Perceptions on the park periphery: Resident, staff and natural resource relations at Masoala National Park, Madagascar

Alison Allene Ormsby (2003)

Relations between park staff and community residents of the park periphery are examined using the case study of conservation at Masoala National Park in Madagascar. Understanding interactions and perceptions can help guide future park management strategies to increase conservation effectiveness, through efforts such as environmental education and communication programs. From July to December 2001, I conducted 102 semi-structured individual and group interviews with a total of 165 Masoala National Park staff, employees of nongovernmental conservation organizations, and community residents, focusing on two villages on the periphery of Masoala National Park. My primary research questions were: (1) What are the factors that influence residents' perceptions of a national park and restrictions on use of natural resources in the park area? (2) How do residents of communities on the periphery of a national park perceive and interact with park staff? What factors facilitate or hinder the interactions and perceptions between park staff and residents? My assumption was that understanding these interactions and perceptions could provide assistance to improve management and also address community concerns. My multi-method qualitative research approach included individual and focus group interviews, participant observation, archival research, and an environmental education and communication workshop. Several factors were found to influence the positive and negative perceptions of Masoala National Park held by residents living in the park periphery, including the history of park management, the degree of awareness of park existence, type of interaction with park staff, and actual or potential benefits received from the park. Inconsistency in past and present park management goals has led to community confusion regarding the park program. Residents are largely aware of the park's existence but unfamiliar with its goals. Environmental education and communication activities conducted by park agents have been minimal. At present, park staff are inadequately prepared and equipped to conduct these programs. Finally, pressures on park natural resources come from a variety of sources and occur across a range of spatial and temporal scales, some of which are outside the control of park managers.