SPECIAL ISSUE: EXPLORING CONVIVIAL CONSERVATION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE
Year : 2022 | Volume
| Issue : 2 | Page : 79-91
Conviviality in Disrupted Socionatural Landscapes: Ecological Peacebuilding around Akagera National Park
Elaine (Lan Yin) Hsiao
Current Affiliation: Assistant Professor, Kent State University School of Peace and Conflict Studies, Ohio, USA; Research conducted at: University of Rwanda Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management, Huye, Rwanda
Elaine (Lan Yin) Hsiao
Current Affiliation: Assistant Professor, Kent State University School of Peace and Conflict Studies, Ohio; Research conducted at: University of Rwanda Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management, Huye, Rwanda
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|Date of Submission||14-Feb-2021|
|Date of Acceptance||29-Sep-2021|
|Date of Web Publication||05-Apr-2022|
| Abstract|| |
Convivial conservation presents itself as a vision of radical cohabitation across the Whole Earth, requiring people at the fringes of protected areas or people everywhere to manage day-to-day coexistence and conflicts with non-human species. This article assesses human-wildlife conflict interventions—an electric fence, compensation for wildlife damages, and traditional ecological knowledge—in a disrupted socionatural landscape, Akagera National Park in Rwanda, from the perspective of a framework of ecological peace. Ecological peace is defined through Galtung's (1969) theory of negative peace (freedom from direct violence) and positive peace (freedom from physical, cultural, and structural violence) as applied to relations between human and non-human species. While barriers and compensation schemes may make sense from the perspective of the conservation community's interests in reducing the negative impacts of wildlife on people, or vice versa, and especially towards improving people's perceptions of wildlife and environmental conservation, these human-wildlife conflict interventions may offer only negative ecological peace. Convivial conservation requires human-wildlife conflict interventions to go beyond negative and liberal peace approaches towards positive ecological peace to transform human and non-human relations for radical cohabitation across the Whole Earth.
Keywords: human-wildlife conflict, local communities, protected areas, ecological peace, convivial conservation
|How to cite this article:|
Hsiao E. Conviviality in Disrupted Socionatural Landscapes: Ecological Peacebuilding around Akagera National Park. Conservat Soc 2022;20:79-91
Abstract in Kinyarwanda: https://bit.ly/36sMNMk
| Bringing Conservation Back to Conviviality|| |
Different spatial and ideological contemplations of how human and non-human species can or should cohabit this Earth, ranging from fortress conservation to convivial conservation, are at the forefront of debates in the conservation community. Conviviality requires day-to-day coexistence and management of conflicts between human and non-human species, otherwise known as human-wildlife conflicts. These conflicts are often experienced as a tension between human ideologies about how we should coexist with other species. As a result, human-wildlife conflicts are frequently managed by conservationists in a variety of ways intended to appease species-impacted human populations. These include barrier mechanisms to separate people or their property from wildlife, financial schemes, including compensation for damages caused by wildlife or investments in community development, or education programmes about the value and practicalities of living with wildlife. These human-wildlife conflict interventions may make sense from the perspective of the conservation community's interests in reducing the negative impacts of wildlife on people or vice versa, and especially towards improving people's perceptions of wildlife and environmental conservation. In this article, I examine these interventions from a peace perspective in order to situate different conservation approaches within the understandings of harmonious socioecological relations.
Although human-wildlife conflicts use the terminology of conflict, peace and conflict theories have rarely been applied to understand or evaluate their management and resolution. Published in 2008, the Special Issue of the Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy was dedicated to the topic of “Human-Wildlife Conflict and Peace-building Strategies,” but none of the articles provided a conceptual framework for what peace means in the context of human-wildlife conflict or what kind of peace the different peacebuilding strategies are intended or in effect achieve (Jaireth 2008). More recently, some effort has been put into understanding human-wildlife conflicts through the practices of conventional conflict-analysis (e.g., Zimmermann et al. 2020), but human-wildlife conflict interventions have not yet been considered through peace theory. Since so many human-wildlife conflicts are seen as social conflicts between humans, I suggest that peace theory is well-suited to understand where interventions and their outcomes align with different types of peace and that this can offer human-wildlife conflict 'managers' another framework to assess and prioritise the actions they take. Also, this raises an opportunity to apply peace theory in the context of human and non-human relations or ecological peace, which emphasises the value and the challenges of convivial conservation amongst the many approaches to conservation that seek more harmonious interspecies coexistence.
In the first section of this article, I define ecological peace in terms of Galtung's (1969) theory of negative peace (freedom from direct physical violence) and positive peace (freedom from physical, cultural, and structural violence) as applied to relations between human and non-human species. I argue that convivial conservation is a vision of positive ecological peace based on radical coexistence and interspecies cooperation and that this perspective is even more applicable in disrupted socionatural landscapes. Akagera National Park in Rwanda (ANP or Akagera) represents a disrupted socionatural landscape where human and non-human species have been displaced and the relationships between them have been disturbed by violence and conflict. Socionatural disruption exists in varied degrees in nearly every community around the world, with the potential exception of uncontacted Indigenous Peoples. Therefore, a Whole Earth approach to convivial conservation requires us to understand how socionaturally disrupted communities (human and non-human) can transition towards positive ecological peace. This section frames the case study that follows.
In the second section, the case study of ANP is introduced to illustrate how different human-wildlife conflict interventions can have different outcomes for ecological peace. In the third section, I show how an electric boundary fence may be an attempt to build social peace between the protected area management and local communities, but for humans and wildlife it offers only negative peace, rife with injustice. Meanwhile, in the next sub-section, I argue that the park's compensation schemes and revenue sharing programmes apply liberal peace strategies that fall short of positive peace. Traditional biocultural knowledge, however, has the potential to build positive ecological peace and as the next sub-section suggests, is endangered but carries the possibility of revitalisation. The Akagera case study offers potential for culture-based coexistence between historically-displaced and locally-settled people and the wildlife they cohabit with, if the park's human-wildlife conflict interventions do not undermine these positive ecological peacebuilding opportunities in the meantime. In concluding this article, I reiterate how important it is to evaluate different human-wildlife conflict mechanisms from the perspective of peace for the realisation of convivial conservation in a world of complex disrupted socionatural landscapes. In the face of conservation agendas seeking to expand conservation territorialities, this is not only critical for ecological peace, but also for conflict sensitive conservation.
