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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 14  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 205-217

Human-wildlife Conflict, Conservation Attitudes, and a Potential Role for Citizen Science in Sierra Leone, Africa

1 Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management, Clemson University, CLEMSON, SC, USA
2 Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, GEORGIA, USA
3 School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska, LINCOLN, NE, USA

Correspondence Address:
Lincoln R Larson
Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management, Clemson University, CLEMSON, SC
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.191159

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Date of Web Publication27-Sep-2016


Protection of tropical biodiversity is often difficult due to persistent gaps in ecological data and complex conflicts between wildlife conservation and human livelihoods. To better understand the nature and extent of these conflicts, we conducted intercept surveys (n = 522) with local villagers around the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Sierra Leone (August - December, 2010). Results revealed high levels of crop depredation, retaliatory killing, and bushmeat harvesting in villages surrounding the protected area. We also found that pro-conservation attitudes were less prevalent among younger adults and immigrants to the region. Efforts to mitigate human-wildlife conflict could emphasise an enhanced awareness and appreciation of wildlife resources among these particular socio-demographic groups. In the second part of our study (May 2012), we interviewed a subset of local residents (n = 14) to explore the feasibility and utility of expanding our initial survey effort to create a more comprehensive and sustainable framework for monitoring human-wildlife interactions based on Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR) principles. Findings highlighted the challenges of implementing a PPSR-type model in this difficult management context and the potential benefits of using “citizen science” to improve data collection capacity, increase local empowerment, and influence wildlife conservation.

Keywords: Bushmeat, Citizen science, Conservation, Crop depredation, Human-wildlife conflict, Public participation

How to cite this article:
Larson LR, Conway AL, Hernandez SM, Carroll JP. Human-wildlife Conflict, Conservation Attitudes, and a Potential Role for Citizen Science in Sierra Leone, Africa. Conservat Soc 2016;14:205-17

How to cite this URL:
Larson LR, Conway AL, Hernandez SM, Carroll JP. Human-wildlife Conflict, Conservation Attitudes, and a Potential Role for Citizen Science in Sierra Leone, Africa. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2016 [cited 2020 Sep 28];14:205-17. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2016/14/3/205/191159

   Introduction Top

The Upper Guinea Rainforests of West Africa are among 25 global biodiversity hotspots identified as a conservation priority due to high levels of endemism and threatened species (Myers et al. 2000). These tropical forests support approximately 25% of all African mammals; however, less than 5% of the forests are formally protected, and most remaining tracts persist as fragments surrounded by a matrix of human-modified landscapes (Norris et al. 2010). These forests exist primarily in countries with low human development indices where a majority of the population depends directly on natural resources for daily subsistence (UNDP 2014). Anthropogenic impacts on these ecosystem are significant. In this respect, the Upper Guinea rainforests face a dilemma similar to many threatened biodiverse tropical ecoregions, where conservation requires creative solutions that acknowledge the complex interplay of human livelihoods and natural resource management objectives (Cincotta et al. 2000).

Conservation success (or failure) in many developing countries is often linked to human-wildlife interactions, which impact biodiversity and human populations in both positive and negative ways. In many cases, wildlife generates economic, social, and ecological benefits for people. For example, financial benefits derived from wildlife tourism are widely recognised by local residents as a key asset in certain Kenyan communities (Bruyere et al. 2009). Ecotourism, if properly managed, also represents an important means of fostering positive environmental attitudes and achieving conservation goals (Stem et al. 2003; Mbaiwa and Stronza 2011).

Additionally, wildlife and habitat conservation provides an array of provisioning (e.g., fuel, food) and regulating (e.g., watershed protection, biodiversity conservation) ecosystem services that improve local livelihoods (Balmford et al. 2002). Though originally structured around the concept of economic valuation, the value of these ecosystem services may or may not be linked to market-based incentives (Schroter et al. 2014). For instance, bushmeat harvesting can be an important source of protein and income for many African residents (de Merode et al. 2004). Growing support for community-based conservation programs around the world highlights the potential for successful integration of human livelihood goals and wildlife conservation objectives (Adams and Hulme 2001; Brooks et al. 2012).

More often, however, human-wildlife interactions generate negative impacts (Madden 2004). Wildlife can inflict considerable stress on local livelihoods by threatening human life (MacDonald and Sillero-Zubiri 2002), destroying crops (Hill 2000; Granados and Weladji 2012) and attacking livestock (Kissui 2008). Crop destruction by wildlife is particularly costly, often resulting in lost income and lost time spent preventing raiding events (Weladji and Tchamba 2003; McGuinness and Taylor 2014). For instance, Mkanda and Kumchedwa (1997) estimated a 22% loss of the monetary value of maize and rice crops in a village in Malawi due to the common hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibious. All of these costs can result in negative attitudes toward wildlife conservation among local people (Gadd 2005; Kideghesho et al. 2007), precipitating enduring conflicts between humans and wildlife (West et al. 2006). Crop raiding that affects human livelihoods, for example, often leads to retaliatory killings of threatened and endangered species (Kendall 2011; Mariki et al. 2015). Although sustainable bushmeat consumption is a way of life in many areas, increasing human populations and escalating hunting pressure has made over-harvesting an omnipresent concern for people and the ecosystems they rely on (Bennett et al. 2002). In fact, the use of bushmeat for subsistence and commercial purposes is often cited as one of the greatest global threats to biodiversity (Milner-Gulland and Bennett 2003) and is particularly problematic on the African continent (Noss 1998; Barnes 2002). Such costs have substantial implications for wildlife conservation in biodiversity hotspots, but attempts mitigate them by regulating human activities often result in limited local acceptance of conservation initiatives and further resource degradation (Naughton-Treves et al. 2005, Tessema et al. 2010). The challenge of managing human-wildlife conflict is especially apparent in and around Protected Areas (PAs), which represent focal points for conservation efforts in many developing countries. Here, abrupt physical boundaries between natural and human-dominated landscapes often lead to agonistic interactions (Weladji and Tchamba 2003). Such conflict is exacerbated by western models of conservation that view conservation and development as conflicting priorities (Adams and Hutton 2007). Innovative solutions are needed to identify sources of conflict and promote coexistence between humans and wildlife.

