A charred 2017

Still think fire isn’t a cause for concern in the conservation realm?  Think again.

This is without National Park boundaries…and I can see EXACTLY where Kafue, Sioma Ngwezi and Luiwa Plains NPs are.

Note the western side burns earlier in the year than the eastern side.  This can be attributed to rainfall and vegetation types, possibly even human population (most notably in the north-western part around the Bangweulu swamps and the lakes).  Human population cannot be used to explain the fires in Kafue NP though…or the lack of such huge fires in the GMAs surrounding the Kafue NP.  The Luangwa Valley is also easily found, with the river being quite an obvious black line (i.e. lack of burnt area), as is the upper Zambezi River.

Zambia burns 2017.jpeg

This is with National Park boundaries.

Zambia burns 2017 with NPs.jpeg

This map, while not giving much information to the audience, shows the extent of burnt area in Africa south of the northern DRC border in 2017.  Note the Miombo belt was significantly burnt and the absence of fire in the central African rain forest.  Interestingly Malawi doesn’t show much burning, which, if we’re using human population or density as a predictor of fire, contradicts our general linking of population and fire prevalence.

central southern africa burn 2017.jpeg

 

I made these maps using NASA MODIS burned area data in QGIS.

 

Advertisements

Lies, damned lies and marketing

Honesty – it costs nothing and yet is absent from so much.

When it comes to marketing, it would appear as though ethics and morals go straight out the window with the dregs of your coffee from this morning.  Why do I say this?  Because I’m constantly hit with lies, blatant lies or misleading facts on social media, main stream media, face-to-face and so much more.  If you don’t know something or you’re trying to hide something – just say you don’t know or just don’t say anything at all.

When marketing a SAFARI DESTINATION, it helps if the company and/or agency is truthful.  This is because it reflects everyone’s attitude towards marketing and it unbalances the market competition.

If you have a lodge in a GMA – DO NOT SAY IT IS IN A NATIONAL PARK.

Say it is opposite to whatever National Park.  Why does this anger me?

  1. To stay in a National Park, one has to pay fees to the Department of National Parks and Wildlife. You don’t pay these in a GMA.
  2. As a lodge-owner, it’s less hassle and cheaper to set up shop in a GMA.
  3. The rules are more relaxed in a GMA.
  4. GMA’s are set aside for various types of natural resource utilisation, commercial fishing and hunting included.  Your guests may become distressed when they hear of a lion hunt happening down the road because you neglected to tell them it was a possibility.  Of course this could ruin your business, but then why not secure a spot in the National Park across the river and make your life simpler?
  5. If you have got a form of title deed on your land in the GMA, it’s probably because the chief stole the land from their community and you knew about it but turned a blind eye because it’s business.  Maybe it didn’t happen exactly like that, but you know it’s not possible so you know you did something wrong.
  6. It’s a blatant lie.
DSC_0016.JPG

Standing in a National Park looking at the GMA on the other side of the river

If you have a lodge in a National Park – DO NOT SAY YOUR GUESTS HAVE EXCLUSIVE ACCESS.

Say it’s in a remote area where the likelihood of running into other tourists is very low.  Why does this anger me?

  1. The only exclusivity you can get is a 5km radius buffer around your camp that excludes infrastructure of any kind from anyone but that camp/company.
  2. National Parks are exactly that – NATIONAL – they are open to the public and the public should not be excluded from certain areas because some wealthy tourists (or lodge owners) don’t want to see other people.
  3. Sure, there’s zoning within National Parks for what kinds of utilisation are allowed, i.e. permanent infrastructure, fly camps only, nothing but roads, but that’s not the same as offering exclusivity.

 

NGO’s really need to work on their honesty, in a very general sense of course as there are a few that are open and honest.  Not just small conservation NGO’s, the big well known international ones are just as guilty!  For example:

  1. If you’re going to market a volunteer programme, try to keep it a professional thing you can have on a CV and not a holiday destination for people with a guilty conscience because if anyone can do it then it’s not exactly special from a work experience point of view (it also adds a patronising taste to it).
  2. Saying your main interest is in a certain group of mammals and then refusing to enter into talks with another NGO doing similar work, but in areas where you don’t/can’t operate, isn’t great for professional morale or the mammals of interest.
  3. Taking donations from well-meaning people overseas only to use it on gigantic staff salaries, benefits (e.g. all housing, international school fees and annual flights home) is not a wise use of funds when your programme could actually achieve something with just half of that amount.
  4. On your social media posts: name the country in Africa as there are 53 and it might be confusing. Also, why would you even leave out the country in the first place?
  5. Taking support from the hunting community only to deny any affiliation with it, or even to attack them afterwards, isn’t very nice.
  6. Hash-tagging SaveTheBigFive on a post that is in an area where rhino were extirpated DECADES ago is very confusing and misleading.
  7. If the project is in a hunting area and you work with hunters, etc. – do not deny it, admit it and shine a light on how hunters, hunting clients and operators do give a damn. It’ll also show you are objective and only interested in the project, not the petty politics.