| Human-Wildlife Conflict Management from the Perspective of Peace|| |
The 2030 international policy agenda for environmental protection is ambitious in its targets for area-based conservation, eyeing approximately 30% of the Earth's territorial lands and seas for conservation management by 2030 while many are proposing 50% for the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity (CBD Secretariat 2020a, 2020b). In response to the Nature Needs Half movement (Locke 2013), social justice organisations have raised alarm around an aggressive area-based expansion of conservation territorialities (Minority Rights Group et al. 2020). Conservation territoriality, or the territorialisation of protected areas, “involves delineating a particular space, determining what behaviour and activities are and are not allowed within it, giving it particular political and social meaning, and communicating this delineation and meaning to others” (Holmes 2014: 1). Studies indicate that more than one billion people could be impacted by a 50% agenda and specifically, as many as 1.65-1.87 billion Indigenous, local and Afro-descendant communities (Schleicher et al. 2019; Rights and Resources Initiative 2020). Impact in these cases can range from conservation restrictions on individual activities (e.g., hunting bans) to forced displacement (e.g., evictions) in newly designated conservation areas—all of which trigger red flags for human rights violations (Brockington and Igoe 2006; Tauli-Corpuz et al. 2020). These kinds of grievances frequently underlay human-wildlife conflicts that serve as manifestations of antagonism by local communities against protected areas and their expansion. This is illustrated in Akagera through the positioning of responsibility for problematic wildlife on park management and highlights the need for just conservation.
A counter proposition to expanding conservation territorialities is a Whole Earth approach through convivial conservation. Half Earth vs. Whole Earth is a debate that has emerged between largely conservation biologists who argue that the survival of non-human life on Earth hinges on sufficient levels of habitat protection and conservation social scientists who believe that this expansion of conservation territoriality will not only impact on already vulnerable peoples, but it also fails to address the root causes of environmental degradation and climate change deriving from capitalism and overconsumption (Büscher et al. 2016; Cafaro et al. 2017). Convivial conservation is a movement towards Whole Earth premised on reconciling these two problems: social injustice and growth-driven capitalist economic systems (Büscher and Fletcher 2019). These different approaches to protecting (human and non-human) life can be understood through peace theory and its different approaches (e.g., liberal, cultural), and are explored in this case study of ANP. In the paragraphs that follow, the pros and cons of common theories of peace, in this case Galtung's positive and negative peace or liberal peace, are elaborated for a socionatural context where human relationships transgress species (i.e., ecological peace).
We often think of coexistence as peace, but the ways we achieve coexistence impact on the nature of the peace produced. To illustrate this, I draw from Galtung's (1969) theory of peace, wherein peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather the absence of violence, and notably particular forms of violence. Negative peace represents the absence of direct violence (personal, physical), while positive peace represents the absence of direct and indirect (structural and cultural) violence (Ramsbotham et al. 2011). Structural violence originates from human social structures (e.g., when immigrant children in the US die from lack of care in deportation centres), whereas cultural violence is “any aspect of a culture that can be used to legitimise violence in its direct or structural form” (Galtung 1990: 291). Where direct physical violence is no longer present, but structural violence or injustice remains, there is only negative peace. Positive and negative peace were first conceptualised by Galtung, but continue to endure as essential theory in peace and conflict studies, which makes it meaningful to draw upon for a reflection on interspecies conflicts, namely between humans and other species.
Positive peace is also important in the context of convivial conservation, which stresses the need for just and integrated coexistence, moving away from ghettoised segregation (negative peace) between human and non-human nature (fortress conservation) towards “long-lasting, engaging and open-minded relationships with nonhumans and ecologies,” but is not yet conceptualised through this framing of positive and negative peace (Büscher and Fletcher 2019: 286–288). Through the case study of ANP, I suggest that human-wildlife conflict mechanisms that rely on barriers to prevent direct violence between human and non-human species (e.g., prevent poaching or crop-raiding) can achieve no more than negative peace, falling short of both positive peace and convivial conservation. Similarly, compensation or financial mechanisms designed to offset the costs of living with wildlife and to assuage any animosity towards non-human species or conservationists (sometimes seen as wildlife-preferring humans) are comparable to a form of negative peace known as liberal peace.
Some argue that a powerful incentive to maintain negative peace (i.e., avoid militarised interstate disputes), especially in democratic states, is economic interdependence or growth in trade (Oneal et al. 1996; Gelpi and Grieco 2008). Liberal peace is favoured by those who see peace as economically- or development-driven (Gartzke and Weisiger 2014); the same ideology pervades human-wildlife conflict where coexistence is framed as a cost-benefit analysis for people living near protected areas (Barua et al. 2013). Critiques of liberal peace, which also apply to neoliberal conservation (Heynen et al. 2007), point to its reliance on the globalisation and neoliberalisation of markets and growth-hungry capitalism that exacerbate socio-economic inequalities and the anthropogenic drivers of environmental change, including climate change, resulting in negative peace wrought with injustice (Nixon 2011; Gonzalez-Vicente 2020). Nixon describes “antihuman conservation practices…that disproportionately jeopardise the livelihoods, prospects, and memory banks of the global poor” as an example of slow violence resulting from neoliberalism (Nixon 2011: 2–5). Liberal peace approaches to human-wildlife conflict resolution can result in a culture of monetisation of human and non-human relations, as witnessed in the measure of human-wildlife conflicts through compensation claims, and can produce slow violence, including forced displacement of species and growing acceptance of human-wildlife segregation, which aligns it with negative peace rather than convivial conservation's goals of “equity, structural change and environmental justice” (Büscher and Fletcher 2019: 286).
Ecological peace is unique in that it unifies threads of conventional peace theory, convivial conservation, environmental peacebuilding, and the more-than-human Whole Earth. It refers to non-violent relations between humans and the rest of nature in the same way that convivial conservation is a celebration of human and non-human nature, not as a dichotomy, but rather as “exceptional and unique” aspects of the Whole Earth (Büscher and Fletcher 2019: 287). It is different from environmental peacebuilding, which is premised on cooperation between people for improved human-human or inter-state relations (Conca and Dabelko 2002), and instead “…reflects a state of harmony or 'species cooperation' between humans and the rest of nature premised on an ethic or relationship of mutual care and respect” (Hsiao and Le Billon 2021: 30). Applying Galtung's theory of positive and negative peace, we can think of negative ecological peace as freedom from direct forms of physical interspecies violence, focusing particularly on the human to non-human dichotomy, such as people clear-cutting or fire-bombing forests. Positive ecological peace would mean freedom from structural violences, such as human exploitation of non-human nature within capitalist economic systems, as well as cultural violence, such as human ideologies of species elitism and domination. This may be visible in thriving Territories of Life, where social and ecological well-being are entwined. In these places, coexistence is sought through non-violent and just forms of mutual care between species.
