IntermittentCity is proud to introduce a collaboration from Elena Perez about a recent research trip to Africa. Elena is a graduate student in biochemistry, currently completing her MSc by research in Infectious Diseases at the University of Edinburgh. She has a growing interest in the emerging concept of One Health. Curious about everything in general and passionate about interdisciplinary approaches to sustainable development. Here is her text, enjoy!
During a recent trip to Uganda, I witnessed the increasing human-wildlife conflict happening in many developing contexts. This is the result of growing population and limited habitable space. Human communities are increasingly situated closer and closer to wild natural habitats occupied by animals such as primates. This is posing a real threat as some animals are reportedly coming to villages to feed themselves and in occasions, this can result in harmful attacks.
It is worth highlighting the critical role of architecture and spatial planning in the quest for a solution to this emerging issue. A good example to illustrate the complexity and challenges is the case of the Budongo Conservation Field Station. This research base is situated in the Budongo Forest, West of Uganda. Researchers and conservationists are actively trying to address the human-wildlife conflict with the surrounding communities, where many families still make a living from hunting. This has led to the use of snares (a trap for catching birds or mammals), which are hurting many endangered species and leaving them permanently impaired.
The main problem affecting endemic species is the loss of their territory. The result is the lack of resources to feed themselves and a competition for resources against human settlements. The initiatives that conservationists have taken in Budongo reflect a comprehensive and inclusive approach to the problem. They are trying to engage the conversation with the communities to raise awareness but also to understand their needs and include them as part of the solution. It is not enough to tell families to stop hunting if no other alternative livelihood is provided.
One of the solutions is to provide families with some goats as an alternative mode of subsistence. Another method is the employment of ex-hunters as part of the snare patrol teams, giving them an opportunity to put to profit their experience and raise awareness about the harm that these poaching techniques cause. Finally, they have tried mitigation strategies to prevent human-wildlife conflicts over food resources. It consists in establishing so-called buffer crop zones. The aim is to modifying the agricultural settings so that crops found at the front line of the border between humans and wildlife are switched to harvest that are not attractive to wildlife.
For example, it was found that many primates would come all the way to the villages to feed on mango as their preferred food. These were initially found very close to the forest, surrounding the villages. Instead, those trees were replaced by cabbage fields, which are not eaten by the primates and should hopefully lead to a decrease in incidents.
This kind of agricultural planning along with architectural strategies to protect the communities without building walls will be key to solving human-wildlife conflicts. The growth of population implies an increasing need for space optimization to fit more people in limited spaces, most likely leading big cities towards more vertical architectures. This will become a major challenge for architects and an opportunity to have a positive impact and make a difference. Hopefully, the organisation and structuring of villages and fields could trigger a cultural change in raising settlements all over the world.