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University of Kent working with Islamic leaders to improve conservation

A unique project from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent is aiming to improve Sumatran biodiversity conservation by raising awareness of Islamic teachings about conservation.

The project, led by Stuart Harrop, Professor of Wildlife Management Law at DICE and Deputy Head of Kent’s Department of Anthropology, and Matthew Linkie, a researcher at DICE, also aims to improve local livelihoods through sustainable natural resource use in forest-edge communities and to develop an innovative model for Indonesian community-based conservation.

The Indonesian archipelago contains about 10% of the world’s tropical rainforest, which plays a critical role in regional watershed protection, as well as in global efforts to conserve biodiversity and to sequester carbon. However, Indonesia currently experiences one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world and the multiple threats that biodiversity faces in Indonesia show little sign of waning.

Indonesia, with its diversity of traditional culture, also supports the world’s largest population of Muslims whose religion has a strong influence on their daily life. Islamic philosophies underpin biodiversity conservation in a number of ways principally through the doctrine of Khalifa (stewardship). Furthermore other traditional belief systems similarly hold a wealth of practices and beliefs that further conservation strategies. Taken together there is much scope for enhancing positive community attitudes for effective natural resource conservation.

Professor Harrop said: ‘This project presents a unique opportunity to work with Indonesian Islamic leaders in national Islamic religious institutes and their subsidiary colleges in rural areas, who have been prominent in promoting Islamic ideas and teachings. Working with communities in this capacity provides an ideal opportunity to increase their support for biodiversity conservation through integrating key religious concepts and traditional conservation approaches into conventional management plans and conservation strategies.’

Matthew Linkie said: ‘The project will take place around Sumatra’s Kerinci Seblat National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is vital to biodiversity conservation. Kerinci Seblat is surrounded by farming communities who live in close proximity to wildlife, and suffer losses from human-wildlife conflicts, such as crop-raiding or livestock depredation incidents. These conflicts reduce local tolerance towards wildlife and local support for biodiversity conservation. So the Department of Forestry, in partnership with local and international NGOs, has implemented a human-wildlife conflict management strategy for Kerinci, but no formal project, as of yet, has attempted to forge strong links with the local communities. So there is an urgent need to work more closely with the forest-edge communities to improve both local livelihoods and biodiversity conservation prospects.’

Their local partners include GreenLaw Indonesia, an NGO that has run community conservation and development projects in Sumatra and elsewhere in Indonesia since 2003. The project is funded by a Darwin Initiative and a Rufford Small Grant for Nature Conservation.

Karen Baxter | alfa
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