Ecological peace differentiates itself from human-centered concepts of peace, i.e., international peace (between states) and social peace (between humans), in that it incorporates the non-human and, therefore, recognises that some physical violence is inherent to nature. The natural laws of ecosystems demand that predators kill prey to sustain life and permit parasitic species to persist. Even vegetarian species consume plant life and plants consume nutrient matter, sometimes in competition with other species. Human and non-human species have also always killed each other, but as De Silva and Srinivasan (2019: 188), citing Dempsey (2010) and others, have noted, the existence of most wildlife is now precarious and the nature of that killing has changed to one which exceeds “moments of need or dangerous encounter.” As Le Billon and I note, “ecological peace does not assume that all species will be free of all violence, but rather, focuses on a sustainable relationship between humans and the rest of nature and more specifically, on the kinds of violence and conflict that exceed a threshold that sustains the well-being of all life (e.g., anthropogenically-induced extinctions)” (Hsiao and Le Billon 2021: 31). When these thresholds are exceeded, for example, with the unsustainable killing of non-humans by humans (e.g., overfishing) or even the introduction of invasive species which extirpate endogenous species, it would be considered direct violence, and therefore an absence of negative ecological peace.
Ecological peace can be impacted by intra-human conflicts resulting in socionatural disruption. Socionatural refers to the “inextricably intertwined domains of human action and physical environment” that are inherent to ecological peace and convivial conservation (Siegel 2018: 338). On the one hand, this captures the interconnectedness of nature and culture or human society, on the other, it speaks to the interlinked social and ecological change that shapes the co-evolution of nature and culture or society. Integrated socionatures are perhaps most stereotypically observed in Indigenous and traditional societies whose social systems are imbued with traditional ecological knowledge that simultaneously sustains human and non-human well-being (Gadgil et al. 1993). It is also visible in the scale of anthropogenically-induced environmental change that has inspired the term “Anthropocene”. Even long coeval socionatures are vulnerable to disruption and over time can result in loss of ecological knowledge and degradation of either or both human and ecological well-being (Costanza Torri 2011). These processes alter the ways in which humans manage coexistence with wildlife, shifting from traditional practices that may have included mutual respect, taboos, knowledge of wildlife behaviour, culturally moderated forms of hunting, or the designation of no-go zones, to more contemporary mechanisms of human-wildlife separation and neoliberalism. In this article I argue that the former supports more positive ecological peace, while the latter may only attain negative ecological peace.
Socionatural disruption can occur for many reasons—colonisation, industrialisation, conservation, development, and as noted above, civil war, genocide, and armed conflict. The colonial modus operandi of fortress conservation has been one of the most disruptive processes for socionatures, severing communities from both natural environments and governance of those territories (Tauli-Corpuz et al. 2020). Armed conflicts can have the same effect, creating crises that compel displacement and settlement, temporarily or permanently, in other locales. In the case of Rwanda, both the creation of protected areas and violent conflict have uprooted people time and again, resulting in the country's mosaic of local communities often made up of people with fractured connections to the villages or ecosystems they currently inhabit—some may have ancestral connections, but they were born and raised elsewhere only to return after the genocide of the Tutsi, while others are refugees settled in an area designated for them by the government. As a village leader in Ndego (south of ANP) observed, a local person may have limited knowledge of the species they coexist with or how to coexist with them, because the ecosystem is different from where they were raised (Umudugudu Chief, 2020). Even resettled refugees who have returned to their families' former homelands may have spent one or more generations away, growing up with a different set of species and landscapes—most refugees in Rwanda fled around 1959 or 1994 to return some time after 1997—leading to different levels of knowledge erosion. Some may encounter traditional ecological knowledge in stories alone. Ecological peace in a disrupted landscape requires reconciliation between these groups of locally displaced to restore a land ethic, and those who were displaced from elsewhere to cultivate coexistence in their new habitat (Martin 2005; see also van Holstein and Head 2018).
Socionatural disruption shapes human-wildlife interactions and perceptions, which impact on ecological peace. Increasing violence between humans and non-human species is both real and perceived. Shifting perceptions can result from a diminishing practice of cohabitation or a diminishing desire to cohabit. Humans now seek to eradicate or separate ourselves from certain species with whom we have co-evolved, but now consider pests, and when we are no longer around certain species, we lose our knowledge of how to coexist and cooperate (i.e., mutual care). De Silva and Srinivasan (2019) note that this reinforces nature-society divides in two ways: 1) separating people from wildlife by creating exclusive protected areas and 2) separating wildlife from people by creating wildlife-free spaces in human settlements. They argue that social natures “require the equitable sharing of landscapes with non-human others and entails mutual risk,” which can include acceptance of certain thresholds of harm to crops, livestock, or even physical wellbeing (De Silva and Srinivasan 2019: 188). Convivial conservation may allay some of that risk by cultivating local ecological knowledge, practices and systems that minimize negative human-wildlife encounters, and involve less violent means than the separation characteristic of conservation territoriality (Duffy et al. 2019).
