Conservation: People, Planet or Profit?
The dictionary definition of conservation is “protecting from being lost, wasted, damaged or destroyed.”, And Africa seems to be the centre of “Conservation”. Numerous conservation organisations are spread all over Africa, the majority of them claiming to be Non-Profit entities working to protect and restore the wild animals, natural forests, wetlands, marine areas and all the natural ecosystems that are being degraded. The core missions of conservation on saving the planet, but the planet in their mission is made up of everything else apart from the people; the principal cause for conservation’s success or failure.
It does not demand full-scale research to confirm that grey-haired-non-African-males manage most conservation organisations in Africa. They are the ones who pull the strings of conservation work and also fund the activities. It is clear that no one is necessarily against these people managing and funding conservation activities; we are against the fact that many qualified locals are better at running these conservation endeavours, but the opportunities are reserved for the big old white pockets.
I will use Kenya as an example. In Kenya, conservation business is run as if the indigenous people cannot maintain their precious wildlife resources. The native protectors of the wild are claimed to be losing, damaging and destroying their beloved mode of survival. In their book, The Big Conservation Lie, Dr Ogada and Mbaria state that “The wildlife conservation narrative in Kenya, as well as much of Africa, is thoroughly intertwined with colonialism, virulent racism, deliberate exclusion of the natives, veiled bribery, unsurpassed deceit, a conservation cult subscribed to by huge numbers of people in the West, and severe exploitation of the same wilderness conservationists have constantly claimed they are out to preserve.” The so-called conservationists are after massive profit, with consideration on their source of revenue – the wild animals and the land, and little or no concern for the locals who historically own the land and its resources. This is the same reason why the Kenyan conservations system regards pastoralism as a mediocre and impractical use of land.
Protect the Wild
We cannot protect our natural ecosystems by taking away peoples sources of livelihood. The only way conservation activities can proceed is through collaborative action and new approaches that have a triple bottom line framework of people first, planet second and profit third. Very few conservation entities have managed to use this aspect of sustainability. Of course, there are numerous underlying reasons why some might not be sustainable as we desire all of them to be. Still, the least they could do is not prioritising their profits at the cost of native livelihoods. The irony is that they are ‘non-profits’ creating losses for the natives.
The case of endangered Rothschild’s giraffes getting killed by low-lying electrical lines in Soysambu Reserve caused more reactions than the lions that killed forty-five goats and thirty-eight sheep in Narok. We can argue that the Rothschild giraffes are endangered and therefore almost irreplaceable, but the dead livestock was once someone’s livelihood source. There is no doubt that the farmer can be compensated, but the cases will repeat, and the compensations won’t be sustainable. At any point, a farmer would be willing to kill any wild animal, whether it is endangered or not, as long as they protect their livestock and crops. The justification for such actions is vivid; the farmer, who lives by the edges of a protected area, does not benefit from the wild animal’s existence. This is why conservation in Kenya is a failed economic activity.
Are the Projects Time Bound!
By any chance, if a single conservation organisation meets its goals, then its work is done, and its presence becomes obsolete. Suppose an organisation’s mission is to restore a specific species in an ecosystem. In that case, they should also come up with a measure that will guarantee the species’ survival after the restoration. Furthermore, after the mission is completed, it is pragmatic for the organisation to either close or defines a new task. Restructuring the organisations’ priorities, mission, and goals makes them relevant and ensure that they actually do the work they have in their introductions, speeches, and grant applications.
Numerous entities have been in protected areas for decades in the name of protecting and restoring the number of wild animals, but statistics have them wrong. Research done in 2016 shows that Kenyan wildlife has reduced by over 68% between 1971 and 2016. What do these organisations have to defend their heavily funded restoration projects? What are they doing wrong? In point of fact, are they doing ‘their’ work? At the same time, the organisations will educate society on conservation work and ecosystem management. How do you take teaching from a failed entity that cannot manage to do the job they claim to teach!
Numerous factors in wildlife conservation activities are at no point excuses as to why conservation entities are not meeting their goals. If they are, then the entities do not understand the definition of prioritisation.
