Local perceptions of biodiversity loss and conservation: Insights from rural communities around a key protected area in Hainan, China

Heidi Ma

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Understanding human dimensions of biodiversity loss is a fundamental component of conservation science and is essential to implementing effective and appropriate conservation measures. Engaging with people living near protected areas is especially important because these communities are often highly resource-dependent yet live alongside biodiversity and habitats that are highly threatened. However, baseline knowledge of local perceptions about human-environment interactions are often lacking in conservation projects. This thesis contributes to the science-based conservation work of the Zoological Society of London’s Hainan Gibbon Project by addressing specific knowledge gaps, focusing on the perspectives of local people. Key research questions investigated patterns in perceptions of wildlife decline, ecological knowledge, and attitudes towards conservation management, while exploring the socio-demographic variations in perceptions. Research was carried out by conducting interview surveys in rural villages around key protected areas in Hainan, China. Findings indicate that peoples’ reported forest use, reasons for non-use, and preferences for access to resources was highly variable between the protected area they lived near, suggesting that case studies are valuable for providing site-specific insights but that generalizing conclusions across a landscape is difficult. While local people expressed good understanding of local wildlife decline and extirpation, the acceptance of extinction being possible and the understanding of extinction as a scientific concept were lower. Extinctions were mainly attributed to local human activities, and governmental authorities were seen to be the most responsible for conservation. Ecological knowledge of native species threatened by unsustainable trade varied greatly among interviewees, although greater knowledge was not associated with the relative market value of the species. Limited recognition of endangered species may be problematic for reducing hunting and trading pressures. The medium of conservation outreach activities tended to leave more of an impression on the local audiences rather than the substance of the messages communicated. The Hainan gibbon, the focus of local conservation work, was highly salient among interviewees, and awareness of the gibbon was positively related to reporting of past outreach activities and suggest that such activities are nonetheless important. Various individual socio-demographic characteristics were associated with different perceptions, highlighting the importance of considering fine scale contextual patterns of human dimensions in conservation. Findings reaffirm the value of using local perspectives to inform conservation decisions and provide actionable management recommendations that encourages the co-existence of local people and biodiversity.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Papworth, Sarah, Supervisor
  • Turvey, Samuel T, Supervisor, External person
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Sept 2021
Publication statusSubmitted - 2021


  • China
  • biodiversity
  • ecological knowledge
  • community
  • ethnic minority
  • interview
  • conservation
  • protected area
  • extinction
  • wildlife

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