In order to capture the Whole Earth, convivial conservation rejects nature-people or nature-culture dichotomies, and promotes radical coexistence in its vision that “all people have to be able to (potentially) live with all nature” (Büscher and Fletcher 2019: 288). What convivial conservation does not dictate is how all people can live with all nature, leaving the modalities of coexistence to the imagination. While barrier mechanisms like the park's electric fence can reduce incidences of illegal hunting and crop/livestock damage and compensation schemes can dissuade people from retaliating against wildlife (negative ecological peace), they do not restore critical elements of culturally governed coexistence and integrated socioecological well-being (positive ecological peace). The ANP case study in the next section distinguishes between human-wildlife conflict interventions in terms of negative and positive peace, in order to understand how certain solutions align or do not align with convivial conservation's more transformative goals.
| ANP as A Case Study of Ecological Peace and Conviviality|| |
This case study is based primarily on a review of literature and consultations with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and Akagera Management Corporation (AMC) staff, as well as cumulative knowledge over years of research in the region. Due to pandemic restrictions, field visits were made only to the park headquarters, including a 'Behind the Scenes' tour of the park in March 2019, and Gasabo and Mucucu villages (see map) between February and March 2020 for interviews with eight local government representatives, village leaders and local healers during February-March 2020. These were identified as 'villages of interest,' along with Karangazi and Rwimiyaga sectors from the Nyagatare District in the north, through consultations with park staff looking at their reports of human-wildlife conflict claims in the preceding months (Fiston Ishimwe, 2020). The study also draws from a human-wildlife conflict study of the “Socio-economic and Ecological Dimensions of Restoring Akagera National Park, Rwanda” by Treves et al. (2019) (hereinafter Akagera HWC Report), which produced the map [Figure 1], illustrating the geographic distribution of compensation claims made based on wildlife damage to crops, livestock, or humans between 2014 and 2018.
|Figure 1: Geographical distribution of verified complaints about wildlife damage around Akagera National Park, Rwanda recorded by park management in 2014-2018 by village. Background colors estimate the total number of verified complaints by all species, as per the legend, where the dominant type of wildlife damage in that village is mapped by letter (C=crop, L=livestock, P=human injury/death) (Treves et al. 2019, 11).|
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Before the park was established, it was sparsely populated with pastoralists utilising mainly grassland areas in the northern Mutara rangelands (e.g., Bahima) and living in the eastern region along the Akagera riverbank (e.g., Banyambo) (Hall 2014). The woodlands were avoided because of tsetse flies, as were the marshlands, leaving the south and central regions uninhabited. Civil war and genocide changed the human geographies of Akagera dramatically, bringing in refugee populations from different parts of the country. Approximately two million refugees and another one million were internally displaced during the genocide years (Prunier 1995: 312–313). Before that, Akagera had already been turned into a humanitarian site for mostly Ugandan refugees, with over 45,000 people (sometimes as many as 1,500 arriving per day) and 50,000 cattle brought to camps in Kanyinya, Mahega, and Kibondo in and around ANP (US House of Representatives 1984). After the plane crash of President Habyarimana, ANP became a through-way/battleground for the Rwanda Patriotic Front's liberation army entering from Uganda (Kuperman 2004: 23).
Today, AMC estimates there are over 300,000 people living around the park, though it is still the least densely populated region in the country (African Parks 2021a). According to park staff, lands outside the northern sector are dominated by historically-rooted pastoral people with a long-established connection to the ecosystem and constituent species and typically reports the lowest number of human-wildlife conflict incidences or cases of damages caused by wildlife (Fiston Ishimwe, 2020). The central sector also features large landholding pastoralists, often with hundreds of cows, but many originate from other parts of the country and fled Rwanda until they were granted property in former parklands as part of post-conflict repatriation (AMC Staff, 2019). Observable in [Figure 1], this area is a hotspot for human-wildlife conflict claims. Around the southern sector are repatriated, largely agricultural communities, typically with smaller herds of livestock, while some are tenant farmers working for remote landowners (Fiston Ishimwe, 2020; Umudugudu Chief, 2020).
ANP was gazetted in 1934 (Decree of November 26, 1934), establishing one of the largest wetland protected areas in Africa to encompass the Akagera River watershed, as part of the Nile River Basin, and its wildlife (Treves et al. 2019). It is Rwanda's only 'Big 5' game park, a title reclaimed in 2017 with the reintroduction of Eastern Black Rhinos (Diceros bicornis ssp. michaeli) from South Africa (Gill 2019). Initially the park included multi-use zones where some human activities were allowed, but the core was strictly reserved for 'leave no trace' scientific research—even tourists were not allowed (Hall 2014).
ANP is an excellent example of interlinked socioecological disruption, with its wildlife and size rising and falling with the stability/insecurity of its socio-political context. Originally 252,000 hectares, it saw some years of ecological expansion; recorded at 267,000 ha in 1960 with its lion population doubling from 150 to 300 between 1969 and 1990 (Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Environment 2003: 13–42). A field visit by the Association pour la Conservation de la Nature au Rwanda (ACNR) in 1993 estimated that ANP had lost 90% of its large mammals with important changes to its habitats (Kanyamibwa 1998: 1402). In 1997, it was regazetted at half its original size (112,193 ha) (Decision No. 3 of the Cabinet meeting on July 29, 1997) in order to accommodate large populations of refugees settled inside of the park and neighbouring Mutara Hunting Fields (Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Environment 2003: 23).
With the park size dramatically decreased and a dramatically increasing human population, human-wildlife conflicts abounded in the decade following the 1997 regazettement. Retaliatory poisoning and illegal hunting led to the extirpation of lions by 2006 and rhinos around 2007 (Rwanda Environment Management Authority 2016: 27). ANP's boundaries were redrawn again in 2010, this time with a 967 ha buffer zone (Law No. 33/2010 of 24/09/2010 Establishing Akagera National Park 2010: 33). As of 2019, ANP covers 108,363.7 ha with a 1,153.3 ha buffer zone (Law No. 68/2019 of 29/10/2019 Governing the Akagera National Park 2019) and the government is now keen to extend its connectivity to include the remnant Ibanda-Makera Forest (Rwanda Environment Management Authority 2016: 59–60). [Figure 2] provides a timeline of ANP's ebb and flow in terms of territorial size and key figures in terms of lion and rhino extinctions and reintroduction, as well as poaching indicators, and key events in its establishment and management.
|Figure 2: Akagera National Park Size and Selected Statistics (1934-2019)|
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In the years after lion and rhino extirpation, Akagera's management transitioned from state authority to a public-private partnership between African Parks and RDB under the AMC. Amongst the AMC's primary goals is to ensure the security of park wildlife, which includes the boundary fence, specially trained law enforcement rangers, and a canine team, plus upgraded surveillance technologies. Another target is to increase the economic productivity of the park through tourism investments, including the re-introduction of lions and rhinos, construction of roads and hotel infrastructure, and support to communities, especially those who contribute to one or both of these goals (e.g., renouncing poaching, producing supplies for park hotels, or guiding and entertaining tourists). Even the state's compensation scheme for wildlife damages are considered an offset of the costs of living with wildlife, and thus contribute to economic enhancement. As presented in the section that follows, these human-wildlife conflict interventions offer only negative ecological peace for human-wildlife coexistence.