Collaborative monitoring and management is one promising strategy for enhancing social learning and capacity building among local residents, resource managers, and researchers (Berkes 2009; Moller et al. 2004). Systematic incorporation of local perspectives into conservation research and practice is valuable for multiple reasons. First, it capitalises on the unique knowledge of local residents with respect to local ecosystems, creating an opportunity for enhanced knowledge exchange and production (Elbroch et al. 2011). Second, it leverages the power of local networks to minimise common challenges confronted in remote field research settings: inadequate funding, limited staff, and inaccessible landscapes. Third, and perhaps most important, it fosters a collective sense of ownership and progression toward communal conservation goals that is rarely achieved through other management models (Cox et al. 2010). All of these principles are exemplified by PPSR, or 'citizen science', an approach that fosters communication and collaboration among local residents and scientists (Bonney et al. 2014). PPSR models facilitate information generation and learning in situ ations where conventional means of scientific data collection may be challenging e.g., a rural, impoverished region of West Africa). PPSR frameworks might therefore represent a particularly useful strategy for investigating human-wildlife interactions and conflict in the Upper Guinea Rainforest.

In this study, we solicited local input through a social science inquiry to examine human-wildlife interactions surrounding the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary in rural Sierra Leone. Our project was designed to address two research objectives. First, we sought to advance understanding of two forms of human-wildlife conflict that affect both local livelihoods and biodiversity conservation in the region: crop depredation and bushmeat harvesting. We hoped to characterise the extent of conflict, identify its socio-demographic correlates, and examine factors influencing villagers' support for forest conservation. Second, we wanted to build on our conventional survey methodology and evaluate the potential for a long-term PPSR-type monitoring effort in the region. Our goal was to investigate local attitudes towards the PPSR process and explore the potential benefits and challenges of a citizen science monitoring program in this relatively novel context.

   Methods Top

Study context

Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary (07°33'N 11°19'W) is a 12 km 2 island on the Moa River in southeastern Sierra Leone at the western end of Gola Forest National Park ([Figure 1]).
Figure 1 Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone, showing communities along the Moa River where villagers were surveyed during August – December 2010. [Inset displays the location of Tiwai Island within Sierra Leone.]

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Tiwai Island contains mainly secondary forest and is home to endangered species like the pygmy hippopotamus Choeropsis liberiensis (IUCN 2014), the original target of our investigation. The land surrounding Tiwai Island is a mosaic of upland bush fallow, secondary forests, swamps and agricultural fields (Eichenlaub et al. 1989). Southeastern Sierra Leone is predominantly composed of populations of the Mende ethnicity, many of whom are Muslim. The Mende people are mostly subsistence rice farmers who also derive supplementary income from palm oil, cocoa, and kola nut cash crops (Leach 1994).

The first ecological research began on Tiwai Island in the early 1980s through a collaboration between local communities and foreign researchers, and Tiwai was designated a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1987 (Eichenlaub et al. 1989). The Island is maintained by eight host communities who share a portion of annual profits from tourism and research, which are used for community development projects. After the end of the decade-long civil war in 2002, the Environmental Foundation for Africa began working with the host communities to manage the Sanctuary (EFA 2011). Extractive resource use including farming, mining, and logging is prohibited under the current management plan, with cooperation from local residents through a community-based organisation called the Tiwai Island Administrative Committee that allows for local input in management actions (EFA 2004). Over 90% of residents in the eight Tiwai Island host communities report being in favor of the conservation of the protected area, though some people in neighbouring, non-host communities display less enthusiastic support (Larson et al. 2016).

Our research project, which began in 2008, was initially an attempt to study the natural history and behavior of the rare and elusive pygmy hippopotamus Choeropsis liberiensis (hereafter pygmy hippo), a critically endangered inhabitant of the Upper Guinea Rainforests (Conway et al. 2015). After nearly 12 months in the forests around Tiwai Island, and despite thousands of hours of effort, the research team comprised of one American researcher and two local experts had visually observed only three pygmy hippos. It became apparent that much of the scientific information to be gathered about the pygmy hippo and its environment would not come from conventional field research strategies. After conferring with colleagues and consulting the literature, a solution began to emerge. We decided to expand the focus of the data collection efforts to the local human population in the area, restructuring the process to emphasise local knowledge of broader human-wildlife interactions and ecosystem dynamics (including, but not limited to, pygmy hippos). The integration of social science research techniques (described in more detail below) enabled us to begin answering questions that could not be addressed through standard ecological methods. Our approach allowed us to see some potential opportunities and challenges that might arise through a more formal citizen science-type monitoring framework in the region. This article outlines preliminary findings related to human-wildlife interactions in villages surrounding the Sanctuary. It also reveals some broader lessons learned about the utility and feasibility of the PPSR process itself as a tool for answering important research questions and achieving collective conservation goals.

