Lee, Natalie, L. Jen Shaffer, Meredith L. Gore, William W. Bowerman, & Reginal M. Harrell (2021, January). Expert perceptions of conflicts in African vulture conservation: Implications for overcoming ethical decision-making dilemmas. Journal of Raptor Research, 55(3), 359-373. (doi: 10.3356/JRR-20-39) (Open Access: https://bioone.org/journals/journal-of-raptor-research/volume-55/issue-3/JRR-20-39/Expert-Perceptions-of-Conflicts-in-African-Vulture-Conservation–Implications/10.3356/JRR-20-39.full)

Abstract: Because African vultures are declining due to anthropogenic causes, we linked conservation management with social science by examining the ethical perspectives of individuals responsible for the management of vultures. Understanding these perspectives can help balance scientific knowledge with stakeholder concerns, resulting in more effective decision-making. We interviewed 37 vulture conservationists: 24 in South Africa and Kenya from July–August 2017, and the remaining 13 at a conference in the United States from October–November 2017. We used a Q-methodology activity in which participants ranked a set of statements (termed Q-sort questions) that we had generated based on pre-study interviews and published literature. This methodology is a social science tool that quantitatively evaluates subjective characteristics such as the values that shape a participant’s ethical worldview. A follow-up, semi-structured interview provided a deeper understanding of the participants’ statement rankings. Together, both steps addressed individual beliefs and how the participants framed their ethical value structures. We found that the conservationists interviewed, regardless of background, held an overall ethical commitment to duty that guides them as they pursue their conservation management work. The Q-sort analysis suggested three different factors that reflected their expressed views: (1) a biocentric perspective (moral status given to all living things in nature) but with strong negative linkage toward vultures having value for human use (nonanthropocentric intrinsic value), (2) an environmental virtue ethics perspective (moral values are based on a person’s character rather than whether specific actions are right or wrong) with consideration given toward vultures having possible value for human use, and (3) an ecocentric perspective (holistic, wherein moral consideration is given to both species and ecosystems) that was neutral with regard to vultures having value for human use (intrinsic value). Insights gained from this study represent an initial step in elucidating stakeholder perspectives and will contribute to the conservation of African vultures.

Natalie Yee <nmyee11@gmail.com> is in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA.