Drivers of biodiversity conservation in sacred groves: a comparative study of three sacred groves in South-west Nigeria (2020)
Globally, sacred groves represent a traditional form of community-based conservation, recognized for their capacity to preserve areas that are of cultural and religious importance to local people. In most cases, the entire community takes on a watchdog role to guard against encroachment and unauthorized access either by its members or outsiders who might desecrate such sites. This thesis investigates the effects of different governance arrangements of three sacred groves in south-west Nigeria-Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove (UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005), Idanre Hills (Nigerian National Monument) and Igbo Olodunmare (local cultural site)-on their religio-cultural, socio-economic and ecological benefits and contribution to biodiversity conservation. Using a mixed-method design of semi-structured questionnaires (n=167), key informant interviews (n=2), and focus groups (n=7), I collected data from local community members, traditional priests, sacred grove devotees and tourism officials. The results identified that varying religio-cultural benefits serve as the primary motivation to preserve the sacred groves, although they differ from grove to grove. Economic gains from tourism (employment provision and income generation activities associated with the groves) also emerged as a significant driver for conserving biodiversity in sacred groves. I found that the management of the groves as a result of government involvement (assigning staff to the sites, special laws, and regulations) and international designation (UNESCO World Heritage Site) had positive impacts on levels of protection. I conclude that the co-existence of community-based conservation through a system of established traditional norms and prohibitions, as well as formal government legislation and management, offers assurance for long-term preservation of sacred groves and their biodiversity. I discuss the implications of these observations and offer suggestions to improve community engagement, uphold traditional ecological knowledge, develop ecotourism and Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes within the groves.