The Latent Sector in Conservation

There’s an area of conservation that has been vastly misunderstood, squandered or blatantly disregarded by many, for years… The people.

We, humans, are the most ‘successful’ species on Planet Earth. This so-called success comes with a downside. We, humans, are also the most destructive. Just in the last 47 years, we have managed to eradicate 52% of ALL wildlife on the planet, 81% of freshwater aquatic species, 39% of the marine world, and 21% of the world’s forests.

We have reduced the home ranges of keystone species – the savanna and forest elephants – to tiny, fragile and virtually unsustainable islands in a sea of humanity.

We, humans, are also excellent at breeding. So good, in fact, that we risk breeding our way into extinction. The global population recently hit the 7 billion mark and with the current rate of growth, estimates suggest that there will be nearly 11 billion of us on earth by year 2100.

Of that extra 4 billion in just 82 years, an approximate 3.2 billion will inhabit Africa.

While discussion and arguments rage in board rooms and parliaments across the developed world about whether to, or how to, replace foreign aid to African with instead foreign trade, the fact of the matter is the current programmes and structures in place are simply not working.

Half of all people that live in Sub-Saharan Africa do so on less than $1.00 per day. Only 36% of the population has access to running water or adequate sanitation. For the remaining 64%, disease is likely and death never far away. 90% of all malaria-related deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa and most of these are children – equaling 1 child every minute. 90% of all HIV-Positive children in the world today, are also indeed from Sub-Saharan Africa where an estimated 25 million people are living with the disease.

Add these hardships to spectacularly failing economies because of poor governance, corruptions and multitudes of other challenges resulting in a staggering accumulation of debt growing at an estimated $58 billion a year across the continent.

elephant avoids poachers

So, we cannot be surprised that the ethic of conservation simply does not come into the equation for the average African. They are focused solely on surviving. Forests and wildlife areas are viewed as potential farmland to feed their families, timber or firewood to cook food and keep warm. Iconic megafauna species are viewed as a paycheck – ivory, horn, bones and skin – and less iconic (but equally important from a biodiversity standpoint) species are simply viewed as food.

In spite of this, some incredible community-based conservation success stories do exist. Clive Stockil from Chilo Gorge in Southern Zimbabwe. Ian Craig from the Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya. Both have reached a situation where local communities are handing over their land to make way for wilderness areas because they are seeing tangible benefit from the wildlife.

The same is happening in the Kunen Region of Northern Namibia and in Rwanda, where the single biggest export worth $200 million a year, has the entire country adopting the concept of protecting the few remaining mountain gorilla.

What can we draw from these examples? What have they finally gotten right? By far and away the most important factor is time. It has taken decades to achieve these levels of success. Short term plans simply do not work. There is no silver bullet to handling this crisis.

Several other key factors can be attributed to the successes. They are actively consultative – involving the communities instead of imposing on them. They are practical and applicable to the local area and people that live there – there is no “copy and paste” success in conservation from one area to another. They are empowering – educating and enriching the lives of the local communities and providing arguably the most integral element of success; a tangible reward – money.

The presence of these factors in a program do not guarantee success, however, as the programs themselves are always going to be extremely fragile, requiring consistent developing, managing and adapting. In most cases, the programs will need ongoing financial support, as ultimate self-sustainability in community-based conservation is likely unattainable. Political will is a necessary component as is long-term dedication and patience.

The Bumi Hills Foundation officially began this long-road into community-based conservation just over a year ago (our Anti-Poaching Unit has engaged local communities in consultative efforts for many years already) and we are most certainly in it for the long haul.

If you’d like to join us on this road, you can invest in community-based conservation by clicking the donate button below.