Where the wild things are-Culture and Conservation

Cultural perceptions of wildlands affect the preservation and use of these regions

Cedric O’Driscoll Worman defines ‘wilderness’ as the landscape on the other side of the Great Divide that separates Human from Nature. He explore the idea that different cultures have different wilderness archetypes (a habitat that represents the ultimate or ideal wilderness to a culture) due to different external and internal forces, which may result in differing landscape use patterns and differing conservation priorities, concerns, and opportunities.

Worman studied three different cultures: Irish, German and Korean, incorporating fairytales and names of protected areas from them. A large unrecognized, influence cultural details have on land use patterns. When a wilderness archetype is present in a culture, the attitudes towards the wilderness are likely to have the effect of keeping the wilderness undeveloped and outside the cultural sphere. While a wilderness archetype may protect habitat or landscape, development is then concentrated in non-archetypical wilderness areas. In addition, the reluctance to develop an archetypical wilderness results in less fragmentation.

Topographically-defined wilderness archetypes (e.g., mountains) are likely more resistant to development than the more easily obliterated land cover-defined wilderness archetypes (e.g., forests), which should lead to divergent landscape patterns. However, a mountain can be topographical wilderness archetype but when mountains themselves may be a culture’s home terrain; in these cases, a wilderness archetype might develop in which the valleys or lowlands were the archetypical wilderness.

Incorporating local cultures can be an effective way of engaging communities in conservation programs through the celebration of positive cultural attitudes towards wildlife and the use of traditional methods of conflict resolution. Unfortunately, increasing population pressure and globalization are likely to speed cultural change and eventually break down traditional cultural and psychological barriers to development in archetypical wildernesses. These shifts could result in increasing development of previously avoided wilderness areas, necessitating a re-evaluation of conservation priorities. Thus, wilderness archetypes are important to conservation not only because of their influence on past and current land-use patterns and they are worth in promoting conservation, but also because of their potential for change.

Further reading
Worman C.D., 2010. Trooping fairies, trolls, and talking tigers: the influence of traditional wilderness archetypes on current land use patterns. Biodiversity Conservation (19): 3171–3193.

*Ema Fatima is a Research Scholar at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, India. fatimaema@gmail.com

This article is from issue


2010 Sep