Integrating participation into research and consultancy: a conservation example from Arabia
Conservation projects in the Middle East have recently focused on reintroducing extinct mammals into their former grazing lands. The indigenous human populations in these areas—mainly nomadic pastoralists—have been, until very recently, excluded from any part of the information gathering, planning, implementation and management of such schemes. This intellectual and physical exclusion has resulted in hostility, distrust and occasionally sabotage. To succeed, many conservation efforts have had to rethink and redesign their activity. The key concept underlying this restructuring is ‘participation’. The term, however, means many things to the various actors involved in conservation research and consultancy and care must be taken to identify its uses and meanings. Looking at recent Syrian government efforts to reintroduce the Arabian oryx into the desert as an example, I examine the major pseudo-scientific assumptions which have underpinned most projects and consultancies in the semi-arid lands of Syria. These positions, I show, have led to an untenable ‘no-win’ situation for the nomadic pastoralists. Finally I examine the way in which an effort to introduce the concept of participation through a series of consultancies has resulted in some encouraging collaboration between the indigenous human population, the conservation experts, the local government technocrats and higher authorities.