Do dragons prevent deforestation? The Gambia’s sacred forests

Massey Marks, Ashley; Fisher, Joshua B. and Bhagwat, Shonil (2020). Do dragons prevent deforestation? The Gambia’s sacred forests. In: Thornton, Thomas and Bhagwat, Shonil eds. The Routledge Handbook of Indigenous Environmental Knowledge. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 275–298.



Urbanization and increased exports of agricultural products are linked to deforestation in the humid tropics. Drivers of forest clearance at the rural household level vary by region, and include availability of male labor, amount of forest cover, market access, and asset holdings. However, in the face of intense pressure of agricultural conversion, patches of forest persist in agricultural landscapes. Custodians conserve these forest patches due to their religious and spiritual values, cosmologies, or world-views. Dragon areas, forest parks, and villages were field mapped via GPS June–August 2009. While dragon areas are distributed throughout the landscape, local informants reported to know about only one or two areas closest to their villages or agricultural areas. Survey data were collected in six weeks of fieldwork from June 26th to August 7th, 2009. Fieldwork coincided with the Gambia’s rainy season when village members living in the urban area return to village to assist with rice farming, which improved the representativeness of the survey sample.

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