Legal Responses to Human-Wildlife Conflict: Individual Autonomy vs Ecological Vulnerability

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Anton, Donald K

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White, Steven W

Fineman, Martha A

Mussawir, Edward

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This thesis employs socio-legal critical analysis to deconstruct the problem of human-wildlife conflict. Biodiversity is in crisis, and a large part of the crisis is the relationship that people have with wildlife. The current species extinction rate is one hundred times higher than it would be without human occupation of the planet. Human-wildlife conflict is a primary contributor to global biodiversity loss because it is a manifestation of the destructive relationship that humans have with wildlife. It is considered that human-wildlife conflict is a cause of biodiversity loss because it usually ends in wildlife being killed, but also because the long term effects of negative interaction with wildlife are detrimental to a conservation ethic in people at the forefront of the conflict. Traditionally, the study of human-wildlife conflict focused on problematising wildlife and managing their behaviour, movements, population size and density, and genetics, combined with measuring the values and attitudes of people towards wildlife so that the most acceptable wildlife management techniques could be employed. By critically analysing the problem of human-wildlife conflict and it’s representations in law and policy, this thesis aims to transform the way in which human-wildlife conflict is viewed and managed. While many wildlife managers and ecologists are conducting studies on differing human values and attitudes towards wildlife and management practices, and are moving toward interdisciplinary collaboration, the studies are often conducted without an adequate understanding of the philosophy surrounding human relationships with each other, society, and the greater environment. Without an adequate conceptual framework that discusses and theorises the different dimensions of the human side of the conflict, there is little hope of uniting stakeholders and implementing a consistent, cohesive outcome to situations of conflict. A theoretical understanding of the role society and relationships play in the conflict is necessary to formulate an effective model of action that addresses the greater societal influence over human attitudes to wildlife. This thesis utilises Martha Fineman’s theory of vulnerability, together with social eco-feminism to provide an account of the dynamic natural relationship between humans and wildlife and outline how current management strategies deviate from that dynamic yet natural state. It posits that humans and wildlife have individual and interconnected vulnerabilities that are not accounted for by current management policies. Instead, legal institutions ensure separation through the promotion of false individual liberal autonomy. Furthermore, that autonomy is not universally attributed to all humans. Instead, autonomy is something that is considered relevant to those that already hold the power over the concept itself, are most likely to benefit from it, and are already considered to have it (although as this thesis will demonstrate, no-one can ever be autonomous). This thesis concludes that legal institutions structurally deny human-wildlife conflict around the world, whilst simultaneously exacerbating conflict by promoting values consistent with individual autonomy. The way to rectify this paradox and return the human-wildlife relationship to its natural state is to promote State responsiveness to the interconnected vulnerabilities of people and wildlife, by shifting institutional focus from autonomy to eco-vulnerability. Methods of achieving this shift include establishing the relevance of non-human vulnerability to the problem of conflict, acknowledging all interconnected oppressions with a conflict scenario, their historical bases and barriers to recovery, implementing community collaboration and some devolution of state decision-making power, increasing positive wildlife experiences and emotional connections, and finally, promoting the leadership of alternate epistemological communities, such as local and indigenous groups.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Griffith Law School

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human-wildlife conflict

socio-legal critical analysis

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