Data collection and instrumentation

Our study used intercept surveys with local villagers to characterize the current state of human-wildlife interactions in the Tiwai Island area. Survey questions, created based on focus groups with local leaders in 2009, highlighted two key issues driving human-wildlife conflict in the region: crop depredation and bushmeat harvesting. These issues, along with the broader goal of overall forest conservation, became the focus of the larger data collection effort, which occurred in villages along the Moa River between August and December 2010. We surveyed households in 27 of the 31 villages within 32 km of the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary. Villages more than 5 km from a road and farther than 5 km from the river were excluded due to logistical constraints. Three trained research assistants who spoke all three languages in the study area (Mende, Krio, and English) visited the villages to collect data from local villagers. They traveled by foot and motorcycle and visited 1-2 villages per day for 24 survey days. Assistants conducted surveys (n = 522) with one individual in each household in the early morning or evening, when most people were home from their agricultural fields. Households and corresponding participants were selected opportunistically based on presence/absence as the research team moved through each village until approximately 5% of the estimated population for each village was surveyed to ensure sufficient representation. Communities ranged in size from approximately 50 to 500 people. Participation numbers ranged from 12 – 30 people per village. Each survey took approximately 20 minutes to administer.

Questions provided participants with an opportunity to report a variety of information related to human-wildlife interactions in the area. The bulk of the survey questions focused on crop depredation (and mitigation strategies) and bushmeat harvesting (and consumption patterns) involving the pygmy hippo and a variety of other local species. To track crop depredation, participants were asked whether they had ever experienced wildlife damage on their farms, what crops were targeted, and which species were responsible. Methods of protecting crops from wildlife were also examined. Attitudes towards retaliatory killing following crop depredation were measured using a single question that asked respondents whether they disagreed or agreed with the following statement: “Wild animals that cause crop damage should be killed.” To track bushmeat harvesting, participants were asked which type of wild meat people caught most frequently and which type of wild meat was “sweetest” to eat [“sweet” is the local Krio language word for delicious]. Attitudes towards bushmeat harvesting were measured using two questions that asked respondents whether they disagreed or agreed with the following statements: “Wildlife provides food for people; People should be allowed to hunt for as much food as they want.”

Broader attitudes towards forest conservation were assessed using two questions: “It is necessary to protect some forests from people; It is necessary to protect all forest from people.” Based on responses to these statements, individuals were grouped into one of three conservation orientation groups: “protect all forests,” “protects some forests,” or “protect no forests”. Additional survey questions captured demographic information including age, gender, education, occupation, number of individuals in the household, and resident status (native villager or immigrant).

After the initial effort to characterise human-wildlife interactions and conservation attitudes based on local perspectives, we sought to evaluate the perceived acceptability and feasibility of a more developed PPSR approach to future research and monitoring in the Tiwai Island area. To address our second research objective, we interviewed a subset of the 2010 survey participants living in two villages near Tiwai Island. Although more semi-structured interviews were planned, time constraints and logistical issues related to the unexpected early onset of the rainy season restricted coverage to two villages. Because of their close proximity to the Sanctuary, both villages also represent prime locations for any future PPSR initiatives. Based on availability and accessibility, 19 people who contributed to the study were approached for the follow-up interviews. Fourteen of those 19 people agreed to participate. The five individuals who declined to participate did so because they said they were “too busy” or “did not know enough about research on Tiwai to participate.” All participants were familiar with the lead researcher because they had lived in close proximity within the same community during repeated field seasons from 2008-2011. With help from local Mende interpreters, the lead researcher conducted interviews in May 2012. Interviews covered a range of questions focused on topics such as villagers' contributions to research at Tiwai, benefits associated with research at Tiwai (for humans and wildlife), issues/challenges associated with research collaboration, and strategies for increasing local involvement in ecological research and other conservation initiatives. Interviews took approximately 20 minutes, and participants were not compensated for their time.

Data analysis

Basic descriptive statistics (e.g., frequencies) were used to describe reported patterns of crop depredation, bushmeat harvesting, and local villagers' responses to these potential sources of conflict. We used logistic regression models to evaluate the relative influence of socio-demographic predictors on attitudes towards retaliatory killing following crop depredation and unlimited bushmeat harvesting. We used a multinomial logistic regression model to evaluate the relative influence of socio-demographic predictors and attitudinal variables on villagers' forest conservation orientations, a discrete choice between the three aforementioned categories: “protect all forests” (n = 175), “protect some forests” (n = 217), and “protect no forests” (n = 118) from people. Significance of potential predictors in all regression models was measured using likelihood ratio tests where each term was sequentially removed and compared to the full model. Parameter estimates (B), Wald statistics, and odds ratios were also used to compare the relative effects of these variables on the dependent variables of interest. Preliminary tests for multicollinearity among the predictor variables indicated that inter-correlation levels were appropriate for analysis (Variance Inflation Factor < 1.42). Cases with missing values on at least one item in each of the models (2.3%) were excluded from analysis, resulting in an effective sample size of 510 for the regression analyses.

Qualitative data were analysed using a combination of grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss 2009) and constant comparative method (Boeije 2002) to identify important themes that emerged during the interview conversations. The coding effort was driven by the researcher who conducted the field interviews and interacted extensively with the participants during multiple years in the Tiwai Island area. Other members of the research team reviewed the transcripts to validate specific codes and confirm the broader PPSR-related themes that emerged during the conversations.