 

I could go on for days about this – it really is unacceptable that lying is considered tolerable just to get the right response or a quick buck.  It’s OK because it helps the conservation effort or you’re friends with the lodge owner or whatever.  IT IS NEVER OK TO LIE.

 

And for fuck’s sake STOP SAYING THERE IS PRISTINE WILDERNESS IN ZAMBIA!!  It’s ALL had some mode of human transformation and/or use and/or settlement and/or utilisation and it’s perfectly natural for the bush to change with time and respond to whatever pressures (human, climate, wildlife, etc.) it faces.

[Volun]tourism – the mess no one’s talking about

Why am I writing this article?  I saw a Facebook post by a conservation organisation about their volunteer programme being mentioned in a magazine in the same paragraph as safari destinations.  By this I mean the magazine was saying you should go visit this fancy place, or this other fancy place, or incorporate volunteering into your safari.  This organisation was psyched, sure it’s publicity which is great, but volunteering in conservation is NOT IN ANY WAY A F”%KING SAFARI OR HOLIDAY and it should never be treated as that or inferred that it could be part of a holiday.  It’s a job. Not a trip.

Imagine how demeaning that is for the people who work their arses off and someone comes and treats it like a holiday.

A lot of conservation organisations rely on volunteers for several reasons, the most common or important reasons are because volunteers are required to pay for the experience (and the organisations really need the money) and because conservation organisations are typically short-staffed due to donors not being too keen on paying salaries.  So, you find a lot of volunteer programmes on offer – “come to Africa and play a role in conservation, make a difference.”

The difference the volunteers make is not exactly positive though.

  • it reinforces the idea that African conservation is a foreign or white interest
  • it disrupts, even creates animosity from, the full time local staff (high turnover, potential for ‘bad eggs’, etc.)
  • a lot of volunteers act – and are often treated – as though they are on holiday and are given preferential treatment
  • expectations by communities/individuals can be created by volunteers who bring things with them, e.g. second hand clothes, toys, books, etc. (this isn’t too bad but it does make things difficult for us locals who look the same)
  • consistency is crucial in conservation and related community projects, volunteers detract from this
  • volunteers are usually screened, but prior relevant experience and/or knowledge on the subject matter is not necessarily required.   If they are volunteering with a research programme this could bring into question the validity of the data.  If the volunteer is interacting with wildlife, e.g. orphaned animals, this brings into question whether or not it’s ethical to subject the wildlife to so many different people, even at a distance.  If they are volunteering with law enforcement professionals and operations, this could raise a security and safety concern if volunteers are not properly trained.
  • cultural differences are often a problem, dress code and personal conduct being the main ones I’ve noticed so far
  • it takes opportunities away from locals who could do the job of several volunteers better and with more consistency but who require a living salary

 

I’m not saying all volunteer programmes are bad, I’m just trying to point out why conservation organisations need to get their acts together and ensure volunteers are properly qualified, or at least have some background, for the job and that the programme does not in any way detract from the OVERALL conservation effort.

CONservation: the continuous debate between ARA’s, Anti’s, Hunters, Scientists and Managers

I am part of this Facebook group called Conservation, Hunting and Poaching in NRZ, Central Africa.  I’m sharing some screenshots of comments/arguments on this group to highlight why conservation is facing more than just the practical challenges on the ground – because it’s antagonistic from BOTH sides of fence and it usually is about hunting on this group, not what we can do to stop poaching, halt land encroachment, etc.

[I am part of the group to keep up to date with various wildlife news but also to attempt to educate, wherever possible, about the real challenges conservation faces.]

I have not hidden the identity of the people because it’s a public group (which you have to join to comment) where anyone can see what’s happening.

 

CONservation1

Note the immaturity of some comments.

CONservation2

If people doubt the PREMIER wildlife research group on the planet, what hope is there?

 

CONservation3

Note how there seem to be “usual suspects” for the degradation of the mature debate and discussion that is expected by the group admins.

CONservation4

“You love coming across as an intellectual twat to prove a point but you’re still a dumbass who kills for fun and bragging rights.”

CONservation5

Sexism as well? And the neocolonialists happen to the orientals who poach and steal our wildlife and heritage, not paying clients who contribute to rural community income

CONservation6

In reference to a video about Mark Haldane, a Professional Hunter, who has held a concession in Mozambique since the early 1990’s when there was practically no wildlife and now, over 20 years later, there are herds of buffalo 1,000 strong and nyala jumping out left right and centre (from discussions with someone who works there)

CONservation7

Again, the usual suspects from both sides (Duane apparently supporting hunting, Haley and Christina being rabid Anti’s).

CONservation8

Emotions at play

Mfuwe mumbles

So, I recently took a little time off to go up to the northern part of the Luangwa Valley to a hunting concession (which shall remain nameless) and then a few nights in Mfuwe.

The hunting concession

I even had the pleasure of meeting the chief within which this hunting concession sits.  He sat there in a chitenge wrapped just under his pecks, barefoot, a single ivory bangle on his left wrist.  He was sincere, well spoken and clearly had no time for bullshit.  This hunting area has villages within it – apparently the best place to start tracking buffalo is in the maize fields themselves!  The chief’s palace is also in the hunting are.

He said that the Community Resources Board (CRB) received quite a lot of money from the hunting in the area, which has been used to build, among other things, three schools, two clinics and a few teacher’s houses.

When asked if he had anything against hunting in his chiefdom he simply said “No, but we need more classic safaris.”  A “classic” safari is one of those with the expensive animals like lion, leopard, buffalo, etc. and they bring in a lot of money.  In this area in particular, “classic safaris” are $100,000 + deals.

Considering the sprawling villages are a mere 20 – 30 minute drive from the hunting camp, and that the population in Zambia is growing rapidly, one might hold the opinion that hunting is necessary in areas such as this to a) be stewards of the wildlife and b) keep an eye on poaching and settlement spread.  This is a very practical opinion indeed.

Mfuwe

When we arrived in Mfuwe to drop someone off at the airport the first thing I noticed was this: you are very obviously not welcome if you are not from a lodge.  Parking spots have all been reserved (or bought?) and have name posts – “Flatdogs”, “Mushroom”, etc. – with some lodges claiming more than one!  Way to go Mfuwe safari peeps.

Next thing I notice is that it’s only $5 less to enter the South Luangwa National Park if your a Zambian resident or SADC citizen than it is for others.  Then I see that it’s $10 cheaper per person if you do a game drive with a lodge than if you do self-drive.  One must realise that the Mfuwe circle does not actually want many locals there because we can destroy the illusion of the African bush that they feed their unknowing guests with as little as “you’re charging K20 for a Mosi?!”.  Mosi is the local beer.  It costs K7 – K10.

So I do not like Mfuwe.  I never really had a positive opinion about it, but know I definitely dislike it and would not recommend it as a place for someone who actually wants to experience the real Africa – what Zambia used to be.  I suppose the selling of Robin Pope Safaris and Norman Carr Safaris may have something to do with it – it’s not for the joy of the job anymore, it’s purely a money thing.  Therein lies the problem.  Mfuwe and South Luangwa are not about welcoming anyone who wants to see the Luangwa Valley (the only place in Zambia where giraffe are indigenous), it’s about pulling in the mula and making damn sure the rest of us have a hard time enjoying our heritage. I digress.

Another thing I heard while in Mfuwe – some guests at a camp situated downstream of the Mfuwe bridge in a hunting area were upset.  They had heard there was to be a lion-leopard hunt in the area.  This was outrageous.  How dare they?  Well, if safari companies stopped lying about where their camps are situated and owned up to being in a hunting area because it’s cheaper than being in the NP and it allows for permanent structures then this sort of stuff wouldn’t happen as often.  I know camps opposite the Kafue NP that market themselves as actually being within the National Park itself and the Tourism Board does nothing to correct this misinformation (let’s call it what it is – lying).  It’s fantastic!

Another thing – people seemed interested only in seeing animals.  What about the sense of adventure?  Not today. Too hot.  This was very disappointing for me; I care about the journey to and between sightings equally as much as the sightings themselves.

Back home

Half-way down the dirt road back to the camp I reside at, I decided to confirm something I already knew – that in this chiefdom the only source of full time salaried jobs is with the hunting safari companies.  The driver, who is very trustworthy and doesn’t mince his words, said that you can be a carpenter or hire your wagon out or make bricks but it’s all “piece-work”.  Nothing solid.  The only full-time employment with a salary each month in this chiefdom, which is rather large, can be found with the 4 hunting areas that are entirely, or partly, inside the chiefdom.

Trophy hunting I

Conservation as it is known today arose from the big game hunters’ interest in preserving places to go hunting in which there would be abundant wildlife and minimal human interference with the landscape, or habitat destruction if you like.

The historical ideology was both practical and profitable while ensuring each animal had a price tag attached to their head, whether as a trophy, a trophy-in-training or mother of the trophy-to-be.  This early form of conservation incorporated conservation values still held today, such as reducing as much as possible, or even completely eradicating, human presence in designated “wilderness areas” while also fulfilling an important community-oriented role in terms of employment, meat provision and problem animal control.  It was commonly known that wildlife, while majestic and treasured, could be problematic to live with in a rural setting especially if one had crops that game would eat or livestock that lions would kill.

Conservation as it is known today is much more about the animal welfare than it is about the people who have to live with the wildlife.  There are several examples in historical and modern society demonstrating how, without a tangible monetary or in-kind value, resources are exploited to damn near extinction or complete ruin.  Currently, the West and donors expect rural people who live on less than “a-dollar-a-day” to embrace the crop-raiding, livestock-chowing wildlife with little to no compensation for the destruction.  It’s no wonder one form of conservation is proving very difficult to protect, in Africa at the very least.

The reason for this is that the West, or those well-meaning donors, can AFFORD to place a form of monetary value on the aesthetical pleasure of viewing wildlife without eating it.  The people who do the poaching and habitat destruction simply cannot afford to think about much else than where the next meal is coming from.  One thing my family jokes about when dealing with Western ways of life or ideals is this: “Can I eat it?  If I cannot eat it then you cannot expect me to be ok with it.”  This can be about money, which can be used to purchase things to eat, or it can be about animals, which will readily be eaten by the highest-ranking government official straight down to the poor subsistence farmer whose child you will see in National Geographic with flies on its face.

If it’s destructive to your fields and you can eat it then why wouldn’t you shoot/snare it?  It’s a valid point that many miss in the effort to safeguard nature and the “rights” various people have assigned to animals not their own.

I’m not knocking conservation strategies, just trying to point out that not one model is good enough for such a large planet with such diverse wildlife problems amidst hugely diverse cultural differences.

 

Trophy hunting isn’t something everyone can stomach – most clients come out to shoot shit and take the head home to nail on their wall of “achievement”.  Who am I to judge?  This is the singular argument that most “antis” have against hunting: it’s all about feeding the ego of the client.  Feeding the ego and not the village.  Feeding the ego and not anti-poaching efforts.

Well, since I joined the hunting social group 10 months ago I have learnt a lot, by listening, asking questions, playing devil’s advocate, reading and, in my own way, contributing what I can from an ecologist’s perspective to discussions.  The following is based on my experiences and communication with various Professional Hunters (PHs) in Zambia and the staff and communities with which they work.  I have read the Wildlife Act No. 14 of 2015 several times and I would like to think I understand the cultural norms, expectations and requirements of rural Zambians living in, or close to, wildlife areas.

 

  1. HUNTERS ARE HUMANS. They have feelings, they are regular people with regular jobs for the most part, some are self-made millionaires others have been saving their entire lives to fulfil a dream of hunting in Africa.  They’re pretty nice, for the most part, to talk to and will put up with long hard, hot days, very simple accommodations and 4am starts ending at 8pm.
  2. MEAT DISTRIBUTION TO COMMUNITIES IS NOT A RARE OCCURRENCE. Most, if not all hunters/hunting operators distribute meat from the trophy animals to the nearby communities.  This is rarely in the form of distributions to single families but usually to schools, clinics or traditional ceremonies; or the chief.  Given that the hunting season in Zambia is in the dry season when the least amount of food is available/accessible to rural communities, this provides an important source of protein for a generally under-nourished population.
    1. MEAT DISTRIBUTION IS A REQUIREMENT OF HAVING A GAME MANAGEMENT AREA (GMA) CONCESSION.
    2. NOTE: I say meat distribution NOT donation. This is because I believe, even though it is not legally true, that the communities own the wildlife through not poaching excessively.  Donations are incredibly harmful over prolonged periods of time, making communities accustomed to ‘freebies’.  This is different.
  3. STAFF ARE EMPLOYED FROM THE LOCAL COMMUNITIES. The vast majority of staff employed by hunters/hunting operators are sourced from the nearby communities.  This includes chefs, waiters, mechanics, skinners, drivers, trackers, anti-poaching scouts, etc.  Without the hunting operators these areas would have far fewer employment opportunities, granted it doesn’t create millions of jobs, but it creates enough to bring some families out of extreme poverty.  Better some than none, right?
  4. HUNTERS AND HUNTING OPERATORS ARE CONSERVATIONISTS – THE ORIGINAL CONSERVATIONISTS. Hunters cannot maintain a business if their concession is devoid of wildlife, and not just wildlife but trophy quality wildlife (which happen to be the oldest individuals).  In order to maintain the resource they utilize they must protect it and ensure the populations are, at the very least, stable if not growing.  From a business point of view, this is easy to understand.
  5. HUNTERS PAY LARGE SUMS OF MONEY TO THE DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL PARKS AND WILDLIFE. In order to hunt an animal in Zambia one must purchase a GMA permit, allowing the client to hunt in a designated hunting area, as well as purchase a license for each animal the client wants to hunt.  This money goes to DNPW.  Once there, it is NOT the responsibility of the hunter/hunting operator to ensure it is used for the right purpose; this is up to DNPW.
    1. If a hunter or hunting operator were to challenge what the license and permit money is used for, it is highly likely that they would lose their concession in the next tender or, if operating on private land, would have a significantly reduced quota. This inevitably results in worse conservation overall.
    2. A GMA permit is $150 per person. A buffalo license is $1,600.  A lion license is $5,000 and an elephant is $10,000.  That’s a lot of money.
  6. HABITAT DESTRUCTION/FRAGMENTATION/DEGRADATION IS CITED AS ONE OF THE BIGGEST THREATS TO WILDLIFE IN THE WORLD. Hunting areas are generally not as picturesque as photographic safari areas and they are almost always far less accessible.  But hunting clients seek the experience once they are there and this is not a problem for them.  This means that if hunting stopped in Zambia and the GMA’s were put up for tender for photographic safaris, we would lose over 50% of our national Wildlife Estate to human encroachment and poaching.  Hunting currently provides much needed habitat for the following species, but is definitely not limited to just these:
    1. Lion
    2. Leopard
    3. Wild dog
    4. Elephant
    5. Southern ground hornbill
    6. Thornicroft giraffe
    7. Black lechwe
    8. Red lechwe
    9. Kafue lechwe
    10. Cookson’s wildebeest
  7. HUNTERS ARE MORE INTUNE WITH NATURE AND THE ANIMALS THEY HUNT THAN YOUR TYPICAL CONSERVATION NGO PERSONNEL. Hunters spend more time in the bush watching animals and reading their behaviour than the typical NGO conservationist, so naturally they understand and know more about the bush and the animals.  They also have a more genuine interest in conserving their areas and making it benefit the local people – this is the sustainable way to go.
  8. IF HUNTING AREAS COULD MAKE THE SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY, OR MORE, FROM NON-HUNTING SAFARIS, VERY FEW HUNTERS WOULD CONTINUE HUNTING. FACT.

Burning to the ground: first 1/2 of 2017

As I mentioned in a previous post, fire is rarely cited as a significant threat to wildlife.  Of course, it is acknowledged as a threat to habitat…which means it is a threat to wildlife.

I’ve just made a couple of simple maps here using NASA MODIS data and QGIS mapping software to illustrate just how important fire is in conservation.  One is of Zambia and the other shows Africa south of the northern DRC border.

 

zambia fire jan-jul2

Burned area extent in Zambia from January – July 2017; green areas indicate National Parks. Note the difference between Kafue National Park (the big one on the left) and South Luangwa National Park (the big one on the right); they have different conservation programmes. Which do you think is more successful, looking at this data?  Data: NASA MODIS, software: QGIS

congo south fir jan-jul

Burned area extent in Africa south of the northern DRC border between January and July 2017.  While fire doesn’t seem like a huge conservation issue in several countries (e.g. Namibia, Botswana and Kenya; all are pretty arid, desert-like anyway), it is most definitely a challenge in South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania and DRC.  It is said that Zambia has some of the most important big carnivore populations, given this illustration it would be safe to say fire management is right up there with poaching as a threat to wildlife conservation.  Data: NASA MODIS, software: QGIS

Conserving romance in conservation

Most people won’t have realised this, or even experienced it, but it is incredibly difficult to live in the bush conserving shit while simultaneously having a healthy relationship.  This is mostly because we work in remote areas with limited communications or because we simply cannot find someone willing to live with us in those remote areas, enjoying the same things we do.

Of course, you may have heard of ‘khaki fever’ which keeps some of us going.  This is, essentially, the newcomers (usually tourists) loving the rugged, toughness of our exterior and us taking advantage of that attention (because, let’s be honest, it’s been a long while since we’ve seen some decent tail besides the bushbuck running away from the car earlier).  But khaki fever doesn’t hold you when you have nightmares and it doesn’t help you with your day-to-day struggles in the office; it doesn’t love you.  It loves who you appear to be.  For a night, maybe two if you’re lucky, more if you’re a leprechaun.

So, when you find someone who is willing to either put up with the lack of communication our life affords or someone who fits into that life, you generally hold on to them with an iron fist and try your to never let go or let feel like they should let go.  Some, of course, refuse to change and this doesn’t end too well (google anything about people not listening to understand or how relationships interfere with independence and you will understand what I mean, roughly).

This means that, for the majority of us, we continue with our work, our crucial, vital work, while sacrificing the one essential element to the human life: to love and be loved in return (yes, that was a Moulin Rouge reference and what a beautiful film/song it is indeed (some of us are a tad educated in that department, others live under a larger rock than Fred Flintstone)).

Some of us are lucky enough to find someone who fits into our life scheme, plan, or lack thereof.  We are very few and this comes with its own challenges because, more often than not, we work together or for each other or some other scenario involving work colleagues, office hierarchy, etc.  Working with/for the one you love is incredibly difficult (take it from me, I deal with it on a daily basis).  It is even worse when you are expected to change to fit their model and they expect not to be expected to compromise to be parallel to your model or even to make you feel comfortable in just your professional role never mind the after-hours business (again, take it from me).

So, in essence, what I’m trying to say is: people working in conservation sacrifice a hell of a lot more than you might actually think we do.  We sacrifice hot water most of the time. And running water a lot of the time. And ‘normal’ social lives. And a lot more.  We sacrifice love. Being loved.  We sacrifice a fuck tonne because, somehow, we love what we do (bordering on masochism in some cases. No, not 50 Shades of Grey stuff, more like no children ever but you really want them kind of stuff).  I suppose I’m trying to say please give us a bit more credit than we currently get?  We give up a lot, willingly and mostly without argument (because we believe wholeheartedly in our fight) while most ‘conservationists’ sit behind computers as ‘keyboard warriors’ (see the article I wrote on these folks here) and rarely give up more than $10 a year for conservation.

We’re trying our very best.

 

Sincerely,

Almost everyone that chose to work/live/both in the bush in Africa.

xoxox

 

P.S. We don’t regret it, but we’d appreciate some sort of recognition for it.

Keyboard Warriors

You may be familiar with the surge of “keyboard warriors” – badly informed, highly emotional, rabid “activists” who would claim they have superior morals and incorporate rationality and compassion into their arguments.  They also tend to believe their opinions are a) correct to the highest degree, b) the most important opinions, and therefore c) we should all do what they deem to be correct.

Conservation should NOT be about what the foreign public thinks.

It SHOULD be about what the local public want carried out in a way that will work in that area with those people.

These “keyboard warriors” of social media and, to a certain extent, various publishing companies (e.g. Africa Geographic) make conservation incredibly difficult for the people on the ground.  The “real warriors” if you like.

 

How?

  1. By not immersing themselves in the available literature in order to fully understand a scenario before bearing arms. This sort of uneducated, ill-informed argument is what one would expect of a child – not an adult who has had access to good education and who very obviously has access to the internet, therefore a huge amount of solid, verified information.  This leads to two extreme views of the current conservation situation: “unless there is a shoot-to-kill policy for poachers and encroachers we will lose the war” and “by saving one individual elephant we have made a huge contribution to the elephant population”.  Just as outrageous as the other, these are dangerous opinions to hold and spread as they are UTTER BOLLOCKS.

