Conservation Biology

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Taboos represent traditional social rules that regulate human behaviour [1]. Social taboos (on species and habitat) are also called Resources and Habitat Taboos (RHTs). RHTs include specific species, habitat, clan, temporal, segment, method, life history, and taboos [2]. Social taboos may protect endemic, threatened and keystone species and their habitats [1]. Taboo species may be used for traditional religion or medicinal purposes.

Specific species taboos are comprised of taboos that thoroughly protect plants and animals in space and time. The specific species can be avoided for different uses for example detrimental use, consumption, hunting and killing [3]. The radiated tortoise (Geochelone radiata) is a species native to Southern portion of Madagascar Island. The tortoise populations decreased by 20% after twenty-five years as a result of illegal harvesting for commercial trade and food by the Tandros people [4]. Geochelone radiata was then listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Geochelone radiata were protected by Malagasy National law since 1960 and is listed on Convention of International Endangered Trade in Endangered species in 1975 [5] Geochelone radiata is also one of the world rarer species and they were likely to go extinct [5]. The consumption of Geochelone radiata is articulated as taboo [4]

Species such as sacred fig (Ficus religiosa), mountain lion (Felis concolor ) and southern pocket gopher (Thomomys umbrinus emotus) are protected by Hindus’ specific species taboo all over the entirety of
India [3]. Ficus stieligiosa is a keystone mutualist (species that depend on each other for their benefit, when the species that depend on dies, it will also get affected). Ficus stieligiosa is responsible for maintenance of tropical biological diversity. The threatened Felis concolor is a keystone predator that preys on vertebrates which feed on trees species with large seed. Felis concolor may control forest composting by favouring large seeded tree species on behalf of small seeded species. Thomomys umbrinus emotus are essential for moving large quantity of earth and they burrow, scrape and make bare area free from plants [1].

The threatened species are restricted by taboos in different community around the world from using number of birds and reptiles which are classified as threatened by IUCN. The species such as spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus); giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus) and giant anteater (Myrmecophoga tridactyla) are protected by taboo in Peru and Achuars of Ecuador. The taboos were enforced by the Achuar within the area [1].

Habitat taboos control access and use of resources in a particular area [2] for example sacred habitat (trees and plant are allowed to grow without any disturbance). Sacred habitats are found in South America for instance Kuna of Pana and Africa, for instance Tanzania. The Mlinga forest reserve of Tanzania has a dam between Muinga and Ukindo Peak [7]. In Tanzania Wanyamwezi (Brachystegia species) are core for spiritual needs of the local people for both ritual and cultural purposes. The burial sites of the chiefs’ are respected and preserved. Conservationists are considering whether sacred groves could be used to promote in situ conservation of endangered species [6].

The Southern range dry spine of Madagascar declined in early 1970s as results of timber harvest, cattle herding and charcoal production [5]. However, small patches of forest were retained for sacred purposes. Small patches were relatively untouched, even in the mainly intensive used area. The sacred forest usually has a sub circular, 300 to 400m in diameter and occasionally contain tomb. However, due to taboo and entering restriction insufficient information is known about the spiny forest [5]

The dam has a big snake. Traditional healers are allowed to use forests for medicinal purposes and dam and other people are prohibited. Trees such as Adansoma digitata and Sterculia opendiculata are not cut because whoever cut these species may be affected by evil spirit. Trees that are found in a water sources and on top of the mountain are not cut. People believe that these trees bring rainfalls and conserve water [7]. As a result, people respect their local taboos and religion by not using dam and cutting the trees.

Temporary taboos prohibit access to resources in time that is daily, periodic, weekly or monthly. The chief of Nkavele village may compel a periodic taboo after cyclones in season of severe drought to conserve food. Similarly, the chief of Nghomu village may place taboos on the use of coconut palms The Ghana people have a daily taboo which is obligated on fishing on a particular weekday for example Tuesday. The similar taboo is also articulated among northwest Newfoundland lobster fishers who avoid Sunday fishing [3].

Method taboos are responsible for controlling method and techniques for removal of species. Fishing using toxin is a taboo because toxins destroy coral reefs. The methods that were articulated as taboo in Oceania in some communities (for example Vanuata) include gill netting, spear fishing during the night and drop line fishing [3]. Different communities of Tuvalu and Kiribati are forbidden to use pressure lantern for dip netting of flying fish. These fishing methods are good for fishers but they may cause over fishing [3].

