Easing conflict about wildlife in Africa

Professor Catherine Hill

The conflict that takes place about wildlife in Africa is one of the most pressing and complex challenges facing wildlife conservation in the 21st century. At first glance, these conflicts appear to be about the impact of wild animals on the livelihoods and safety of farming communities. Yet it’s rarely this straightforward: often they are the result of underlying issues relating to world views, problems of trust, power inequalities and historical disputes and tensions.

For over 20 years, Professor Catherine Hill has researched these tensions in African countries using her expertise to drive change. As well as improving farmers’ interactions with wild animals encroaching on their crops, she has worked with wildlife managers to develop their understanding, and has shaped policy on conservation.

Empowering African farmers to work with humane methods

Family planting sweet potatoes, Hoima District, Uganda
Family planting sweet potatoes, Hoima District, Uganda

Farmers in Africa have traditionally seen themselves in conflict with conservation groups, wildlife and other government officials who they see as valuing wildlife more than the livelihoods of farmers.

Catherine’s research has explored the complex nature of these interactions in Uganda and throughout Africa. Taking a multidisciplinary approach she has focused on farmers’ experiences alongside observing animal behaviour and its impact on farmers’ livelihoods.

Her findings have led to more effective, humane methods being developed to reduce crop damage by primates like chimpanzees and baboons, and wild pigs. Working with local farmers, they include early warning systems and different types of hedging, fencing and repellents to deflect wildlife away from the fields.

It’s an approach that has helped farmers reduce crop losses, boosting the security of their livelihoods. As a result, farmers continued to use the new methods after the original project finished in 2007, and the practice spread to other farmers locally.

The new strategy also supports Ugandan and international conservation policy by reducing the killing of animals to protect crops, especially those species classed as endangered or vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

Working with conservation organisations

Catherine’s research has also shaped the work of non-government organisations (NGOs) in Uganda and Kenya, like Village Enterprise. As well as feeding into strategic planning and training for farmers on setting up micro businesses, her findings were shared with mentors so they could provide better support for farmers in avoiding harmful effects on local conservation schemes.

Connected Conservation has also drawn on her research to complete government-backed projects across central southern Africa including Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Baboon breaking into a vehicle
Baboon breaking into a vehicle

“[We] relied heavily on the work of Dr Hill and her students on useful examples of how farmers cope with primates and conducting social sciences around conflict situations. Last year we were engaged again…to develop a series of infographics to help farmers in the five countries and we revisited Dr Hill’s work.”

Connected Conservation Director

Newly dug farm in Hoima District, Uganda
Newly dug farm in Hoima District, Uganda
Baboons with cassava
Baboons with cassava stolen from a research station kitchen, Budongo Forest Reserve, Masindi District, Uganda
Research assistants
Research assistants, Hoima District, Uganda

Supporting wildlife management

Farm-woodland mosaic, Hoima District
Farm-woodland mosaic, Hoima District, Uganda

Equipping wildlife managers with a clearer understanding of conflicts about wildlife has also been key. In Kenya (2016) and Namibia (2018), Catherine delivered training to more than 90 wildlife managers as part of the Pathways Africa Conference training series. It included simple crop barrier methods, like mixed fencing and aromatic plants, to help redirect non-human primates away from standing crops, and guidance on monitoring their impact.

Feedback on the 2018 programme flagged the training as one of the most popular subject areas for participants ‘because the knowledge was important in their day-to-day jobs.’ 

Bringing fresh perspectives

Catherine’s expertise led to her being invited to become a member of the IUCN Human Wildlife Conflict Task Force - an international advisory group providing support and guidance for conservation project managers, funders and policy-makers.

By putting farmers’ cultural values and priorities at the heart of conservation policy and practice, Catherine has played a key role in bridging the divide between farming communities and wildlife officials, empowering farmers to improve their livelihoods and helping to conserve wildlife across Africa.