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Biosocial conservation: integrating biological and ethnographic methods to study human-primate interactions

Setchell, J.M.; Fairet, E.; Shutt, K.; Waters, S.; Bell, S.

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E. Fairet

K. Shutt

S. Waters


Biodiversity conservation is one of the grand challenges facing society. Many people interested in biodiversity conservation have a background in wildlife biology. However, the diverse social, cultural, political, and historical factors that influence the lives of people and wildlife can be investigated fully only by incorporating social science methods, ideally within an interdisciplinary framework. Cultural hierarchies of knowledge and the hegemony of the natural sciences create a barrier to interdisciplinary understandings. Here, we review three different projects that confront this difficulty, integrating biological and ethnographic methods to study conservation problems. The first project involved wildlife foraging on crops around a newly established national park in Gabon. Biological methods revealed the extent of crop loss, the species responsible, and an effect of field isolation, while ethnography revealed institutional and social vulnerability to foraging wildlife. The second project concerned great ape tourism in the Central African Republic. Biological methods revealed that gorilla tourism poses risks to gorillas, while ethnography revealed why people seek close proximity to gorillas. The third project focused on humans and other primates living alongside one another in Morocco. Incorporating shepherds in the coproduction of ecological knowledge about primates built trust and altered attitudes to the primates. These three case studies demonstrate how the integration of biological and social methods can help us to understand the sustainability of human–wildlife interactions, and thus promote coexistence. In each case, an integrated biosocial approach incorporating ethnographic data produced results that would not otherwise have come to light. Research that transcends conventional academic boundaries requires the openness and flexibility to move beyond one’s comfort zone to understand and acknowledge the legitimacy of “other” kinds of knowledge. It is challenging but crucial if we are to address conservation problems effectively.


Setchell, J., Fairet, E., Shutt, K., Waters, S., & Bell, S. (2017). Biosocial conservation: integrating biological and ethnographic methods to study human-primate interactions. International Journal of Primatology, 38(2), 401-426.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 5, 2016
Online Publication Date Dec 17, 2016
Publication Date Apr 1, 2017
Deposit Date Sep 5, 2016
Publicly Available Date Sep 6, 2016
Journal International Journal of Primatology
Print ISSN 0164-0291
Electronic ISSN 1573-8604
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 38
Issue 2
Pages 401-426


Accepted Journal Article (819 Kb)

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© The Author(s) 2016 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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