Before discussing the human-wildlife interaction data provided by local informants, a few limitations should be noted. Doubts surrounding the quality and accuracy of self-reported data, an omnipresent concern in research involving local informants (Raymond et al. 2010), are relevant in this Sierra Leone context. Without any formal training or specified protocols prior to data collection in our study, reporting errors may have occurred. Future surveys or expanded attempts at PPSR should communicate a systematic monitoring and reporting process for participants prior to implementation (Shirk et al. 2012). Another concern revolves around experimenter expectancy bias, or the idea that participants would fabricate or embellish certain information to give the researcher what he/she presumably wants to hear (Leeming et al. 1993). By employing reputable and respected local villagers to conduct surveys and interviews, this expectancy bias was at least partially mitigated. Similarly, potential bias in reporting on topics that are socially or legally sensitive in nature (e.g., retaliatory killing and bushmeat harvesting) was also a concern. Participants may not respond honestly to questions if answers are potentially incriminating, even if the researcher promises immunity before the interaction begins. To circumvent this challenge, future attempts to solicit local input could employ innovative strategies such as the randomised response technique to indirectly inquire about controversial topics pertaining to human-wildlife conflict (St. John et al. 2011). Nevertheless, our study yielded new information about the state of human-wildlife interactions in the Tiwai Island area that could serve a baseline for future monitoring and management efforts.

   Results Top

Human-wildlife interactions around Tiwai Island

Participants in the 2010 intercept survey consisted mainly of individuals who were farmers with relatively low levels of education, similar to populations in other parts of rural Sierra Leone (Klugman 2011). Most owned livestock and were native to area. There was a relatively even split among males and females ([Table 1]).
Table 1 Demographic characteristics of study participants (n=522) in villages around the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Sierra Leone (August – December 2010)

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Crop depredation appeared to affect nearly all participants (99%) who contributed data in the study. About half of the participants (44%) reported cane rat Thryonomys swinderianus as the greatest source of crop damage, followed by red river hogs Potamochoerus porcus ([Table 2]).
Table 2 Wildlife species most damaging to agricultural crops and most frequently consumed by humans as reported by study participants (n=522) in villages around the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Sierra Leone. (August - December, 2010)

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Cane rats were generalist consumers, with participants reporting damage to rice, cassava, and groundnuts, among other crops, whereas red river hogs were predominantly reported to damage cassava and sweet potatoes. Some participants listed chimpanzees and other primates as major contributors to crop damage, but primates seemed more likely to target cacao and oil palm cash-crop trees. Ten people believed pygmy hippos were the most destructive crop pest, and only 28% of participants believed pygmy hippos caused crop damage. In many cases, participants indicated that the most significant hippo-induced crop damage stemmed from movements through the field in search of preferred crops such as okra or sweet potato. Reports of hippo crop damage decreased significantly in villages farther from the Moa River. Cable snare traps and fences were the most common methods employed to prevent crop depredation, and both were reportedly used by over 99% of respondents. Other options, such as scare crows (8%), making noise (5%), and watching crops at night (0.4%) were much less common. Over 90% of respondents believed “wild animals that cause crop damage should be killed,” and this belief did not appear to vary by wildlife species. Because support for the retaliatory killing of crop pests was so prevalent (i.e., variability in responses was low), our socio-demographic model of this outcome variable yielded poor predictive power [Model χ2(df=7) = 9.4, p =.225; Nagelkerke Pseudo R[2] =.039]. Only one variable displayed a significant relationship at α = 0.10. Farmers were more likely to support retaliatory killing of crop pests than individuals who did not farm for a living (B =.740, p = 0.086, OR = 2.10).

Bushmeat was reported to be an important food source, as 83% of participants agreed with the statement “wildlife provides food for people.” Animals viewed as having the sweetest meat included squirrel (Family Sciuridae) (36%), cane rat (31%), and porcupine (19%). Although most residents had access to domestic meat (i.e. chicken) as livestock owners, most participants (69%) considered wild meat “sweeter” than domestic meat. Cane rat was reported to be the most frequently (88%) captured species of bushmeat, followed by squirrel (6%) and Maxwell's duiker Philantomba maxwellii (4%; [Table 2]). When survey participants were asked about hippo meat consumption, 14 people claimed they had tried pygmy hippo meat at least once time in their lifetime. Many more participants described hippo meat as delicious, but only two villagers listed pygmy hippos as a preferred source of meat. Only 1% of respondents claimed that pygmy hippo was a meat that could not be eaten for cultural reasons. Other species such as chimpanzees (27%), monkeys (42%), and red river hogs (44%) were more likely to be listed as animals that “could not be eaten” due to cultural and religious taboos. Although bushmeat represented an important source of food, attitudes regarding wildlife hunting policies varied substantially across the group of respondents. For example, 53.9% of respondents believed that “people should be allowed to hunt for as much food as they want.” Our logistic regression model predicting support for unlimited bushmeat hunting was significant, though predictive power was rather low [Model χ2(df=7) = 34.5, p<.001; Nagelkerke Pseudo R2 =.087]. Two variables were positively associated with support for unlimited hunting at α = 0.10: occupation (B =.558, p =.075, OR = 1.75) and education (B =.678, p =.002, OR = 1.97). Farmers and individuals with at least a primary education were more likely to support unlimited hunting. Resident status was negatively associated with support for hunting (B = -1.28, p<.001, OR = 0.28), with immigrants more likely to support unlimited hunting than lifelong village residents.

