Sustainable wildlife utilization in Africa: a contest between scientific understanding and human nature

Document Type

Contribution to Book

Journal/Book Title/Conference

The Psychology of Sustainable Development


P. Schmuck, W. Schultz


Kluwer, Dordrecht, Netherlands

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Human attitudes towards resource use are rooted in genetically determined behavior, which has been evolutionarily selected to maximize the reproductive success of individuals. In traditional African societies, for example, this results in hunting practices that maximize meat procuredper unit hunting cost. Such practices were not unsustainable when human population densities were low and hunting techniques were primitive, but with the currently high population densities and widespread availability offirearms in Africa, it is inevitable that wildlife resources are being exterminated from unprotected areas. The attitudes that underlie unsustainable wildlife harvesting are unlikely to change as long as social instability and poverty prevent rural Africans from being able to invest in their future generations. While human behavior within stable, affluent, well-educated societies may be influenced by SCientifically based arguments for sustainable development, this is still an expression of basic human nature. Whether people maximize short-term resource-consumption for the immediate benefit of self and kin (unstable impoverished societies) or strategize for the long-term benefit of linear descendents (stable affluent societies), the motivation is ultimately the same; the differences lie in the constraints that apply to each society. Efforts to promote sustainable development would thus be better directed at alleviating socio-economic constraints than at attempting to change innate human behavior.

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