Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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An Analysis of Traditional Ecological Knowledge's Status and its Conservation Options

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posted on 2021-11-13, 11:24 authored by Tang, Ruifei

The value of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) has been recognised and discussed widely in the literature and in public media over the last six decades. Over the same time period, the declining trend in TEK has been frequently reported across multiple case studies in every major region of the globe. As a result, a great number of international agreements (e.g. the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) have been established in attempt to protect indigenous rights. However, in many cases these agreements have not transformed into concrete TEK conservation actions at the ground level.   Several key literature gaps are identified through this research: the lack of a review of 1) global patterns in the status of TEK; 2) threats to TEK; 3) TEK conservation options; 4) the lack of standard classification systems of TEK threats and conservation actions; 5) the status of TEK and conservation of TEK in Inner Mongolia China is largely unknown to the outside world; and 6) the limited understanding of the role of government policy on TEK trajectories in Inner Mongolia. To develop TEK threat and conservation action typologies is one major target of this research. This is because a standard classification system provides a common language for practitioners to identify problems and solutions, and to communicate across projects. More importantly, it provides a tool for identifying global patterns of TEK and creating a global network and common databases for TEK monitoring, thus to inform conservation actions. However, such a system is missing from the current literature.   Part one of this research applied a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods, including a global survey (n=137), its follow-up interviews (n=46), and a comprehensive literature review (n=152). The qualitative data analysis produced 1) a typology of TEK threats; 2) an analysis of the complex causal web among all TEK threats; 3) a typology of conservation actions; 4) the triggers and barriers to TEK conservation success; and 5) three design principles for effective TEK conservation. The quantitative data analysis explored 1) the responses’ geographical distribution; 2) the overall trend of TEK change; and 3) the significance of different categories of TEK threats and conservation options.   Part two of this research is a case study in Inner Mongolia with two critical outputs: 1) an examination of the impact of Chinese government policies on traditional resource management institutions over time; and 2) an application of the TEK typologies to analyse the current status of TEK and possible interventions in Inner Mongolia. The study applied three qualitative research methods: semi-structured interviews (n=91), group discussion (n=5 with 64 participants), and participant observation (eight weeks). The study found that in general government policies (from the1950s – 2007) had negatively affected Mongolian TEK and almost destroyed traditional institutions. However, the new Cooperative Law (2007) may positively impact local TEK by supporting community cooperative organisations and their activities of revitalising traditional herding practices, collective working relationships and traditional leadership. Through applying the typologies to the case study, this research provides a model of how to identify TEK threats and design conservation actions in real-world situations.   Three core messages emerged from this research: 1) dealing with TEK threats and applying TEK conservation have to take a social-ecological system approach, in which social, political, cultural, economic and ecological aspects are all embedded; 2) the design and implementation of TEK conservation have to be cross-scale arrangements, in which the institutions from the local level up to the national and international levels are accommodated; and 3) power relations are at the core of achieving sustainable resource management and effective community empowerment. The cooperation between different levels of organisations and among different groups at the same levels requires appropriate power sharing. In a word, TEK is a complex, dynamic and systematic issue, TEK threats take place at multiple levels simultaneously. Therefore, to deal with TEK threats needs a complex, adaptive and systematic approach with holistic worldviews as the intellectual foundation.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Environmental Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Gavin, Michael; Morrison, Phillip