| From Fences and Funds to Totems and Taboos|| |
Day-to-day practices of negative and positive ecological peace present different approaches to conviviality in Akagera's local communities, reminding us that the local community is neither homogeneously heroic nor threatening, but will seek conviviality through the tools of individual circumstances and that individual strategies may differ from those of others within their same community. This presents itself in the park management's decision to construct a physical barrier at the boundary line between park land and community land in order to minimise conflicts between people and wildlife, and the government's policy to compensate wildlife damages to mediate conflicts between the park and people. As an alternative, local ecological knowledge, including cultural systems of totem species and related taboos, could help to transform cultural violence between human and non-human species (Brackhane et al. 2019; Kimenyi n.d.). These different approaches to human-wildlife coexistence bring further understanding to the kinds of peace (negative, liberal, and positive, respectively) that may be expected.
Fencing nature: an imperfect fortress of negative ecological peace
The reintroduction of apex predators like lions and critically endangered high-value species like rhinos into socionatural landscapes can compel a re-fortressing rather than positive ecological peacebuilding that can ensure long-term convivial conservation. For a country like Rwanda with a limited national budget, the purchase of lions and rhinos from other countries in Africa and zoos in Europe presents a large investment that needs to be safeguarded to yield returns in tourism revenues. While the European zoos saw this as an opportunity to return the descendants of captive rhinos “back to their homeland,” they wanted to know that the animals would be safe in a country where they had been wiped out twice before (Gill 2019). This effort towards decolonising ex-situ conservation resulted in a re-colonisation of fortress conservation in ANP. To heighten rhino and park security, AMC put into place a series of anti-poaching measures, which included ranger training, introduction of bloodhounds, surveillance technologies, and protective infrastructure (African Parks 2021b). As described during a “Behind the Scenes” tour of the park in 2019, Akagera's rhinos are monitored constantly by a special ranger unit and rarely leave the safety of the northern sector of the park. In order to reintroduce the lions, however, the park management needed to assure the surrounding human populations that the animals would not be an additional threat to their lives and livelihoods (AMC Staff, 2019). Two years before their reintroduction, the electric boundary fence was installed, and afterwards neighbouring communities were taught how to upgrade their livestock infrastructures as well (AMC Staff, 2019; Samuel Rugamba and Kellen Sanyu, 2020). Altogether, the reintroduction of lions and rhinos in ANP has resulted in more fences, not only around the park itself, but also for domesticated animals, not considered wildlife.
Barrier mechanism like Akagera's electric boundary fence and bomas for rhinos or livestock, at their best offer negative ecological peace by providing certain protective benefits. In human-wildlife conflict 'hotspots' around ANP like Gasabo and Mucucu, community members credit the fence for a reduction in crop-raiding, livestock killings, not to mention human injuries, and consider it one of the positive benefits deriving from the park (Benon Gashayija, 2020; Martin Rwakabogo, 2020). “There is a huge difference, before they fenced the park, wild animals would kill people. They would come all the way from the park and damage communities' crops, and kill people. But now, it's different…” (Posiyani Ntibagirirwa, 2020).
According to park management, the fence correlates with a significant reduction in poaching incidents inside of the park—during the 'Behind the Scenes' tour in 2019, a park ranger observed that throughout earlier years they would find hundreds of wire snares, while in the recent year or two they located only a handful. A traditional healer in Gasabo said that they used to go inside the forest to collect medicinal plants, but “are now aware that the park is guarded, it has a fence, there is literally a frontier between people and the park” (Lenatha Mukamusoni, 2020). These reductions in direct violence between humans and non-humans may have helped to improve social conflict between park authorities and local communities by providing a physical solution to the problems of property damage and risk to human and non-human life, but none of these problems will go away completely. Since the erection of fence there have been 22 reports of wildlife-caused human injury and eight cases of human deaths, while evidence of poaching continues (Treves et al. 2019, 11). Fences are also lacking in terms of the cultural and structural non-violence of positive ecological peace.
Even as a physical barrier to protect negative ecological peace, boundary fences are not impervious and can institutionalise a false sense of separation between people and other species. Research on the electric fence indicates that for most species, physical separation between humans and non-humans is largely an assumption and not absolute (See Treves et al. 2019). In other words, most of the species found inside the park also exist outside, with the exception of lions and rhinos, which were only reintroduced in Rwanda inside of Akagera's fenced boundary. Smaller species (e.g., baboons, vervet monkeys, and young leopards) can move in and out of the fenced boundaries, but not larger mammals (See Bariyanga et al. 2016). Human settlements have also been constructed inside ANP to house park staff and tourists. Compensation for crop raiding or livestock killings is premised on an attribution of the animal's origin to the park and thus, responsibility for managing that wildlife and reimbursing for its damages goes to state authorities (Minister of Trade and Industry 2012 art 2(2)). The park's territorial demarcation and construction of a fence creates a false attribution of animal origin, making all wildlife, park wildlife. Ultimately, wildlife that continues to live on the lands outside of ANP create a de facto area of human-wildlife cohabitation, while the park creates a de jure area of human-wildlife visitation. However, the impacts of these territorial distinctions and resulting quality of cohabitation is what the lens of negative and positive ecological peace brings into focus.
This false sense of separation between human and non-human nature can degrade local communities' desire for conviviality, evidenced by the dissonance between species that are considered desirable or undesirable, based on which side of the fence they are found (Treves et al., 2019: 18).
In AMC's human-wildlife conflict study, 27.89% of the respondents listed elephants as one of their favourite species inside the park, but none listed it as a species they preferred to see on their own property (Treves et al. 2019). Two of the women interviewed in Mucucu expressed a common sentiment concerning 'problem animals' outside of the park: 1) wild animals should be taken 'back' to the park and 2) domestic species should be protected by building fences (e.g., bomas for livestock) (Faith Mukabaranga and Jolly Bafuruka, 2020). The challenges of human-wildlife conflict around ANP demonstrate that physical separation is counter-productive for positive ecological peace in at least a few specific ways. Notably, it facilitates a cultural violence of separation in the belief that humans and wildlife should be kept apart (species apartheid) and a structural violence of institutionalised segregation implemented by park management and law enforcement rather than acknowledgement that wildlife has always existed inside and outside of the park alongside humans.
