Friday, December 27, 2013


         What is traditional ecological knowledge?  Using the formal definition in Sacred Ecology by Fikret Berkes, "A cumulative body of knowledge, practice and belief, evolving by adaptive processes and handed down through generations by cultural transmissions, about the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment."1 What this means is that traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is a ‘way of knowing’ that is in contrast with Western science. Traditional ecological knowledge is local information and experiences that have been tried and adapted into successes then are passed onto the next generation. Indigenous cultures have used their local, ecological knowledge of food sources, medicinal plants and game animals for survival for generations. In addition, TEK is post-positivist and has a spiritual component that is in contrast with Western science in which acquires knowledge through controlled experiments and manipulating variables. Western (conventional) science has a positivist and reductionism component. Western science and traditional ecological knowledge are two very different methods in which knowledge is acquired. 
The differences between TEK and Western Science2
Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Western Science
·      Embedded in local culture
·      Bounded to local knowledge through space and time
·      Importance of community
·      Nature: Culture are connected
·      Nature as unique and irreplaceable attitude
·      Disembedded in local culture
·      Universalism
·      Individualism
·      Nature: Culture dichotomy
·      Mobility
·      Nature as a commodity attitude

      Science is not the only way to acquire knowledge and there are other ways ‘of knowing’. Supporters of traditional ecological knowledge believe the information in stories and legends have significant value because the knowledge is part of the culture. TEK is regarded as the ‘tried and true’ knowledge and thereby valid. Opponents believe that TEK cannot be measurable in controlled experiments thereby deeming it sentimental culture. Although I agree that there are differences between the two ‘ways of knowing’ on a fundamental level, I disagree that either lack validity. My position parallels with what was succinctly stated by Fikret Berkes during a recent interview:
 "Conventional is good for some circumstances - if the problem is easily defined    -    environmental problems do not fit that and the top-down approach doesn’t work. One of the challenges is the idea that solving problems goes hand in hand with using the best knowledge available and sometimes the best knowledge available is the local and traditional knowledge. This does not mean you throw out the science but use TEK and science."3
In summary, a well-defined problem solved by conventional science can be controlled and measured such as in the field of microbiology whereas, ecological problems are often more complex thus making controlled experiments more difficult. Tradition and culture is a great library of knowledge documenting the relationships between people and the environment.4 When solving ecological problems, maybe we should checkout the book of traditional ecological knowledge, if the solution is not present in conventional science.  

1.  Fikret Berkes, Sacred ecology (Philadelphia, PA: Taylor & Francis, 1999), 8.
2. Berkes, Sacred Ecology, 10. This chart was formulated using information from this page.
3. Fikret Berkes, quoted in an interview by Phillip Burgess at the EALAT Traditional Knowledge Seminar, March 2008.
4. Ibid.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Falconry as Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Raptor Conservation

The next series of posts will be my take on falconry's role in raptor conservation. 

The Relationship between a Raptor and Falconer
     It was the morning of March 27, 2007 and Guinevere, my Red-tailed Hawk, expecting breakfast she gave me her usual high-pitched peeps but that morning was different. She was being released back into the wild. Without anklets and jesses, she stepped onto my fist freely as we walked out of her mews into the sunshine. Guinevere looked around and I leaned over
Kiss Good-bye
kissed her on the back of the head; ten seconds later she left my glove for the last time. As she had done so many times, she flew to the closest tree on the forest edge and waited for me to catch up. This time I did not follow her, instead I watched her through tears and binoculars. Looking back at me, confused and impatient, she gave up finally. After flying and circling over me, she was gone. I never saw her again but still have the feather she dropped as she disappeared.      
     Our relationship was just one example of many relationships that falconers have had with their birds throughout the history of falconry. This ancient practice has facilitated a unique relationship between raptors and humans through mutual respect and trust. For four thousand years, falconry has remained steeped in tradition and culture, consequently, it has been through this tradition and knowledge of raptor behavior and hunting techniques, the falconer has gained a rare glimpse into the natural history of this secretive predator.

Moment Together

The true spirit of the hawk
With the energy of sun and fire
Is one of vision and power
The message of the hawk
Is to use our inner vision
To see what is out of balance within ourselves
And to use our power wisely and justly
To obtain the freedom we desire

Prose by Carol Cavalaris © 07

     Falconry has had a long, historical thread in the conservation of raptors. Despite the controversy of using traditional ecological knowledge to solve ecological problems, raptor conservationists have been drawing on the traditional ecological knowledge of falconry and combining the knowledge gained from Western science to address raptor conservation issues. Indeed, many renowned raptor conservationists are falconers as well. In my own experience, my main motive to become a falconer was the opportunity to have a deeper connection with the animal I treasured and to add unique insight as a conservationist. My purpose here is to assemble the relationship between the traditional ecological knowledge of falconry and raptor conservation; that is, the lived experience of falconry helping raptors today. The relationship analysis will be addressed in three components: 1) traditional ecological knowledge, 2) falconry culture and traditions and 3) falconry within raptor conservation.

Silent Killer

An increasing number of raptors are exposed and dying from rodenticides, commonly called “rat poison”. Unsuspecting people that wish to con...