We hypothesised that attitudes toward crop depredation and bushmeat harvesting might also influence villagers' overall support for forest conservation in the region. Our multinomial regression model examining these conservation orientations supported the existence of a relationship between the predictor and outcome variables [Model χ2(df=18) = 87.2, p < 0.001; Nagelkerke Pseudo R 2 = 0.178; classification accuracy rate 31.9% higher than the proportional by chance accuracy rate]. Likelihood ratio tests indicated that negative attitudes towards unlimited bushmeat hunting [χ2(df=2) = 23.2, p < 0.001], negative attitudes towards retaliatory killing of crop pests [χ2(df=2) = 22.3, p < 0.001], older age [χ2(df=2) = 14.2, p = 0.001], and native resident status [χ2(df=2) = 7.2, p = 0.027] were the best predictors of pro-conservation orientations. Parameter estimates (β), Wald statistics, and odds ratios for both the “protect all forests” and “protect some forests” options were expressed relative to the third option: “protecting no forests” from people ([Table 3]). Attitudes towards unlimited hunting had a negative effect on support for total (B = -1.15, p < 0.001) or partial (B = -0.48, p = 0.083) forest conservation ([Table 3]). Similarly, attitudes towards retaliatory killing of crop pests had a negative effect on support total for forest conservation (B = -2.31, p = 0.002). Age was significantly associated with both the total (B = 0.97, p < 0.001) and partial (B = -0.45, p = 0.065) conservation orientations, while native village resident status (B = 1.05, p = 0.010) was significantly associated with the “protect all forests” perspective.
Table 3 Parameter estimation from the multinomial logistic regression model predicting villagers' conservation orientations around the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Sierra Leone (August – December, 2010). Parameters for the “protect all forests” (n=175) and “protect some forests” (n=217) orientations are presented, with the “protect no forests from people” category (n=118) serving as the reference for comparisons.

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Potential for PPSR monitoring of human-wildlife interactions

The second phase of data collection was an attempt to understand if and/or how our conventional survey methodology could be expanded and adapted into a sustainable citizen science monitoring program for the region. Participants in the 2012 semi-structured interviews ranged in age from approximately 19-68 years old. Seven participants identified as farmers, two were fishermen, three were employees at Tiwai Island's visitor centre, and one was a blacksmith. Only one female was interviewed. Four interview participants had at least some secondary education and the remaining had varying levels of primary and religious-school education experience. As the interviews with these participants progressed, a variety of themes emerged in three main categories: 1) contributions of local residents to research, 2) challenges of working with foreign scientists, and 3) factors motivating public participation in research.

1) Contributions of local residents to research

Participants expressed many ideas when asked about the types of contributions local communities could make to scientific research focused on human-wildlife interactions. Potential benefits of local involvement in research and monitoring could include increased researcher access to community lands as well as access to indigenous knowledge of these ecosystems. According to one participant, partnerships with villages allow researchers to “work peacefully on the smaller island or smaller forests around the community,” becoming a more integrated part of the local social-ecological landscape. Local knowledge also emerged as a factor affecting the success of a research project, and many participants explained how community input, if properly leveraged, could inform research. Some participants talked about how local people are constantly collecting information about their environment, including informal data pertaining to human-wildlife interactions, but they may be reluctant to “leak it” unless they are sure the information disseminated is in the best interest of the entire town.

Although PPSR emphasises data generation and information exchange, local villagers' research contributions most frequently cited by interview participants were physical, not intellectual or informational. These included elements of support such as service jobs (e.g., cooks, trail cutters, and field assistants) linked to research efforts. It is important to note that these services played in a minimal role in our study, suggesting a pre-existing notion among participants as to what “local contributions to research” have historically meant. Many villagers were willing to respond to surveys, contribute local knowledge, and assist with research, but they were only willing to contribute if the researcher initiated contact and asked specific questions. Such comments highlight the inherent difficulty of shifting toward a co-created research paradigm – the type of paradigm that would likely be needed to sustain a human-wildlife interaction monitoring program.

2) Challenges of working with foreign scientists

Over half of the interview participants described cultural differences between local residents and foreign researchers as major barriers to collaborative PPSR. Participants believed researchers did not listen to advice, and these cultural misunderstandings resulted in distrust and negative relations. As one participant noted, “the community people and researchers don't listen to one another…and sometimes the community people are trying to enlighten them, telling them the facts, but the researchers don't trust us.” Differing perceptions regarding punctuality and personal property issues were also common sources of conflict between researchers and local people. According to one participant, “there are some traditional ways we have that are different than people coming from different countries…Whenever you employ a community worker, most of these workers cannot be on time. And the researcher needs their work done on time.” The same participant described how community members would use the lead researcher's canoe without asking permission, a traditional communal practice that transformed into a personal property issue, which hampered research. These problems all added friction to the researcher-participant dynamic.

Because local people mainly speak only Krio or Mende, language barriers were also a significant problem. “There are some people who cannot speak or read and write, so sometimes they find it difficult to talk with foreign researchers,” noted one participant. Several participants highlighted adult literacy and English language education as a potential solution for overcoming these problems. Participants also described another appealing alternative: the training of a select group of individuals to assist in the research who could then communicate appropriate information and essential procedures or protocols to others. Overall, participants generally advocated for foreign researchers to treat community people with respect in regards to culture, which would encourage trust and knowledge exchange – both essential elements for PPSR.