Exploiters or Protectors
There exists a delicate debate on how wildlife resources should be utilised. The self-proclaimed Protectors(Non-consumptive users of wildlife resources) believe that the lives of wild animals are sacred and not at any point should be taken away for economic gain. There also exists a group that believes that wild animals are natural resources that have the capability of reproducing again and again. Therefore they can be bred, taken care of and killed for fast financial gains(Consumptive users of wildlife resources). The Protectors have branded the latter, Exploiters. The common thing between these two groups is that they both make use of wild animals. Their means both have different rationals and can be well defended.
The single biggest mistake by the non-consumptive use of wildlife is that the people have humanised the wild animals. Animal rights have been equated to human rights. To make matters worse, they can go to the lengths of infringing someone fundamental rights in the name of conservation. One example is how conservation in Laikipia and Northern Kenya has managed to take away community land and change it to conservancies and later having scouts preventing the community from herding their animals inside the conservancies. This Kenyan model has been done in a highly scheming way that it is almost impossible to poke any hole in it, but what stands out is that it is still unfavourable to the original landowners.
There is a lot of misunderstood information about the consumptive use of wildlife resources. It is cruel to shoot down an animal for fun; it is a demonstration of savagery. However, hunting animals for food is a noble action. Hunting down endangered species is stupid and barbaric.
In any ecosystem, people come first. If the animal population is surpassing an ecosystem’s carrying capacity, some can be hunted down to prevent an eventual disaster of overpopulation.
We have all been making work easier for ourselves. We use machines to reduce the amount of time and energy that we employ in performing our duties. Additionally, history explains that our domestic animals were wild animals that were domesticated for humanity’s survival. Many people will not question this statement but will have an issue with a farmer keeping antelopes, crocodiles, snakes and wild birds for their meat, scales and feathers.
No matter how selfish and egocentric it might sound, man is in charge of all ecosystems, and his actions determine his own survival and the survival of all the other living things. Man has, will and should be using the resources on this planet; sustainably. Killing animals without a guarantee that their population will be available is evidently incongruous.
Conservation in Africa should be revised entirely. This sounds unpragmatic, but there seems to be the only way forward. The priorities, processes and work design should be modified to ensure that inequality is addressed, local people chair the decision-making table, and the methods are aligned to create a genuine business that would stand the test of time.
Hey Raini, this is a great power dynamics and systems analysis. I think most of your points are valid as well. But, I think we might not really want to completely abolish the non-original conservationists. I think from your points, we might need to change the way of managing conservation benefits to the people who own it. And if so, and the foreign conservationists are eager to adapt to it, we can still have them.
Sure Emmanuel, the best way forward is deliberate collaboration, but the current conservation systems have a hierarchy that places the original wildlife owners at the bottom.
Great insights Raini,
All the same I was left with many ‘what do we do now?’s .
Also as you mentioned ‘man should use the resources sustainably’ in my view this is the role of conservationists, to teach or take action to ensure that this is the case.
In your example of the farmers living next to a protected area, I agree conservation has failed in that way because it goes beyond having economic benefits and this is what people need to be taught. Perhaps having a forest with monkeys living in it does not give any money but it sure does create a balance in the ecosystem and help with more than we can see.
The main problem is that there are many people who claim to be teaching the people who have stayed with wild animals for ages, how to protect the same animals, most of them are frauds.
Using Kenya as an example, numerous conservation organizations are Trojan horses for grants or to benefit the people running the organization. The existence of the Northern Rangeland Trust is also questionable. The farmers/pastoralist fully understand the ecological balance brought by wildlife resources, but it should not be at the cost of their entire livelihoods.
Interesting read Raini, I really don’t know when we as Africans became incapable of protecting what we have been co-existing with for centuries before colonial masters “discovered” Africa. This notion has made conservation and wildlife inaccessible to the natives, often with currency being used as an inhabitant to inclusivity; the rich have hogged all the natural fauna and flora as well as land to themselves in forms of game farms, resorts and parks all in the guise of aiding conservation.
Hey Raini,these are great insights I had never thought about the power dynamics involved in conservation and the harm they may have on society at large. It is true that wild life should be protected and preserved but this should not be at the expense of human life. I hope that more people will become conscious about such factors for a more sustainable future for the whole ecosystem.