Using Participatory System Dynamics Modeling to Address Complex Conservation Problems: Tiger Farming as a Case Study


Conservation practitioners routinely work within complex social-ecological systems to address threats facing biodiversity and to promote positive human-wildlife interactions. Inadequate understanding of the direct and indirect, short- and long-term consequences of decision-making within these dynamic systems can lead to misdiagnosed problems and interventions with perverse outcomes, exacerbating conflict. Participatory system dynamics (SD) modeling is a process that encourages stakeholder engagement, synthesizes research and knowledge, increases trust and consensus and improves transdisciplinary collaboration to solve these complex types of problems. Tiger conservation exemplifies a set of interventions in a complex social-ecological system. Wild tigers remain severely threatened by various factors, including habitat constraints, human-wildlife conflict, and persistent consumer demand for their body parts. Opinions differ on whether commercial captive tiger facilities reduce or increase the threat from poaching for trade, resulting in policy conflict among diverse stakeholder groups. This paper explains how we are working with international conservation partners in a virtual environment to utilize a participatory SD modeling approach with the goal of better understanding and promoting coexistence of humans and wild tigers. We highlight a step-by-step process that others might use to apply participatory SD modeling to address similar conservation challenges, building trust and consensus among diverse partners to reduce conflict and improve the efficacy of conservation interventions.

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