The diverse landscapes, animals, and peoples of southern Africa provide not only the perfect backdrop to field research, but a multitude of potential questions for the researcher to tackle. Sepela instructors are currently examining human-wildlife conflict across multiple sites in this colorful region. Conflict often arises when humans and wildlife compete for the same resources (such as land or crops), leading to lost income for humans and lowered support for wildlife conservation. It is for these reasons (and many others) that human-wildlife conflict is a major obstacle to rural development, as well as effective conservation in Africa.
When working in South Africa, one must be ever mindful of the nation’s unique history and complex present. Due to the enactment of recent land redistribution policies, the rural agricultural scene is quickly changing. These changes can lead to stress on resident human and wildlife populations, alike, as new landowners work to negotiate relationships. Additionally, an economy that is substantially based on wildlife tourism naturally has a vested interest in maintaining animal populations, sometimes to the detriment of rural populations. For instance, tourists often unthinkingly contribute to local problems by feeding animals and habituating them to human presence and increasing their numbers. And the plethora of wildlife reserves abutting human settlements can lead to increased interactions between the two, not all of which are positive. A goal of this research is not only to document current conflicts and predict future areas of tension, but to also test various nonlethal methods for keeping wildlife at a safe distance from humans.
At Sepela, we understand that there is no one perspective that provides all the answers, so we employ a variety of both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. This holism and diversity of approaches is at the heart of four-field anthropology, and where we draw our strength. Just as our field courses encompass multiple disciplines, our interdisciplinary research embraces both the natural and social sciences. For our human-wildlife conflict research, we will be using a variety of methods, including household interviews, questionnaires, participant observation, point sampling and transect sampling, wildlife behavior sampling and continuous recording.
Sepela’s research philosophy contains a healthy dose of “ubuntu,” the popular ideal in southern Africa that focuses on the universal bond linking all of humanity. As evolutionary biologists, we extend this kinship to all life around us. For this reason, Sepela’s research is focused on discovering ways for cooperation or peaceful coexistence between humans of all cultures and their nonhuman neighbors. Sepela research, in addition to resulting in scholarly publications and community outreach programs, is also used to enrich future field courses to keep us moving forward. Together, research and education form a continuous circuit, electrifying minds, and keeping curiosity alive.