Globally, dramatic declines in wildlife populations continue due to anthropogenic pressures. Many of these declines are linked to unsustainable human behaviours. In developing countries, community-based conservation programs are essential for arresting these declines. However, many programs are not effective and require substantial improvements if they are to deliver sustainable conservation outcomes. The social sciences, including conservation psychology, provide an opportunity to understand the social dimension of conservation problems and improve the effectiveness of community-based conservation programs. The Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelli) is a suitable case study for this approach. The species is critically endangered due to habitat loss and degradation, the illegal wildlife trade, hunting, and human-wildlife conflict. The future of the species relies heavily upon effectively engaging with local communities to support the conservation of the orangutan and its habitat.
This thesis aims to inform community-based conservation strategies that effectively incentivise and motivate local communities in the context of developing countries to adopt conservation behaviours. To achieve this, I ask: What are the socio-psychological factors and processes that determine how community-based conservation programs influence behaviour change and community support? How can this knowledge be utilised to more effectively design, implement and manage community-based conservation programs? The thesis addresses these research questions using a socio-psychological approach to investigating secondary data from developing countries and also by conducting a comparative case study of community-based conservation programs for the Sumatran orangutan. This research is the first in-depth socio-psychological investigation for Sumatran orangutan community-based conservation programs.
First, I conduct a realist synthesis focused on community-based conservation programs in developing countries that measured changes in community behaviour in relation to conservation objectives. A realist synthesis identifies the critical mechanisms operating within a program, the outcome caused by this mechanism and how the context affects these mechanisms. The synthesis highlights three main mechanisms that explain the reasoning of individuals to engage in conservation behaviours: ‘conservation livelihood provides economic value,’ ‘conservation provides benefits that outweigh losses of curtailing previous behaviour’ and ‘local authority over resources creates empowerment.’ The success of each mechanism was affected by various contexts including: relative significance of income, capacity and cultural acceptability. The findings from the synthesis advance the understanding of the decision-making processes of communities subject to community-based conservation programs and highlight how different contexts alter the reasoning process.
Second, utilising the comparative case studies, I investigate the effect of differing motivations on community’s decision to engage in conservation behaviours. I apply the self-determination theory to this context by analysing the comparative effectiveness of heteronomous (e.g. extrinsic incentives such as economic rewards and pressure or coercion to act) versus autonomous approaches (e.g. an intrinsic desire to act due to inherent enjoyment or self-identification with a behaviour and through freedom of choice) to motivating conservation behaviour. The study found that heteronomous motivations (e.g. income from tourism) led to changed behaviour towards orangutan protection but were ineffective in changing behaviour towards forest (i.e. orangutan habitat) protection. A combination of both autonomous and heteronomous motivation was found to be associated with the greatest behaviour change throughout the community. These findings suggest that autonomous motivational techniques, which promote the intrinsic values of conservation, should be integrated into programs.
Using these case studies, I then investigate what constitutes a socially desirable program environment for the effective delivery of community-based conservation programs. I found elements of both an autonomy supportive environment and a controlled, regulatory approach to be integral to achieving this. External control and assistance was found to be positively perceived and even desired by some local communities. However, a strong autonomy supportive environment can facilitate greater intrinsic identification with the program and conservation goals. This can also be supported through the influence of external stakeholders such as tourists with ethical conservation values, and vice versa; negatively affected through tourists with minimal regard for conservation. These findings highlight that greater focus is required on the contribution external stakeholders can have on the effectiveness of conservation programs.
I further explore the contribution of other psychological variables (guided by the theory of planned behaviour) to willingness to protect and change behaviour toward orangutans and the forest. Psychological variables (e.g. social norms, perceived ease, greater respect or liking as a result of the program) emerged as significant predictors for willingness to protect and change behaviour for both forest and orangutan protection, even after controlling for demographics and program context. However, the significant independent variables differed across each dependent variable. This demonstrates the importance of investigating both behaviour change and willingness as different measures of success and specific conservation behaviours separately (such as distinguishing between orangutan and forest protection).
This thesis provides critical socio-psychological insights into the functioning and outcomes of community-based conservation programs in developing countries. I provide recommendations for incorporating this information into the design, implementation, management and evaluation of these programs. In particular, this thesis recommends a shift to a more holistic approach to promoting behaviour change that facilitates intrinsic values for conservation in addition to extrinsic approaches. Furthermore, despite the large focus on decentralisation in community-based conservation, I demonstrate that greater focus needs to be placed on the potential influence of external stakeholders who can facilitate more effective program operations. The insights and recommendations provided in this thesis assist conservation practitioners to more effectively address the threats to biodiversity and wildlife in developing countries, particularly the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan.