Sexy conservation

Some conservation initiatives focus on one species – southern white rhino, snow leopard, platapus, Iberian lynx, polar bear, condors, gorilla – or specific areas – Great Barrier Reef, fynbos region, the Mara.  This is usually justified as, when referring to a specific area, marketing conservation of a “special” area encompasses every living thing and natural process inside that area.  When referring to a specific species, they are used as ‘poster’ animals to bring in funding and resources to further conservation of that species, which sometimes helps to conserve other living things that share their habitat.

The problem with this prejudice in conservation is that it a) drags down areas or species that don’t exhibit charismatic traits or have beautiful scenery, and b) makes it incredibly difficult if you’re trying to conserve a place that excludes ‘special’ habitat or a species that is less charismatic than most (e.g. rodents, insects, fish, grass).

Let’s digress a wee bit and talk about tsetse flies.  Did you know a ridiculous amount of land in Africa has been set aside for wildlife because of the presence of tsetse flies and the livestock diseases they carry?  The second largest national park in Africa – Kafue National Park in Zambia – is one such example.  Many commercial hunting areas provide vital habitat for scores of wildlife species because of tsetse files as well.  So really, they deserve a big fat gold medal for “most insignificant thing to get Africa to conserve stuff” but they don’t, because they’re not sexy.  In fact, photographic tour operators prefer to kill them because a) some are under the impression that any tsetse flies reduce wildlife productivity and b) “the guests hate them, it’s not good for business”.

Back to “Big 5” donors – in order to eek a bit of funding for an “insignificant” species or threat, conservationists end up having a bunch of, or designing, “high profile” projects in the hope that some of the funding could maybe be used for something more important than what some person in a 22nd-floor office in New York thinks justifies a donation of $5 a year.

Which would you be more likely to fund?:

  • elephant population research in Kruger
  • fire management in the DRC
  • collaring carnivores in Tsavo
  • frog distribution expedition in Mozambique
  • an elephant orphanage
  • fish surveys of the Zambezi watershed rivers

Be aware that the first, third and fifth are those that will open you up to critique considering Kruger and Tsavo are well researched and baby animals never run out of money, whereas Mozambique, the Zambezi watershed and DRC are relatively less well documented.

Another digression – PLANTS!  No one ever thinks the grass needs love or the orchids need protecting from chikanda harvesting (usually Disa genus geophytes).  People seem to think plants will always take care of themselves regardless of what they’re subjected to (which is correct to a certain extent) and that animals need to be the centre of attention right now.  My only response to the matter is: “yes, let’s do that, let’s focus solely on the animals and, if and when there isn’t any food left I guess human babies will just have to do.”

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