 

  1. These “keyboard warriors” are, for the most part, not from the conservation places they are so rabid about (e.g. Africa, Asia, South America), or have had very little real-life experience in the conservation sector (tourism is NOT conservation) or researching conservation/wildlife/natural world topics.

 

  1. They tend to base their arguments on what is “morally right” instead of what is practical, ethical and what works in different parts of the world. Besides, Westerners have different morals and ethics when compared to the peoples of the third world (and quite frankly, this is good sometimes).

 

  1. Anthropomorphising animals, even plants, is never a good thing outside of a children’s book or film. “Keyboard warriors” are particularly good at this.  Any researcher knows you cannot get so attached to a study subject to project human qualities onto it.  I guess the point here is none of the “keyboard warriors” seem to be as intellectually successful as researchers.

 

  1. Very rarely do “keyboard warriors” see the BIG PICTURE of conservation, they focus more on individuals (e.g. Cecil the lion and his son Xanda, or Satao the giant elephant, etc.) which is rather detrimental when you’re trying to conserve a whole ecosystem for not just one lion but several prides of lion, for example. This is particularly true when considering how hunting is an important tool for habitat and species conservation with the increasing human population putting immense pressure on the natural world (this will be discussed in another article once I find the right words for it).

 

  1. They often choose animal lives over human ones while claiming to be compassionate and morally upright; such as when it comes to human-wildlife conflict. Local communities cannot be expected to live peacefully with, and protect, wildlife if their lives and livelihoods are threatened by that wildlife.  Conservation is a human construct in any case.

 

I’m sure there are other examples experienced by other people in conservation, these are just the ones I’ve dealt with.

 

The biggest problem the “keyboard warriors” create is their influence over the donors, upon whose money most conservation organisations rely.  People won’t give money to a cause they don’t believe in but that means instead of doing our jobs in the field protecting nature we’re constantly trying to sell our projects and our opinions to the general public.

 

If the conservation community were allowed to do their jobs the way they deem best without worrying about the reaction of the donor communities and their supporters, they would be a lot more effective at conserving wilderness and wildlife.

 

Always look on the bright side of life

I submitted an article to Africa Geographic earlier this year and received a fantastically positive response.  The one problem, however, was that the content wasn’t positive enough about how conservation actually works so I was asked to edit it a bit – add some sunshine and glitter – and resubmit.  I have yet to do so because, quite frankly, I disagree with focusing solely on the success stories or on the positive side of absolutely everything.

Here is an article on Biodiversity Science by the founder of Animus Conservation stating why he thinks we should focus on the success stories, raising some relevant points.  I agree that, in an effort to highlight the importance of conservation and show it’s not a total waste of money as well as inspire the younger generation to be more environmentally conscious, it is very important to talk about and share stories of success.

But how do you learn not to do something if no one has made that mistake before?

That is why I think it is crucial to put equal emphasis on both the failures and successes in conservation.  Not only do we learn from our own mistakes but sharing the word about what didn’t work will help let others in a similar situation know they’re not alone (which is quite nice when you think you’ve just gone and wasted a bunch of donor funding) as well as inform those about to embark on a similar project.  Sharing of failures could also elicit advice from people/projects who have done something similar and have had success.

A big problem is that many conservation organisations are terrified of losing funding if they fail to implement what they said they would (because the donors are actually the ones in charge).  This affects the PR and marketing of the conservation organisations who try to always share positive stories (unless something or someone dies, or if a terrible story will raise funding).  The people furthest removed from actual conservation are the ones that are determining what information we share within our own community; not all conservationists know each other so media is an important information-gathering tool.

Why are we trying to portray a perfect picture when all conservationists know that things rarely go to plan or work first time?  Why does the media get to decide what story is more important than another?

It is dynamic field and none of us can preempt what will be the best strategy except Trial and Error.  What if we had access to sufficient Trial and Error stories so that we could reduce the amount of error we have to go through?  Now that sounds like sensible conservation to me.

 

Here are some links for further, interesting reads around this subject:

An article about the book “Nature Crime: How We’re Getting Conservation Wrong” by Rosaleen Duffy

A PLOSONE article about conservation successes, failures and opportunities in Cambodia

An article by Science Daily about why conservation efforts often fail

This FAO document uses failures, and successes, to highlight things that should be considered in future.