Applying Cultural Evolution

Cultural Evolution of Conservation Practices

Research team

Thomas Currie, Principal Investigator
Enoch Ontiri, Co-Investigator
Tim Njagi, Co-Investigator
Monique Borgerhoff-Mulder, Collaborator

Key information

Full title: The Cultural Evolution of Conservation Practices: Assessing the transmission and spread of Human-Wildlife Conflict mitigation strategies in Kenya
Host institution(s): University of Exeter (United Kingdom); Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development (Kenya)
Research location: Kenya

Project overview 

Human-Wildlife conflict (HWC) involves animals threatening peoples’ safety and livelihoods (e.g. killing people or domestic animals, eating crops etc.), leading people to disturb, drive-away, or even kill those animals. These conflicts arise due to competition over natural resources, and HWC has worsened in recent decades due to increased pressure on these resources from humans and from changes in land-use. Conservation cannot occur only through the use of fenced protected areas and attempts to keep humans and wildlife separate. Schemes that minimize or mitigate negative interactions between people and wildlife can lead to more peaceful forms of coexistence that are beneficial to both sides. However, why mitigation practices are actually taken up by people or not is not well-understood. Cultural Evolutionary theory is a relatively new scientific approach that examines what social and cultural factors affect whether certain ideas, technologies, or behaviours are copied or adopted. Here, working in the grasslands of southern Kenya, we apply this approach to investigate the spread of conservation schemes designed to reduce conflicts between Maasai people, who make a living from herding livestock, and Lions, who sometimes prey upon livestock.

Reducing Human-Wildlife Conflict between Lions and local Maasai people can help protect both. This can also enable local people to benefit from living closely with Lions (e.g. earning money from tourism) – Photo by Craig Stevenson on Unsplash

In this project, we will conduct fieldwork with Maasai people to collect data on the uptake of mitigation practices and understand peoples’ attitudes towards these practices. We will analyze these data to understand the different factors that either encourage or discourage people from engaging with these conservation schemes. We will design this project together with people from local communities, and local research and conservation organizations so that research is driven by the needs of all these groups. Producing research together in this way will help ensure that the information we generate is targeted to help enhance conservation schemes so that they can reduce HWC in ways that both protect Lions and improve Maasai people’s livelihoods and security.

Project contacts

If you would like to contact the project team, please email the grant management team in the first instance, at

Thomas Currie: Website