In human-wildlife conflict 'hotspots', the separation between humans and species considered pests or frequent culprits of human-wildlife conflict are reinforced through physical relocation from outside of the protected area to inside—'returning' the animals to where they belong. Just before the fence was first completed (June 2013), 452 buffalo, 508 zebra, 46 impala, 13 waterbuck and two giraffe were “driven back into the park” (Bariyanga et al. 2016: 185). Community members want wildlife to be “taken back to the park,” regardless of whether the animals had originated from inside or not (Faith Mukabaranga and Jolly Bafuruka, 2020). Elephants, hippos, hyenas, leopards, and buffalo continue to be herded by helicopters through temporarily opened sections of the electric fence or trapped by local community members and translocated by park staff (AMC Staff, 2019; Moses Karenzi, 2020). These interventions frequently occur at the request of communities, as described by the Mucucu village chief, “…[Buffaloes…] sometimes come here, and we call the sector's office, and they call you guys [park management] and they bring helicopters to bring them back to the park” (Samuel Rugamba and Kellen Sanyu, 2020). In Gasabo, a local cooperative was set-up to help trap and release hyenas: “They use traditional snares. They were forbidden from killing them. When hyenas get trapped in the snare, the cooperative calls park people and they pick it up. After this initiative started, hyenas stopped coming in the area” (Lenatha Mukamusoni, 2020). The belief in and constant enforcement of separation between humans and wildlife represent cultural and structural ecological violence that undermine positive ecological peace, and I would argue that it therefore also falls short of convivial conservation.
The fence's reinforcement of cultural and structural violence, which is markedly different for larger species that are unable to cross (as) freely between the two spaces and require physical relocation, is augmented by the compensation scheme, which places human-wildlife coexistence into the realm of liberal agendas not in congruence with convivial conservation's critique of capitalist economies and vision for de-growth.
Fences and funds: the liberal peace approach to negative ecological peace
The separation that is most tangible is between larger 'problem' species (e.g., elephants, hippos, buffaloes, hyenas, and leopards) fenced inside the park and those outside, especially in terms of the ways they can affect income for humans. Typically, human-wildlife conflicts and their interventions are conceived of as an economic cost-benefit, with proximity to certain wildlife seen as an economic cost which must be reconciled in terms of compensation for losses and incentives for alternative livelihood development (Dickman et al. 2011). As a few authors have noted, negative perceptions about damages caused by protected wildlife or wildlife perceived to be under the management of authorities are often augmented in comparison to actual damages by other non-human species (e.g., elephants vs. rats) (Naughton-Treves and Treves 2005). Yet, when the park staff relocate problem animals from community lands to park lands, it is seen as a win-win that potentially reduces future incidences of human-wildlife conflict, places them under the safe watch of park authorities, and increases species populations inside the park, a draw for ecotourism revenues. Funds for the Rwandan compensation mechanism originate from park revenues, meaning tourism of animals inside the park pay for damages caused by animals outside the park—another good reason to relocate 'problem' animals inside park boundaries. As the Mucucu village chief describes, “they should just be in the park, where they belong. Which is nice, for tourism, for us and our kids, we go there to visit them, this is nice for the country, but having them outside, in the communities, then that's a problem” (Samuel Rugamba and Kellen Sanyu, 2020). This removes the animal as a life with which we must seek convivial coexistence and captures it a subject of environmental capitalism.
In a study of compensation claims around ANP, one landowner filed 14 verified complaints about livestock losses to hyenas, yet continued to do nothing to prevent or minimise damages (e.g., use bomas or night guards) (Treves et al. 2019). If all his complaints were approved, he could receive RWF 5.3 million (approximately USD 5,200) for his livestock. This landowner presents the possibility that reporting incidences of human-wildlife conflicts can be profitable and that compensation schemes provide new ways for system-savvy people to earn money from wildlife. In this case, the landowner is known to have relatives in Kigali and is accustomed to travelling between the capital and the countryside (AMC Staff, 2019), distinguishing him from other local villagers who may be less mobile and adept at accessing state systems. Between the cost-benefit approach to conflict resolution, its potential manipulation for individual profit, and the commercialisation of wildlife that it depends on, I propose that compensation schemes are better conceived of as a liberal peace approach to negative ecological peace. Even if this manages to monetarily incentivise some degree of coexistence, it falls short of convivial conservation because it relies on relocation and separation, as well as commodification of the 'other'.
From the perspective of positive ecological peace, wildlife relocation is problematic. Relocation commonly involves capture and release or herding, including by aerial pursuit, from human-wildlife conflict 'hotspots' into protected areas—it is akin to forced displacement. As an example, we can look to the elephants found in ANP today, which originated elsewhere. Reports of Rwanda's elephant populations have historically situated larger populations in the western regions, with smaller populations in the north around Volcanoes National Park and Bugesera (Spinage and Guinness 1971). In 1975, a herd of approximately 150 elephants around Bugesera were “continually coming into conflict with local communities,” and while there were no elephants in Akagera at the time, it was believed to be part of a historic corridor from Bugesera to Uganda and, thus, it was deemed ecologically viable to transfer 26 of them by military “trucks, helicopters, all-terrain vehicles, cages, and strong boats” into the park (Hall 2014). The photo in [Figure 3] by Jacky Babilon is of a young elephant being transported by helicopter from Bugesera to Akagera NP in 1975 (Root 2016).
|Figure 3: Photo by Jacky Babilon in 1975 of a young elephant being transported by helicopter from Bugesera to Akagera NP (Root 2016).|
Click here to view
The elephants more than eight years old were considered too large to transport, so they were shot and killed (Sullivan 2014). Four of the young elephants had to be bottle-fed on arrival because they were too young to even wean from their mothers (Hall 2014). The trauma of this violent decimation of an elephant herd and forced displacement of their survivors is masked in the celebration of this event at the time as a “a ground-breaking conservation effort to eliminate human-wildlife conflict” (African Parks 2018). Translocation practices have evolved since then, allowing entire families to be moved, but this can still be a traumatic dislocation. The reintroduction of elephants and other previously extirpated species like lions and rhino have certainly been important for Rwanda's return to Africa's 'Big 5' tourism, but this only emphasises the neoliberalism in the fences and funds approach to human-wildlife conflict management.
