Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 23, Issue 8, pp 1895–1909 | Cite as

Role of local culture, religion, and human attitudes in the conservation of sacred populations of a threatened ‘pest’ species

  • Lynne R. Baker
  • Oluseun S. Olubode
  • Adebowale A. Tanimola
  • David L. Garshelis
Original Paper


Indigenous belief systems and informal institutions that result in the conservation of wild species or sites exemplify biocultural conservation. The erosion of cultural beliefs and practices can have adverse, often severe, consequences for biodiversity. We explored the relationships among informal institutions, religion, and human attitudes toward sacred populations of a threatened, endemic species, Sclater’s monkey (Cercopithecus sclateri), in two communities in southeastern Nigeria. Due to habitat loss and hunting pressure across the species’ range, monkeys in these two sites live alongside people, raid farms and gardens, and are commonly viewed as pests. Using structured (n = 410) and semi-structured (n = 21) interviews, we examined factors influencing residents’ views of the monkeys, mechanisms affecting adherence to social taboos against harming monkeys, and implications for conservation. Our analyses revealed that most residents, particularly those from one community, women, and farmers, held negative opinions of the monkeys. Crop and garden raiding by monkeys had the most adverse effect on people’s attitudes. Although the adoption of Christianity weakened residents’ views regarding the no-killing taboos, continued adherence to the taboos was particularly influenced by supernatural retribution in one site and community disapproval in the other. Only one community widely conferred symbolic importance on the monkeys. Such site differences illustrate the value of local cultural understanding in conservation. Pre-intervention studies of this nature allow for the development of locally and culturally sensitive conservation programs, as well as better-informed assessments of what interventions are most likely to be effective.


Cercopithecus sclateri Crop raiding Human-wildlife conflict Nigeria Primate Taboo 



Many thanks to the leaders and residents of Lagwa, Umunokwu, Akpugoeze, Akpugoeze–Ugwu, and Akpugoeze–Agbada. Financial support was provided by CENSHARE at the University of Minnesota (UMN), Doctoral Dissertation International Research Grant (UMN Graduate School), Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change (UMN), National Science Foundation, and Rufford Small Grants Foundation. In Nigeria, we are grateful to Glory Ajah, Chief Assam Assam, Rose Bassey, CERCOPAN, Jennifer Seale, and Zena Tooze.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (MPG 34081 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (MPG 35644 kb)