Life history taboos control the removal of species at vulnerable stages of its life history based sex, age, size or reproductive status [2]. The studies of life history taboo indicated analysis of spawning fish and bird eggs are expressed by taboo. The taboo of hunting fruit bats expressed in daytime settle on trees in midst of villages. As results bats are not overexploited in South India [3].

Segment taboos are responsible for decreasing the rate of exploiting a species [2]. The studies of Amazonian group indicated that segment taboo may decrease hunting pressure of some species with by approximately 50-80% [3] by granting access to specific people for instance chiefs.

Clan taboos usually involve totem (is any entity that stare over clan [8]) species. The clan members of Zaire’s Mbuti are forbidden from consuming totemic species such as leopards, buffaloes and bate antelopes [3]. Several animals are protected through restriction and prohibition in East Usambara forest in Tanzania for example, bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus ) and bohr reedbuck (Redunca redunca). The people of Tanzania believe that when they consume meat of these animals, they will have skin diseases. The bird such as Otus species were not killed because people believe that otus are associated with spirit. People also believe that by killing otus, they will encounter misfortune such as death [7]. People may believe the taboo because of their culture or religion.

The ethnic group of West and Central Africa are represented each of their clan with symbol of different wildlife species. To hunt and to eat such species is considered as taboo. The majority of people in Central Africa did not eat or hunt primates because they are closely resemble to human. Young girls and pregnant women were prohibited from eating the meat of monitor lizards, and forest crocodile [9]

The restriction on the use of certain animals, plants and habitat play an important role in conservation. The endemic, threatened and keystone species and their habitats will not go extinct if people continue to use their social taboo to conserve.


1. Colding, J., and C. Folke. The relations among threatened species, their protection, and taboos. Conservation Ecology [online] 1997 [cited 2007 Feb 27] 1(1): 6. Available from:

2. Martinez D. 2001. Final Report for World Funds? U.S. Forest Service Upper Glade National Pilot Stewardship Project. [Online]. [Cited 2007 February 27] Available from:

3. Colding, J., and C. Folke. 2000. The taboo system: Lesson about informal institution for nature management. [online] [cited 2007 Feb 27] Available from:

4. Lingard M, Raharison N, Rabakondrianina E, Rakoarisoa J & Elmgyist. The role of taboos in conservation and management of species: The radiated tortoise in Southern Madagascar [Online] 2003 Jul-Dec [cited 2007 Feb 27] 1(2): Conservation and Society. Avaliable from:

5. Lingard M, Raharison N, Rabakondrianina E, Rakoarisoa J & Elmgyist. Conservation and Society. 2003. The role of taboos in conservation and management of species: The radiated tortoise in Southern Madagascar [Online]. [cited 2007 Feb 27] . Available from:

6. Mgumia F.H and Oba G. Potential role of sacred groves in biodiversity in Tanzania. Environmental conservation [Online]. 2003 [cited 2007 Feb 27] 30(3):259-266. Available from:

7. Kweka D. 2004. The role of local knowledge and institution in the conservation of forest resources in the East usambara. [Online].
[Cited 2007 February 27] Available from:

8. Wikipedia contributors. Totem. [Online]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2007 Feb 17, 18:22 UTC [cited 2007 Feb 27].
Available from:

9. White L. undated. Integrating conservation& development Central Africa [Online]. [Cited 2007 February 27]
Available from:

Masiya Kedibone
NISL-Ecological Informatics


  • Hi Kedibone

    You have raised a really interesting topic that does relate to conservation biology and have explored it global. Like Linette you are demonstrating marked improved in the logical construction of your essay. Be encouraged - your are making progress.

    By Blogger Rich Knight, at March 07, 2007 9:34 PM  

  • Sigh...once again, this is me just echoing the praise you've already received. So yeah, I liked this one... :)

    By Blogger NcK, at March 22, 2007 11:41 AM  

  • This has been of great help to me in my seminar presentation, keep it up.

    By Blogger isaac dennis amoah, at March 01, 2011 5:16 PM  

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