3) Factors motivating public participation in research

According to participants, motivations to participate in research and monitoring varied. The diverse perspectives were perhaps best exemplified by one participant explaining why he was eager to contribute. “First,” he said, “to gain something, to educate… to build up capacity.” However, this collective knowledge-building mentality was a rather unique perspective expressed among interview participants. The next part of his response was more indicative of the group. “Second, for employment… to increase income.” The prospect of “employment” or financial compensation was a hypothetical motive in the case of our PPSR work (we did not pay people to provide data), but nevertheless a consideration that seemed to be important to many participants.

Although nearly all participants referred to financial compensation as the greatest source of motivation for PPSR, opinions differed as to whether villagers would consent to collect data for research without direct payment. One interview participant outlined the problem: “Only money makes us want to work with research, because if we are to do the job, and we have another thing to do at home, this research work can be difficult for us to do.” In other words, local people may only be able to participate if the research and data collection/reporting responsibilities do not substantially conflict with their subsistence livelihoods. Nearly half of the participants stated they would not voluntarily share information to future researchers without compensation for their time. Other participants were willing to cooperate, but expressed concern that many community members would not share their cooperative point of view. “If I have the knowledge, I will share it, but other people will not share unless you give them money,” remarked one participant. A few of the participants believed residents would assist without compensation, but with the expectation of future rewards in the form of employment or money. Although participants primarily referred to monetary compensation, some participants also acknowledged other forms of compensation related to community development and infrastructure (e.g., new schools, wells and water pumps, community centers, soccer jerseys).

As noted above, financial compensation was not the only factor motivating participation. The opportunities for education and conservation capacity building obtained through participation was also seen as an important supplement to local knowledge. “Researchers are really important for Tiwai because they teach us many things about the forest, about the animals and anything living within the community around Tiwai,” noted one participant, highlighting the educational value of involvement in research. However, this information exchange was typically viewed as uni-directional, and few respondents discussed what researchers could learn from local villagers. Participants also believed boosting the reputation and awareness of Tiwai Island internationally was a significant motivation for public cooperation. Several participants explained that when research is disseminated abroad, more researchers and tourists are drawn to the area, which would lead to more employment and development rewards for the community. Furthermore, a few participants involved in the research explained participation in PPSR could, in itself, also generate interest in conservation. “You educate us to save this island. Now, we know the value of keeping wildlife. We are getting benefit out of it, like money. That alone, we are proud of that. It is well protected for now in our community…the more we are getting researchers, the more knowledge we create, and the more benefit we create from Tiwai.” Comments like this illustrate the potential value of PPSR as tool of monitoring and perhaps mitigating human-wildlife context in challenging contexts.

   Discussion Top

Our study was designed to accomplish two main goals. First, we wanted to capitalise on local input to characterise the current state of human-wildlife interactions (and subsequent attitudes toward conservation) in a region where such information is scarce. Second, we wanted to evaluate the perceived benefits and challenges associated with a potential citizen science/PPSR-type program for sustained monitoring of human-wildlife interactions in the Tiwai Island area. We found that human-wildlife conflicts stemming from interactions such as crop depredation and bushmeat harvesting were pervasive, impacting a variety of species (though rarely the endangered pygmy hippo, the original focus of our investigation). Attitudes towards such conflicts were significant predictors of villagers' overall conservation orientations.

Human-wildlife interactions around Tiwai Island

Crop depredation was reported by nearly all participants in the study, and appeared to be a significant threat to local livelihoods. Cane rats and red river hogs were the most frequently cited crop pests. Both of those species primarily targeted rice and cassava, two important staple crops in local diets. Few villagers reported crop damage due to pygmy hippos. As decreasing wildlife habitat conflicts with the increasing need for agricultural land, crop raiding will continue to affect local people's food security and economic and opportunity costs (Dickman 2010). Equally concerning was the reported local response to crop pests, with over 90% of participants supporting killing of any animal damaging crops. Participants in our study reported the use of cable snare traps and fences as the primary methods of crop protection. While cable snares appeared to mainly capture abundant species like cane rat in our study site, snares are nonselective and may potentially capture non-target species as well (Noss 1998). Unfortunately, we were not able to quantify the type of number of species captured or the spatial and temporal distributions of crop damage in our study, though such information should certainly be considered in future research efforts. Even if crop depredation and subsequent retaliation is not a specific threat to highly endangered species in the area (e.g., pygmy hippos), participant input suggests it may be a critical factor affecting the local social-ecological system as a whole.

