By Dr. Aida Cuní Sanchez – TBA alumna, Kirindy 2005
Northern Kenya conjures up images of deserts, nomadic camel pastoralists and, unfortunately, the devastating effects of recurrent droughts. However, there are a few forest islands located on top of high hills and mountains. These forests survive because of the mist they trap from the clouds, which is why they are called cloud forests.
Cloud forests are of particular interest, for their species richness and endemism. For example, three chameleons are endemic to three of these forests in northern Kenya: Trioceros marsabitensis, T. narraioca and Kinyongia asheorum, which inhabit Mt Marsabit, Mt Kulal and Mt Nyiro forests respectively. These cloud forests also provide a habitat for several endangered species of plants and animals, such as the tree Prunus africana, Grevy’s zebra and elephants.
Filming in the forest of Mt. Kulal
Most importantly, cloud forests are vital because of their high water yield. In the African drylands, this water yield is crucial to surrounding communities, particularly during droughts. In spite of their important role, little is known about how these forests function, and how sensitive they might be to overexploitation and climate change. So, for the past two years, I have made these fascinating ecosystems the focus of my research.
There is no doubt that contemporary conservation needs to be more than biology, and that it has shifted to include more of the human dimensions. The key role that other fields such as the social sciences and economics play in conservation is being recognized more and more. Despite some oppositions to the anthropocentric approach, we can all agree on one thing (or two): Human actions create the need for conservation and conservation is implemented by humans. Considering that human beings have such a big influence on conservation, understanding human decision-making and behavior can provide important insights for conservation. Which is where psychology can play a role.
The field of Conservation Psychology
Carol D. Saunders first proposed conservation psychology as a new field of study in 2003, defining it as “an applied field that uses psychological principles, theories, or methods to understand and solve issues related to human aspects of conservation”. When introduced it was expected to contribute to environmental sustainability by addressing two main research topics: (1) how humans behave towards nature? And (2) how humans value nature?