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Finding Common Ground: Birds, Biodiversity, and the Implications for Collaboration with Traditional Landowners in New Guinea

Thomas, William H.
Environmental management 2010 v.45 no.1 pp. 82-92
biodiversity, biologists, birds, indigenous knowledge, indigenous peoples, issues and policy, landowners, lifestyle, models, traditions, Papua New Guinea
It has been proposed that indigenous societies can be models for the conservation of biodiversity. However, attempts at implementing conservation-based development plans are being judged failures. In this article, I argue that these failures can be addressed by translating indigenous knowledge into context that is mutually intelligible to both indigenous people and conservation biologists. Drawing on sixteen months of ethnobiological fieldwork, this article uses indigenous knowledge to describe the relationship of traditional life to biodiversity for the Hewa of Papua New Guinea's Central Range. The island of New Guinea is one of the planet's last bastions of cultural and biological diversity. Using birds as an indicator of diversity, I argue that more productive conservation policies will emerge when indigenous activities are viewed not as vehicles for establishing equilibrium with the environment, but as a source of ecological disturbance. Although Hewa traditions currently play a significant role in shaping this biologically diverse environment, their lifestyle is not necessarily a template for sustainability in the future.