As in many other parts of Africa, bushmeat harvesting was a common practice in villages around Tiwai Island. Bushmeat is an important source of protein and, during farming season, the lead researcher observed bushmeat in daily meals several times each week. According to participant reports, pygmy hippos were rarely consumed despite their reportedly “sweet meat.” It was not clear, however, if this was because they were revered as a cultural treasure or a charismatic conservation icon, or simply because they were difficult to find and catch. The species most often reported to be captured for consumption in our study were small mammal habitat generalists (e.g., squirrel, cane rat, porcupine), similar to findings of other studies throughout Africa (Davies and Brown 2007) and Sierra Lone, specifically (Subramanian 2013). These species are likely more resilient to hunting pressure than habitat-specific species because of their flexible diet and are also more abundant than many of the larger-bodied animals. Although there were no reports of incidental capture in our study area, the high prevalence of endemic threatened species in the Tiwai Island ecosystem is a concern, particularly because residents seem to prefer the taste of bushmeat to domestic meat. In other places such as Madagascar, the relentless pursuit of bushmeat for both subsistence and economic gain has led to extensive exploitation of protected species (Jenkins et al. 2011). Collective evidence suggests a sustainable balance between food security, economic opportunity, and conservation goals may be difficult to achieve in the Moa River area, particularly when more than half of the villagers surveyed support unlimited bushmeat hunting. Future research that explores the issue of sustainable harvest could include more detailed metrics of bushmeat consumption such as the number of each species consumed, the prevalence of bushmeat in local diets, changes in capture rates due to social or environmental factors, and motivations for harvesting bushmeat. Expanded PPSR efforts could focus on the development of collaborative monitoring efforts to co-manage bushmeat harvest and address this vexing challenge.

The overall conservation orientations of villagers in the area varied substantially, with 34% believing that all forests should be protected from people, 43% believing some forests should be protected from people, and 23% opposing any form of forest protection. This distribution reveals a high potential for conservation realted conflict (Larson et al. 2016). Attitudes toward retaliatory killing of crop pests and unlimited hunting were significant predictors of conservation orientations, highlighting a congruency between general value orientations and specific attitudes that is often observed in studies focused on human dimensions of natural resource management (Vaske and Manfredo 2012). Three socio-demographic variables emerged as strong predictors of conservation attitudes. Farmers were more likely to support retaliatory killings following crop damage than local villagers who did not farm. Because farmers depend on agricultural production to make a living, it is easy to understand why they would respond more sharply to wildlife-induced crop damage. Similar patterns have been observed in other studies (Wang et al. 2006; Infield and Namara 2014). Older respondents (age 40 years or older) and native residents (as opposed to immigrants) were more likely to oppose unlimited hunting and more likely to support forest protection that other socio-demographic groups. These patterns might be explained by the longstanding connections that elders and native residents have developed with local land and resources. On the other hand, studies in other countries show that conservation is often a low priority for recent immigrants (e.g., war refugees), whose consumptive patterns typically put added pressure on resources (Dudley et al. 2002; Birendra and Nagata 2006). These findings suggest that as political turmoil and civil unrest displaces local residents, an influx of young immigrant and refugee populations will place greater stress on wildlife, ultimately generating more human-wildlife conflict.

Potential for PPSR monitoring of human-wildlife interactions

Considering the observations and trends described above, how might conflict between humans and wildlife be monitored and effectively managed? What could be done to track major threats to local biodiversity and livelihoods (e.g., crop depredation, bushmeat harvesting) and foster sustainable solutions? How might a sense of stewardship and place be cultivated among younger, transient population to promote a conservation ethos? Literature suggests that the integration of local input via PPSR (i.e., citizen science) could help to achive such goals. In addition to generating valuable data for addressing important research questions, citizen science projects can increase public awareness and understanding of particular issues, enhance engagement and interest, and influence conservation attitudes and behaviors (Bonney et al. 2009). PPSR programs are therefore becoming increasingly popular in western countries (Dickinson et al. 2010). However, with a few exceptions (Braschler 2009; Ansell and Koenig 2011), logistical challenges have slowed the expansion of citizen science into rural, impoverished regions where technological and economic resources are scarce. Because hotspots such as the Upper Guinea rainforests of Sierra Leone contain some of the most diverse yet poorly understood ecological assemblages on the planet, strategies that capitalise on local residents' knowledge and experience in these unique settings may be particularly valuable. By soliciting public input regarding human-wildlife interactions and establishing a method through which local informants contribute data to address social-ecological research questions (in this case, questions pertaining to attributes of crop depredation and bushmeat harvesting), our conventional survey of local villagers constituted a first step toward a potential citizen science/PPSR-type monitoring framework.

Interviews with residents highlighted some of the opportunities and challenges that might influence the development of citizen science efforts in the Tiwai Island area. First of all, it should be reiterated that our interviews only generated feedback from a small subset (n = 14) of the original survey participants, and interpretations therefore may not be representative of the broader population. Nevertheless, results suggested interactions between researchers and local citizens generated multiple benefits. For instance, several participants mentioned that the research program had enhanced their awareness of the value of conservation and increased their sense of pride for the unique protected Island close to their homes. Similar results have been observed in Tanzania, where Mulder et al. (2007) collaborated with elders and youth to map traditional landmarks, ultimately motivating community interest in local history and promoting awareness of sustainable land use. In our study, however, perceptions of knowledge exchange appeared to be somewhat unilateral. Very few respondents said anything about the valuable contributions that local knowledge can make to science, which appears to counter many bottom-up citizen science models that emphasise multi-level interaction and information sharing (Braschler 2009). As with other assessments of citizen projects, it was also not clear how an enhanced awareness of local ecosystems might influence overall environmental attitudes or understanding of the broader scientific process (Brossard et al. 2005).

