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A Place for the Donkey: Natives and Aliens in the US Virgin Islands

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This paper is concerned with one aspect of the protection of the natural environment by the US National Park Service at the Virgin Islands National Park, the Park Service classification of flora and fauna as native, non-native, naturalised and invasive. This is part of an interest by the Park Service and others to restore nature parks to the ecosystem thought to exist before European influence. Many St Johnians, long-time island residents and descendants of the early enslaved population, see things differently. For them, plants and animals that are part of their collective history and way of life belong on the island and in the park, even if conservation biologists classify them as invasive aliens. Islanders thus see recreating ecosystems, or wilderness, as erasing them from the history of the island and its landscape. The paper illustrates this with the case of the donkey, which the Park Service sees primarly as a destructive, non-native invasive, and which St Johnians see as a valued part of their lives and history. The donkey has found a space though in the park, thanks to its supporters, including some within the Park Service.
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Keywords: Caribbean; Environment; conservation; identity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Anthropology, Oberlin College, Oberlin, USA

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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