Ethnographic research can help to establish dialog between conservationists and local people in reintroduction areas. Considering that predator reintroductions may cause local resistance, we assessed attitudes of different key actor profiles to the return of the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) to Portugal before reintroduction started in 2015. We aimed to characterize a social context from an ethnoecological perspective, including factors such as local knowledge, perceptions, emotions, and opinions.
We conducted semi-structured interviews (n = 131) in three different protected areas and observed practices and public meetings in order to describe reintroduction contestation, emotional involvement with the species, and local perceptions about conservation. Detailed content data analysis was undertaken and an open-ended codification of citations was performed with the support of ATLAS.ti. Besides the qualitative analyses, we further explored statistic associations between knowledge and opinions and compared different geographical areas and hunters with non-hunters among key actors.
Local ecological knowledge encompassed the lynx but was not shared by the whole community. Both similarities and differences between local and scientific knowledge about the lynx were found. The discrepancies with scientific findings were not necessarily a predictor of negative attitudes towards reintroduction. Contestation issues around reintroduction differ between geographical areas but did not hinder an emotional attachment to the species and its identification as a territory emblem. Among local voices, financial compensation was significantly associated to hunters and nature tourism was cited the most frequent advantage of lynx presence. Materialistic discourses existed in parallel with non-economic factors and the existence of moral agreement with its protection.
The considerable criticism and reference to restrictions by local actors concerning protected areas and conservation projects indicated the experience of an imposed model of nature conservation. Opinions about participation in the reintroduction process highlighted the need for a closer dialog between all actors and administration.
Local voices analyzed through an ethnoecological perspective provide several views on reintroduction and nature conservation. They follow two main global trends of environmental discourse: (1) nature becomes a commodified object to exploit while contestation about wildlife is centered on financial return and (2) emblematic wild species create an emotional attachment, become symbolic, and gather moral agreement for nature protection.
Lynx reintroduction has been not only just a nature protection theme but also a negotiation process with administration. Western rural communities are not the “noble savages” and nature protectors as are other traditional groups, and actors tend to claim for benefits in a situation of reintroduction. Both parties comprehend a similar version of appropriated nature.
Understanding complexity and diverse interests in local communities are useful in not oversimplifying local positions towards predator conservation. We recommend that professional conservation teams rethink their image among local populations and increase proximity with different types of key actors.