Artícle featured in Trends in Ecology and Evolution
Ontological Politics of Wildlife: Local People, Conservation Biologists and Guanacos
In this article, we analyse the politics behind human-wildlife relations, based on the different understanding of guanacos by local people and conservationists in Northern Chile. We use a political ontology framework to study the interactions between different ontologies of wildlife. The analysis is based on in-depth interviews, field observations, documents analyses, and personal experience in guanaco conservation research. The relation between guanacos and local people is characterised by frequent and material encounters and the presence of the animal in the domestic sphere through multiple uses. The conservationists account of guanacos is characterised by spatial distribution, population size, habitat, and threat assessments, and the application of universal categories to classify this species. These different relationships with guanacos are related to two different ontologies of wildlife. For conservationists, the nature-society dichotomy is clear— guanacos are defined in a nature without humans, and in order to protect them they should be kept away from human activities. On the contrary, for local people, nature and society are not worlds apart. Guanacos are neither totally wild nor totally domestic. Understanding these differences is important because these ontologies interact and affect each other. In this case, the conservationist ontology was dominant over the local one. Also, the interactions between ontologies affect and are affected by conservation action, and by the general socio-political context. A better understanding of local ontologies is an important step to improve the relationship between conservationists and local communities.
Keywords: Ontological politics, wildlife conservation, guanacos, Atacama, Chile