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.

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Food for thought

Perhaps some explanation of why it’s not working in Africa, which I wholly agree with.  Holding these opinions however gets one called ‘naive’, ‘young’, ‘inexperienced’ and ‘irrational’.

 

The Western notion of wilderness does not hold in Africa, because man and animals have evolved together on the continent’s diverse ecosystems.

 

The entire modern conservation edifice rest on the ideals and vision of people other than Africans.

 

From The Myth of Wild Africa.  J. S. Adams & T. O. McShane. 1996.  University of California Press.

 

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Readings

I read a bit so thought it would be a nice idea to share some of my favourite texts from which I have, hopefully correctly, absorbed proposed ideas, historical context, philosophy, science, community related diplomacy, etc.

If you have any texts to add please share the citation(s) in the comments below.

The Myth of Wild Africa: conservation without illusion.  Jonathon S. Adams & Thomas O. McShane.  1992.  University of California Press.

Against Extinction: the story of conservation.  William M. Adams.  2013. Earthscan.

Ivory, Apes & Peacocks: animals, adventure and discovery in the wild places of Africa.  Alan Root.  2012.  Vintage Books, London.

Thank you, Madagascar.  Alison Jolly.  2015.  Zed Books, London.

An African Love Story: love, life and elephants. Daphne Sheldrick.  2012.  Penguin Books.