Animal cultures matter for conservation

An interesting Mongabay piece refers to a recent article published in Science (sorry I haven’t read it, no access), that argues that conservation needs to take into account nonhuman cultural capacities. Culture in this instance, as defined by the article, is “information or behaviour- shared within a community – which is acquired from conspecifics through some form of social learning”. This is a definition of culture which of course applies to humans also.

The basic argument is that conservationists need to go beyond regarding animals as biological constants across different contexts. Researchers must take into account nonhuman capacity to adopt novel behaviours, transmit that behaviour between generations, and that variation can occur between groups. Behavioural variation and culture is discussed particularly in relation to adapting to ecologies heavily affected or governed by humans. There have been some good studies by ethnoprimatologists on chimps and other primate adaptations in this regard, and Mongabay reports the articles authors argue that it extends to other socially and cognitively complex animals – like elephants of course. Understanding these processes can help conservationists adopt better and refined approaches to supporting endangered animals.

One of the authors states that “beyond genes, knowledge is an important currency for wildlife” arguing that diversity is an important factor in species survival. Interesting anthropology, while not concerned with human extinction (!), has been attempting to construct integrated models of understanding human behaviour that take into account biology, culture, and ecological niche. Nice to see some convergence here between the natural and social sciences!

The Mongabay article is here