People, Primates and Protected Areas

Negotiating Balance through the Study of Human-Environmental Relationships in the Pacoche Wildlife Refuge, Ecuador (2019 – 2022 – Project in progress)


How do we balance a growing human population’s desire for good lives with a pressing need to conserve the world’s threatened ecosystems? In many parts of the world, this is an unanswered question people face daily, and one that demands practical answers. In and around the coastal and montane forests of western Ecuador, co-existing concerns over the economic well-being of local people and the threatened status of local primate species (Alouatta palliata and Cebus aequatorialis) have produced a context in which a variety of human and nonhuman stakeholders are striving for different sorts of balance.

Biodiversity conservation is often criticized for being defined strictly by Western science, disregarding the knowledge and expertise of people who have the closest relationships to the land. Building on a recently completed MA, my Ph.D. work will respond to the call for conservation research in the coastal region of Ecuador by contributing a participatory community approach in the Pacoche Wildlife Refuge. My research is rooted in the premise that when local people’s ecological knowledge is incorporated in decision-making, conservation strategies are more effective. This project will combine both ethnographic and primatological techniques using a critical neoliberal lens to analyze the effects of commoditization for conservation through resource-use (partitioning) between rural populations and endangered primate species. The objective of my doctoral research is to understand adaptations in the behaviour of both protected areas residents and primates in response to changing conditions, climatic and pandemic, in order to interpret how resilience can be built to best achieve a socio-ecological balance.

** This study is possible thanks to the funding support from The Robin Rigby Trust Award for Collaborative Coastal Research and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC, CGS-D)

Tamara L. Britton, MA. PhD Student, Department of Anthropology . Centre for Environment and Sustainability . The University of Western Ontario. Canadá.