Rationality, consideration of facts and data, the spread of knowledge about how the living world works and how important biodiversity is, as well as the conscious reduction in the activities that endanger it – it is assumed that this is the right way to preserve endangered animal species and their habitats. However, in that too general of a picture directed only to one way of thinking, the question of what these issues are is often missed by the ones that affect endangered species the most, which is the local population.
This year, the research team, consisting of George Holmes and Carolina Ward of the University of Leeds and Thomas Aneurin Smith from the University of Cardiff, published a paper on the importance of mythological animals, as well as those that really exist but have attributed magical properties to them, to preserve biodiversity and protection of endangered species. The work that has caused considerable attention of the world’s media, almost does not contain concrete advice, but the authors did not even have that goal, as they primarily focused on pointing out some of the failures made by conservation teams.
First of all, it is the assumption of a rational view of the world and the exclusion of local beliefs, rituals and myths. In addition, the authors suggested that in teams dealing with the conservation of endangered species in addition to scientists who come from natural disciplines, historians, anthropologists and ethno-scientists, should be involved in taking into account the magic that is in the animals in front of them, directly related to their survival.
When animals are found in their natural habitats outside protected areas, their survival does not depend so much on legal regulations and on the bans, as much as the beliefs and behavior of people who inhabit the same geographical areas that can contribute to conservation, even though they are based on a magical rather than a scientific way of thinking, but also additionally endanger individual species. The authors primarily refer to individual cases from Madagascar and Tanzania, but there are other examples.
Important species among endangered animals are vultures. If it is extinct, the destruction of other domains cannot be stopped and the negative consequences would be numerous. Due to the high risk of the scenarios in which these animals are gone and the remains of dead infected animals are everywhere, in recent years a lot has been done to raise awareness of their significance. On the other hand, in certain communities, magic beliefs play a much more important role than arguments, so there are those who threaten these animals, but also those who believe that if they hurt a vulture, they will catch bad luck or a jinx so they want to protect themselves by protecting these birds.
Among animals that do not mostly belong to favorites, although their vulnerability can lead to a very pessimistic picture, are hyenas. Although often attacking people in the Ethiopian region of Kombolcha, the local population rarely opposes them. They are believed to convey supernatural messages by howling and thus feeding evil spirits. These beliefs originate from the time before the acceptance of Islam and can be said to be in line with the real significance of hyena in ecosystem’s maintenance.
Magical beliefs have very dynamic characteristics, authors of work on the conservation of magical animals point out. Namely, they differ from community to community; they contradict one another, but change over time as well. Major changes occurred when certain communities were merged or Islamized, when their members acquired education in different cultures, but the changes came in time and within the community itself, because experience often made the story tellers change the legend. Therefore, incorporating these beliefs into a process of conservation is not at all easy. Apart from the fact that, in the opinion of British researchers, scientists involved in the irrational aspects of human life should also be included in these processes, it is also important that the attitude towards magical beliefs is not simplified, that is, for them to not be viewed as isolated from the wider image of the world in which they belong.