  1. Adekanye TO (1984) Women in agriculture in Nigeria: problems and policies for development. Women Stud Int Forum 7:423–431CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anoliefo GO, Isikhuemhen OS, Ochije NR (2003) Environmental implications of the erosion of cultural taboo practices in Awka-South Local Government Area of Anambra State, Nigeria: 1. Forests, trees, and water resource preservation. J Agric Environ Ethics 16:281–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baker LR (2009) Sclater’s guenon in Nigeria: outlook good or just hanging on? Ecological and human dimensions of hunted and sacred populations. PhD dissertation, University of Minnesota, MinneapolisGoogle Scholar
  4. Baker LR (2013) Links between local folklore and the conservation of Sclater’s monkey (Cercopithecus sclateri) in Nigeria. Afr Primates 8:17–24Google Scholar
  5. Baker LR, Olubode OS (2008) Correlates with the distribution and abundance of endangered Sclater’s monkeys (Cercopithecus sclateri) in southern Nigeria. Afr J Ecol 46:365–373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baker LR, Tanimola AA, Olubode OS, Garshelis DL (2009) Distribution and abundance of sacred monkeys in Igboland, southern Nigeria. Am J Primatol 71:574–586PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baker LR, Tanimola AA, Olubode OS (2014) Sacred populations of Cercopithecus sclateri: analysis of apparent population increases from census counts. Am J Primatol 76:303–312Google Scholar
  8. Bernard HR (2006) Research methods in anthropology: qualitative and quantitative approaches, 4th edn. AltaMira Press, Lanham, MDGoogle Scholar
  9. Bhagwat SA, Dudley N, Harrop SR (2011) Religious following in biodiversity hotspots: challenges and opportunities for conservation and development. Conserv Lett 4:234–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Borrini-Feyerabend G, Lassen B, Stevens S, Martin G, de la Peña JCR, Ráez-Luna EF, Taghi Farvar M (2010) Bio-cultural diversity conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities–examples and analysis. ICCA Consortium and Cenesta for GEF SGP, GTZ, IIED, and IUCN/CEESP, TehranGoogle Scholar
  11. Burnham KP, Anderson DR (2002) Model selection and multimodel inference: a practical information-theoretic approach. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Chukwuezi B (2001) Through thick and thin: Igbo rural-urban circularity, identity, and investment. J Contemp Afr Stud 19:55–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Colding J, Folke C (1997) The relations among threatened species, their protection, and taboos. Conserv Ecol 1.
  14. Dudley N, Higgins-Zogib L, Mansourian S (2009) The links between protected areas, faiths, and sacred natural sites. Conserv Biol 23:568–577PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Egboh EO (1971) The beginning of the end of traditional religion in Iboland. West Afr Relig 9:1–12Google Scholar
  16. Ejizu CI (1984) Continuity and discontinuity in African traditional religion: the case of the Igbo of Nigeria. Cah Relig Afr 18:197–214Google Scholar
  17. Ezumah NN, DiDomenico CM (1995) Enhancing the role of women in crop production: a case study of Igbo women in Nigeria. World Dev 23:1731–1744CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fernandes D (2005) ‘More eyes watching’: lessons from the community-based management of a giant fish, Arapaima gigas, in central Guyana. MSc thesis, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  19. Fowler CT (2003) The ecological implications of ancestral religion and reciprocal exchange in a sacred forest in Karendi (Sumba, Indonesia). Worldviews Environ Cult Relig 7:303–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gugler J (1991) Life in a dual system revisited: urban-rural ties in Enugu, Nigeria, 1961–87. World Dev 19:399–409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hill CM (1997) Crop-raiding by wild vertebrates: the farmer’s perspective in an agricultural community in western Uganda. Int J Pest Manag 43:77–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Isichei E (1970) Seven varieties of ambiguity: some patterns of Igbo response to Christian missions. J Relig Afr 3:209–227Google Scholar
  23. Johnson TM (ed) (2007) World Christian database. Brill, Leiden/Boston. Accessed July 2013
  24. Jones JPG, Andriamarovololona MM, Hockley N (2008) The importance of taboos and social norms to conservation in Madagascar. Conserv Biol 22:976–986PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kideghesho JR (2008) Co-existence between the traditional societies and wildlife in western Serengeti, Tanzania: its relevancy in contemporary wildlife conservation efforts. Biodivers Conserv 17:1861–1881CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Korieh CJ (2006) Voices from within and without: sources, methods, and problematics in the recovery of the agrarian history of the Igbo (southeastern Nigeria). Hist Afr 33:231–253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Korieh CJ (2007) Yam is king! But cassava is the mother of all crops: farming, culture, and identity in Igbo agrarian economy. Dialect Anthropol 31:221–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Madden F (2004) Creating coexistence between humans and wildlife: global perspectives on local efforts to address human–wildlife conflict. Hum Dimens Wildl 9:247–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Maffi L (2005) Linguistic, cultural, and biological diversity. Annu Rev Anthropol 29:599–617CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Maffi L, Woodley E (eds) (2010) Biocultural diversity conservation: a global sourcebook. Earthscan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  31. Meek CK (1970) Law and authority in a Nigerian tribe: a study in indirect rule. Barnes & Noble Inc., New YorkGoogle Scholar
  32. Nzegbule EC, Meregini AOA (1999) Applying indigenous knowledge in conserving biodiversity in Okigwe South, Imo State, Nigeria. J Sustain Agric Environ 1:95–100Google Scholar
  33. Oates JF, Anadu PA, Gadsby EL, Werre JL (1992) Sclater’s guenon—a rare Nigerian monkey threatened by deforestation. Natl Geogr Res Explor 8:476–491Google Scholar
  34. Oates JF, Baker LR, Tooze ZJ (2008) Cercopithecus sclateri. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. Accessed Jan 2014
  35. Okorocha CC (1987) The meaning of religious conversion in Africa: the case of the Igbo of Nigeria. Avebury-Gower Publishing Co., Ltd., Aldershot, UKGoogle Scholar
  36. Okpoko PU (2001) Harnessing the tourism potentials of sacred groves and shrines in southeast Nigeria. West Afr J Archaeol 31:93–114Google Scholar
  37. Oviedo G, Maffi L, Larsen PB (2000) Indigenous and traditional peoples of the world and ecoregion conservation: an integrated approach to conserving the world’s biological and cultural diversity. WWF International, Gland, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
  38. Pilgrim S, Pretty J (eds) (2013) Nature and culture: rebuilding lost connections. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  39. Pretty J, Adams B, Berkes F, de Athayde SF, Dudley N, Hunn E, Maffi L, Milton K, Rapport D, Robbins P, Sterling E, Stolton S, Tsing A, Vintinner E, Pilgrim S (2009) The intersections of biological diversity and cultural diversity: towards integration. Conserv Soc 7:100–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pungetti G, Oviedo G, Hooke D (eds) (2012) Sacred species and sites: advances in biocultural conservation. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  41. Saj TL, Mather C, Sicotte P (2006) Traditional taboos in biological conservation: the case of Colobus vellerosus at the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary, Central Ghana. Soc Sci Inform 45:285–310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Southwick C, Siddiqi MF (1998) The rhesus monkey’s fall from grace. In: Ciochon RL, Nisbett RA (eds) The primate anthology. Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, pp 211–218Google Scholar
  43. Srivastava A, Begum F (2005) City monkeys (Macaca mulatta): a study of human attitudes. In: Paterson JD, Wallis J (eds) Commensalism and conflict: the human-primate interface. American Society of Primatologists, Norman, OK, pp 258–269Google Scholar
  44. Strum SC (1994) Prospects for management of primate pests. Rev Ecol (Terre Vie) 49:295–306Google Scholar
  45. Tooze Z (1994) Does sacred mean secure? Investigation of a sacred population of Sclater’s guenon (Cercopithecus sclateri) in southeast Nigeria. Report to the Wildlife Conservation Society, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  46. Udoye EA (2011) Resolving the prevailing conflicts between Christianity and African (Igbo) traditional religion through inculturation. LIT Verlag, ZurichGoogle Scholar
  47. Waylen KA, Fischer A, McGowan PJK, Thirgood SJ, Milner-Gulland EJ (2010) Effect of local cultural context on the success of community-based conservation interventions. Conserv Biol 24:1119–1129PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lynne R. Baker
    • 1
    • 2
  • Oluseun S. Olubode
    • 3
  • Adebowale A. Tanimola
    • 4
  • David L. Garshelis
    • 2
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Natural and Environmental SciencesAmerican University of NigeriaYolaNigeria
  2. 2.Conservation Biology Program, Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation BiologyUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA
  3. 3.Department of Crop Protection and Environmental BiologyUniversity of IbadanIbadanNigeria
  4. 4.Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Faculty of AgricultureUniversity of Port HarcourtPort HarcourtNigeria
  5. 5.Minnesota Department of Natural ResourcesGrand RapidsUSA

Personalised recommendations