Under ideal circumstances, PPSR inspires a culture of continued investment in conservation to achieve collective goals (Bonney et al. 2014). Citizen science theory also holds that participants' motives for collecting and providing data to inform management should evolve independently of the researchers'. In our study, there was little evidence of this. As one interview participant remarked, “after you leave, this will work will not continue… unless maybe we can have another researcher take your place.” Or, according to another, “as time goes, if you leave us, people will start to forget what is going on. They will start hunting hippos again. As time goes on, we will not have pygmy hippos any more in Sierra Leone… these animals will be destroyed.” The current data collection framework clearly did not foster the participatory model needed for long term success. These data highlight the need to consider how PPSR projects can be designed and adapted to better accommodate new audiences in developing countries (Bonney et al. 2009) and incorporate some of the best practices learned through years of research on community-based conservation initiatives. For example, an enhanced degree of empowerment and ownership is necessary to help participants understand that their contributions are valued (Cox et al. 2010, Brooks et al. 2012), thereby increasingly the likelihood that PPSR-type projects can be sustained.

In our study, we identified a few other specific challenges that may affect the design of future PPSR programs in similar contexts. Citizen science research has shown that variability of observer skills can affect data accuracy, especially within non-literate populations (Fitzpatrick et al. 2009). Interview data supported this finding, with many participants acknowledging miscommunication and misinterpretation between researchers and community members as persistent problems. To facilitate interactions with individuals lacking formal education and maintain trust that is often built through local-to-local engagement, future PPSR efforts in developing countries should employ local translators with pre-existing community connections whenever possible. However, finding local translators who can read and write well enough to collect and record participant data can be difficult. Such barriers must be taken into consideration, and care should be taken so that both research coordinators and participants fully understand the project goals and protocols. These findings corroborate other assertions that citizen science data collection, particularly in developing countries, must be as straightforward and standardised as possible to minimise bias and allow for validation (Silvertown 2009). Formal mechanisms for integrating local and expert knowledge should also be clearly defined prior to data collection (Raymond et al. 2010).

Another significant challenge that repeatedly emerged was the need for incentives to influence participation in research studies. Citizen science typically relies on volunteer, unpaid, labor (Cohn 2008), and understanding the motives of these volunteers is a critical part of recruiting, engaging, and ultimately retaining program participants. For example, Rotman et al. (2012) showed that initial participation in a US- based online citizen science project stemmed from personal interest and hobbies; continued involvement was related to feelings of attribution and acknowledgment. In developing countries, however, these motivations may be quite different. For people living a life of subsistence, volunteerism is rarely feasible. Therefore, extra incentives may be needed to encourage citizens to interact with scientists, allowing the participants to be compensated for lost time on their domestic work. The need for compensation to foster collaboration was mentioned in nearly every one of our follow-up interviews. If incentives are provided, ethical principles (e.g., coercion vs. consent) should be considered so that compensation does not bias reporting and results (Head 2009). Compensation might not involve monetary exchange. Like many African countries, Sierra Leone generally has a collectivist culture, where in-group cohesion often outweighs the needs of an individual. Hence, there are a number of alternative strategies for coaxing collaboration that may benefit conservation efforts. These include compensation in the form of community development or infrastructural improvements, which could represent a viable substitute for individual rewards. Desired forms of compensation mentioned by villagers included construction of communal meeting places and school supplies. Research in South Africa has also demonstrated that efforts to engage with primary or secondary school children and directly involve them in ecological monitoring programs may generate positive results (Braschler 2009). Collective observations suggest that, to increase scientific capacity and achieve conservation goals, citizen science initiatives in developing countries should utilise existing infrastructural, institutional, and cultural frameworks.

   Conclusion Top

Conflict between humans and wildlife cannot be addressed unless the source, magnitude, and consequences of the conflict are clearly understood. In most cases, this requires input from local residents – particularly when the outcome is influenced by variables of interest (e.g., crop depredation, bushmeat harvesting) influence local livelihoods. Our study revealed high levels of crop depredation, retaliatory killing, and bushmeat harvesting in villages surrounding Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary. We also found that pro-conservation attitudes were less prevalent among younger adults and immigrants to the area. Efforts to promote wildlife conservation and mitigate human-wildlife conflict could focus on these particular socio-demographic groups. Citizen science, or PPSR, represents one strategy for increasing local investment in wildlife conservation and enhancing the long-term sustainability and viability of community-based conservation efforts (Berkes 2004). While our conventional survey of local villagers served as a logical first step for assessing human-wildlife interactions around a protected area, the model could ultimately develop into a long-term collaborative monitoring program relying on co-creation of knowledge between scientists and citizens (Shirk et al. 2012). By providing the public with more ownership and input in the entire scientific process, citizen science models have the capacity to address persistent data gaps, increase awareness of local conservation issues, support local livelihoods, and create sustainable outcomes for rural residents and the ecosystems they inhabit (Cox et al. 2010). Our findings highlight some key factors that should be considered prior to implementation of more robust and comprehensive forms of PPSR in rural regions of developing countries, where biodiversity is high and data regarding human-wildlife conflicts have historically been very limited.

   Acknowledgments Top

Funding for this project was provided by the University of Georgia, Conservation International, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Riverbanks Zoo Conservation Support Fund, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Fund, Oregon Zoo Future for Wildlife Grants Program, the Oklahoma Zoo Conservation Action Now Small Grant Program, IUCN/SSC Hippo Specialist Sub Group, and Minnesota Zoo Ulysses S. Seal Fund. We would also like to the Environmental Foundation for Africa and the Tiwai Island Administrative Committee for their logistical support and the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security for their permission and support of the project. We thank the survey administrators Kenewa Koroma I and II, Sulaiman Feika, Mohamed Lahai, and Mohamed Koroma for their assistance in data collection and the residents in Barri, Koya, Gallinas Peri and Dama Chiefdoms for their hospitality and cooperation.[71]

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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