanding the value of nature is at odds with social scientific understandings that see value as produced through social-ecological relations and processes. With a case study of Ilkisongo Maasai land users living in group ranches surrounding Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya, we apply a relational values approach to highlight the processes of valuation that shape how different people within Maasai society come to have different shared values of wildlife and collectively titled land. First, we detail how wildlife conservation efforts in Amboseli have affected social relations through uneven conservation decision-making processes and unequal distribution of benefits from conservation. Second, we detail how conservation practices have directly influenced changing relationships between people and wildlife. Neglect of elders’ common stances on how relations “ought” to be maintained (both human-human and human-nonhuman relations), and many Maasai residents’ views of the “ownership” of wildlife by a minority have both fueled resentment. We show that an ironic, unintended outcome is that conservation projects, which are intended to increase the “value” of wildlife for local people as a way to foster “coexistence” of people and wildlife on collectively titled lands, are instead contributing to an increased desire by some Maasai for wildlife to be spatially separated from people and livestock. Simultaneously, current conservation projects do not build upon practices that in Maasai views, enabled historical sharing of land with wildlife. Inequality and lack of participation have been highlighted as key limitations of many community-based conservation and human-wildlife conflict mitigation initiatives. We instead focus on how wildlife conservation interventions have contributed to changing human-human and human-nonhuman relations and have in turn impacted long-term Maasai perceptions of wildlife. We argue that an expanded consideration of relational values that emphasizes the inseparability of culture and nature, but also includes a central consideration of power dynamics, might overcome some limitations of previous valuation approaches.

Key words

conservation; ecosystem services; Kenya; relational values; wildlife

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087