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Title: Human-animal relations and the role of cultural norms in tiger conservation in the Idu Mishmi of Arunachal Pradesh, India
Author: Nijhawan, Sahil
ISNI:       0000 0004 7229 2022
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis is an interdisciplinary inquiry into the role of local norms and cultural institutions in the conservation of the endangered tiger, which is typically protected in exclusive areas by national governments and transnational NGOs. I do this by investigating the factors – ecological, cultural and socio-political - that have allowed a newly identified tiger population to exist in an unprotected setting in the Dibang Valley region of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, the traditional homeland of the Idu Mishmi people. As the research question spans social and natural science realms, the study was conducted empirically using a combination of qualitative approaches such as participant observation, in-depth interviews, and quantitative methods, notably camera traps and longitudinal hunting offtake surveys. Following the theoretical framework, study site and methods chapters, the first data chapter is an ethnographic account of the Idu including cosmology, land relations, old and newly emerging political and economic stratifications, and Idu-animal relations. I argue that Idu practices in relation to wildlife must be understood within the broader socio-cosmological context as Idu natural, spiritual and social worlds are deeply interwoven. In the second data chapter, I assess socio-cultural regulations on hunting and consumption of wild animals by exploring how Idu hunting taboos regulate human-nature and human-human relations, and their changing nature. Through statistical models and interviews I show that Idu taboos do act to reduce wild meat consumption, however rich Idus and rich outsiders consume the most meat, often with little regard to taboos, while poorer Idus hunt to supply meat to the rich while observing taboos strictly. In the third data chapter, I assess the impact of Idu hunting on tigers and their prey by comparing animal densities and habitat use, derived from camera trap data, in three sites with different levels of hunting pressure. I do not find evidence for hunting-induced depletion of wildlife in any of the sites suggesting hunting sustainability. In the final data chapter, I explore the factors that may promote or undermine sustainability of Idu hunting. In particular, I demonstrate the nuanced role of cosmology in ensuring that tigers are conserved even in the face of rapidly changing socio-economic circumstances. In response to the thesis question, I conclude that tigers have continued to thrive in Dibang Valley due to a multi-layered interaction of Idu land tenure and land-use, hunting ontology and taboos grounded in cosmology, species ecology, and the Indian government’s protectionist policies that have so far restricted large-scale outsider settlement in Dibang Valley. I reflect on the tiger’s future in Dibang Valley in light of forthcoming hydropower dams and proposals for the state takeover of tiger conservation. I argue for ‘place-based’ conservation focused on contextually-relevant approaches formulated with local people.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available