When 'problem' species are moved out of the de facto areas of convivial conservation to de jure areas of fenced management, it limits their freedom in terms of geographic as well as genetic dispersal across the larger ecoregion. This could present a form of slow ecological violence that compromises a species' agency, freedoms, and long-term resilience as increasingly isolated populations—especially when we consider, for example, the case of large migratory species which used to transect continents and are now increasingly constrained within ecosystem remnants with securitised borders. As species populations grow in Akagera and push at the carrying capacity of the park, the ongoing practice of compensation and relocation could lead to increasingly insecure populations. When the last of a species are geographically limited, they are more vulnerable to existential threats (e.g., disease or sudden-onset events) and at worst, to extinction or extirpation. Alternatively, healthy populations could find themselves overextending the park's carrying capacity, but trapped and unable to find other spaces for survival (See e.g., Byishimo 2021). As Nixon describes, slow violence is “a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all” (Nixon 2011: 2). Even as an attempt at negative ecological peace, wildlife relocation and hard-bordered isolation could actually represent slow violence targeting certain species (i.e., speciesism) and undermines long-term positive ecological peace.
This kind of segregation also creates a perception and reality that coexistence with certain species of wildlife is limited to income-generating viewing inside of park boundaries and not deeply convivial. Compensation schemes represent a liberal approach to negative peace, but not positive ecological peace.
Culture and traditional knowledge: conviviality through positive ecological peace
The make-up of local communities around ANP reflect different socionatural relations between people and wildlife that are constructed by historical connections, traditional knowledge, and learned cohabitation with ecosystems. In Gasabo, the umudugudu (village) chief indicated that their community is made up of refugees who had fled Rwanda in 1959 and none of whom had lived there before. Though they may have been from nearby villages (e.g., Rukira, Nyarubuye, Kigarama), the ecosystem was different enough that the indigenous trees were unfamiliar to them and they found it hard to adjust to the new environment at first. Their people were used to eating bananas, which do not grow well in the local soil, and the traditional plants they used for firewood or construction were also not available. They did not know the species they encountered in their new territory, but a few from close-by places were able to teach them. Another Gasabo villager shared a similar experience about his lack of exposure to hippos in Kigali, where he had lived before: “No, there were no hippos. But you see, when you move to a new area, people teach you different tricks on animals' behaviour, and you start being careful” (Posiyani Ntibagirirwa, 2020).
In some cases, these historically uprooted communities are able to carry-over ecological knowledge from the places where they lived before. The umudugudu chief of Ndego had been a refugee in Tanzania living alongside hippos, which also frequent the lakes and wetlands common to the southern sector of ANP. He was familiar with their patterns, their late-night crop raiding and three AM return to the lakes, and he knew how to build platforms for fruit trees to prevent them from being eaten. These transferable forms of ecological knowledge can mitigate human-wildlife conflict and enhance conviviality (Umudugudu Chief, 2020). The chief's family totem is also the lion (intare), which he observed is not in the village anymore, but can be found in the park. Many elders, like him, still retain traditional knowledge around totem species. Totem species are found in many Indigenous cultures around the world, typically a species “which is symbiotically linked to the clan historically, physically and spiritually” and with whom a relationship of mutual care exists (Kimenyi n.d.). One muzee (an elder man) who joined my conversation with the umudugudu chief explained that his totem is also the lion, which he can never kill, and described a small frog, the totem of his wife, which he also protects as the “relative of his in-laws” (Umudugudu Chief, 2020). That small frog is not native to the Akagera region, but he noted this cultural practice spills-over to include other frogs he may encounter nearby. In this way, community members can retain a convivial connection to species within their new ecosystems.
This knowledge is diminishing, however, with younger generations no longer aware of their totem species and the intricate normative systems of taboos and cultural practices around them. One villager in Gasabo lamented that, “the more indigenous forests are cut, the quicker the traditional knowledge decreases” (Community Member, 2020). The same can be said of indigenous or local fauna—the less they are present, the less local knowledge about these species persists. Totem-driven convivial conservation can also be eroded when the responsibility to protect a species shifts from the clan to the state or other conservation authority. As elaborated in previous sub-sections, hard-bordering of protected areas with physical infrastructure, such as ANP's electric fence, and wildlife damage compensation schemes that attribute the animal's origin to the park, enforce the concept that wildlife is the mandate of park authorities and not of local peoples' concerns. One of the villagers from Kayonza joked that “I even think the government should bring these animals that live outside back to the park, or just build another fence and keep them there well (laughs)” (Pastoralist, 2020). Taking on this responsibility, the park's chief warden, Jes Gruner, once said, “we were constantly chasing our herd of elephants who were eating their crops,” which distinctly associates the elephants to the park and others the local people as 'they' (Bax 2019).
In the absence of traditional knowledge, environmental education has been another angle on human-wildlife conflict management around Akagera, but it may be (unintentionally) reinforcing negative ecological peace rather than cultivating positive ecological peace. Park rangers currently teach the villagers how to build protective structures for their livestock and crops and other barrier mechanisms, like trenches, to minimise human-wildlife interactions. They also promote positive economic benefits deriving from park tourism, including revenue-sharing from park entry fees or the construction of roads and schools. Over time, this can create a financially-incentivised system of barrier and segregation-based ecological knowledge, replacing other potentially more non-violent means of coexistence. In other words, it teaches local communities to use strategies of separation (negative peace) and commodification (liberal peace), rather than establishing a culture of harmonious integration (positive peace). Instead, environmental education should seek to revitalise local ecological knowledge that offers strategies of non-violent cohabitation between species. It can draw from existing traditional knowledge or it can innovate new systems of local ecological knowledge and human-wildlife conflict resolution; for example, using participatory predator monitoring technologies via SMS alerts or mobile apps.
Positive ecological peacebuilding around ANP can also draw from the experiences of Territories of Life, where convivial conservation is an outcome of culture, livelihoods, and well-being (Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2012; Sajeva et al. 2019). As the definition of ecological peace connotes, conviviality needs to be premised on a relationship of mutual care. In the field interviews, local people described how they would not cut large trees that provide shade for their livestock or rain for their crops and even plant medicinal species for healing various ailments (Moses Karenzi, 2020; Lenatha Mukamusoni, 2020; Faith Mukabaranga and Jolly Bafuruka, 2020). One villager living in Akagera's southern sector explains the reasons they protect certain species:
“We also have native species in our farms. These were there when we got here and I didn't cut all of them. […] Because, for example, the tall trees called 'imikobakobe', you can even put in a beehive. A beehive for bees. You can conduct horticulture and harvest honey to eat, so you can't cut those. And for palm trees, these craftswomen use it […]. That's why you can't cut these trees” (Posiyani Ntibagirirwa, 2020).
This relationship of positive ecological peace between humans and other species is premised on interdependence, traditional knowledge, and on-going connections. Hence, the need to reconsider human-wildlife conflict interventions for their approach to ecological peace to ensure that they do not undermine positive peace between species.
| Conclusion|| |
In a small country like Rwanda, which constitutes an important ecological corridor of the Albertine Rift biodiversity hotspot, and which features an increasingly dense human populated landscape, protected area expansion through conservation territorialities will prove sociopolitically challenging. A more ideal alternative, particularly in terms of positive ecological peace, is convivial conservation, which includes Indigenous or traditional custodianship and governance of Territories of Life. However, in socionaturally disrupted landscapes like Rwanda and the broader Albertine Rift, local communities are not homogenous entities. Conservation internationally has often been susceptible to a highly dichotomised view of the 'local community' as either a hyper-romanticised people living in harmony with nature or a hyper-stigmatised people out to destroy nature. These perspectives lose sight of the complex disrupted socionatural landscapes we live in today.
In the Rwandan case study presented in this article, I refer to the socionatural disruption caused by colonial conservation practices and genocide. More specifically, in the context of conviviality or human-wildlife coexistence, I consider dynamics between ANP's historically rooted pastoralists and post-conflict settlement of historically uprooted refugees and human-wildlife conflict interventions, namely the electric fence and compensation scheme. These mechanisms are coupled with other processes, including active relocation of non-human species from community lands to park lands, which erode socionatural relations and ecological knowledge that support convivial conservation. They also represent negative peace and liberal peace approaches to coexistence between human and non-human species, rather than the radically integrated coexistence of convivial conservation. For disrupted communities settled in new ecosystems or even long-standing traditional communities, these kinds of human-wildlife conflict interventions may erode the possibility of convivial conservation in the long-run. Fences and funds might ease human-wildlife conflict dynamics in the short-term, but when evaluated through a peace perspective, they fall short of positive ecological peace.
This article has brought conventional peace theory (Galtung's positive and negative peace) to more-than-human relations by looking at human-wildlife conflict management around ANP. This provides a framework for evaluating common approaches to human-wildlife conflict resolution (such as fences, funds) and, in particular, to identify the indirect violences (structural or cultural) they may entail, to open a discussion on non-violent culture-based approaches, and to evolve our concepts of peace to move beyond negative or liberal peace towards positive ecological peace. Opportunities to embed positive peace approaches to ecological peace can diminish with the disruption of socionatural landscapes and human-wildlife relations, thus it is important to revitalize ecological knowledge and local environmental governance systems that can foster positive ecological peace and convivial conservation. Further research could explore the effects of different non-violent culture-based approaches for positive ecological peace around Akagera as its management and surrounding communities continue to evolve their strategies for conviviality.
I would like to acknowledge and thank the following people for their contributions:
- Dorine Intwarinkase for her company and assistance in the field, translating and interviewing research participants, and to both Dorine and Protais Seshaba for translating and transcribing the interview recordings in the midst of lockdowns and family illnesses.
- All of the research participants who gave their time and information in interviews with Dorine and/or myself.
- Dan Brockington, Rosaleen Duffy, and Beth Kaplin for their support of my application for the GCRF fellowship which funded all of the field activities and for their mentorship and supervision during the fellowship. Rosaleen Duffy and Beth Kaplin also provided helpful feedback on an earlier draft of this manuscript.
- The Akagera Management Company for their support of field research around the park and especially to Drew Bantlin and Fiston Ishimwe for their facilitation of field interviews and time answering endless questions. Drew Bantlin also reviewed a copy of the manuscript, which helped to improve the factual representations of the park's history. Fiston Ishimwe helped to identify target villages and connect us with local government and community members.
- Judith Kraus and Robert Fletcher, who reviewed an early draft of this paper and provided useful feedback and comments.
- Adrian Treves, Lisa Naughton, Drew Bantlin, Niwaeli Kimambo, Jacob Olson, and Joseph Karama for sharing their report on the “Socioeconomic and Ecological Dimensions of Restoring Akagera National Park, Rwanda” and again, to Drew Bantlin for subsequent discussions on the findings of their report.
- The Masozeras—Anna, Michel, and Anne Marie—for sharing their home and hearth in Rwanda while I got my fieldwork up and running and for all the everyday conversations, which may be difficult to attribute to specific outputs in a manuscript, but have shaped it positively, undoubtedly.
- Yu-Tzung Chang and Thomas C.P. Peng for providing an office space and access to university resources for me as a Visiting Scholar at the National Taiwan University Department of Political Science while I was working on this manuscript.
- Pacifique Niyonzima, Charles Karangwa, and Providence Akayezu for translating the abstract into Kinyarwanda.
- The University of Sheffield, the Sheffield Institute for International Development, and the UK Global Challenges Research Fund for the funding and administrative support that made this fieldwork possible.
Declaration of competing/conflicting interests
The author declares no competing interests in the conduct of this research.
This research was funded as a University of Sheffield Global Challenges Fellowship, which is a Research England QR GCRF Institutional Allocation. The University of Sheffield and the author are the recipients of this grant.
Research Ethics Approval
This research has undergone full ethical review at the University of Sheffield and is approved under application 030946 (October 11, 2019). It has also been approved by the University of Rwanda under Ref. No. DVC AAR 831/2019 (December 5, 2019). Research clearances were also secured with the Rwandan National Council for Science and Technology (No. NCST/482/170/2019) on December 13, 2019, the Rwanda Development Board (October 7, 2019) and the Akagera Management Company (February 21, 2020).
The interview data is not accessible due to privacy restrictions.
No pre-review or pre-print versions of this manuscript have been uploaded to other sites.
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[Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3]