No matter the situation never let your emotions overpower your intelligence. ( Anon)
In my last article I touched on Theresa May’s political maxim on the need to be ever mindful of the need to reflect on a particular policy or philosophy and, in light of ever changing dynamics prepare to revise and reform strategy in order to sustain the core philosophy and its underlying objectives . It had admittedly a strongly political connotation but the underlying principle is universal.
The basic lesson for wildlife conservation in Africa – were we to heed this art-of-the-possible wisdom- is that if we want to stop the current rot and preserve a treasured African heritage against the tide of population growth, a globalised interconnected world of rampant resource- exploitation – we had better be prepared to radically change our whole approach.
Continuing to plod on with ineffective, outmoded policies branded by a dinosaur organisation by the name of CITES which promotes via its proxy Animal Rights NGO’s a western ideology and ignores the ominous signals from Africa to the effect that what worked well in the past is now sadly out of step with reality , is a recipe for disaster.
A policy conceived and imposed in the long gone era of colonisation in Africa is hardly likely to serve the interests of perpetuating a wildlife estate – or what’s left of it – in the modern developing world.
The price of such obdurate resistance to change is simply appalling. Media reports naturally tend to focus on elephant and rhino , the higher primates, latterly African lion and pangolin but these species cursed by demand for desirable body parts or as pet amusements in some sheiks compound really represent only the tip of a genocidal pyramid.
The slaughter of other wild creatures – the stuff once taken for granted in an African landscape – the familiar herds of seemingly fecund plains game , together with many other living components of a biodiversity rich area- exceed by an incalculably huge margin the numbers of iconic” big” game slaughtered for exotic products like horn, ivory, skeletal parts and scales.
The media – and to be fair the absence of verifiable statistics – tend to overlook this tragedy as pettifogging detail. Losses of buffalo, antelope, reptiles, vultures, rodents and the more retiring members of a natural system just don’t make eye catching copy ; but you can be sure that virtually everything in the African animal kingdom ,from Cane Rats to Colobus monkeys, represent some form of value – to someone and is up for grabs. The reasons ; poverty, protein deprivation along with a lucrative commercial black-market for wildlife products , the bush meat trade, crop protection and traditional pharmacopoeia all combine to render old ideologies around protection and respect for wild animals redundant.
By far the greatest majority of visitors to parks , most of which are surrounded by rural communities of people, are white living first world lifestyles and subscribing to the same expectations their forbearers enjoyed under enforced protection of the natural environment legally proclaimed as a national park or equivalent reserve.
No thought for the fact that the indigenous human populations of the continent had evolved with a very strong utilitarian attitude to the wild creatures which inhabited rural Africa for aeons.(Take for instance the Zulu word for “game” Nyamazana – meat! ) Hands –off western protectionist ideology is still the governing rationale. Try telling that to a dirt poor, rural subsistence dweller with family dependents living under a drought and faced with the constant threat of predation on his miserable goats, game competing for scarce grazing and elephants trashing his miserable maize field .
And while we are on this depressing subject take a look at what the future holds in terms of wildlife/human conflict;
1) Africa’s human population is set to double to 2.5 billion by 2050
2) the continent had a larger industrial base in 1980 than it has now ( so don’t expect a mass exodus of rural dwellers to an urban lifestyle.)
3) grain harvests are set to drop by a fifth over the next decade and most ominous of all
4) Africa is destined to have more people of working age than anywhere else in the world – but with fewer jobs available !
Imagine the kind of pressure this will exert on natural resources as the impact of rural people, especially the jobless youth, takes its toll in future. Bill Gates and the UN aid agencies please take note – those much vaunted multi billion dollar aid programmes you currently finance and operate are peanuts to what you are going to have to invest in the future Africa.
How are these trends impacting upon wildlife? Looking only at the big two, elephant are down to 450000 from over a million a decade or so ago and disappearing at the rate of 30000 a year, rhino down from over 500000 in 1960 with two African rhino species extinct and the remnants of 25000 ( 19000 held by one country, RSA) under a pervasively successful poaching threat.
Let’s not even factor in here the sickening habitat loss and the shrinking biodiversity of age old ecosystems as regional wars, wildlife authorities unequal to the task, Chinese managed de-afforestation and bans denying rational forms of participative commercialism by local people. The result, a perfect climate for illegal exploitation by local people of dwindling resources.
Why have we not, after all this time, in the dystopian situation which awaits us found common, complementary ground, a breaching of the divide between the needs of man – both the poor rural dweller eking out a decent existence among wild animals in wild places , the private game rancher who seeks to profit from investing in wildlife conservation, and the establishment institutions responsible for safeguarding designated protected areas?
It is not as if we lack the science- biological , social , technical to manage such an integrated system of biological protection on one hand and rational use of wildlife resources on the other. Since the late Dr. Ian Players rhino immobilisation and translocation achievements in the 1960’s and the work of two laterally minded Fulbright scholars in then Rhodesia ( working on the economics of wildlife ranching) we have continued to rank as world leaders in wildlife management and as a result have more wildlife in our country now under private sector sustainable- use practices, than we had over 150 years ago.
Instead we have allowed emotive morality to overrule common sense and basic logic ,entertaining with hand -wringing despair a host of negative speculative assumptions that such a radical dispensation as creating legal markets for legal products like horn and ivory – will unleash a wave of destruction with rampant laundering of products into legal markets and a free-for-all killing spree of abuse.
Taking all things into account Govt. responses to initiatives involving the private sector ( and I am referring in particular to the cloud of official equivocation surrounding the upcoming online auction of legal rhino horn) and the resistance from mainstream NGO’s opposing the sensible exploitation of wildlife for economic purposes – the position these stakeholders have adopted is , frankly, irrational.
Their sole purpose it seems is to preserve the status quo at any cost. Does it really matter whether a rhino horn disappears overseas as a” personal possession” to eventually end up in the hands of crooks or traditional healers or adorning the wrists of some Chinese billionaire?
Provided it is a legal product derived from either an official stockpile or a harvested source, was given a DNA signature, micro-chipped , paid for and taxed and passed through the official brokerage who in the hell cares what country it ends up in or how it is used! What matters is that the product did not emanate from a poached animal left to die a ghastly death, the horn hacked off its face and its calf left stranded to meet a similar fate with piles of tax money being spent in the process on anti poaching operations. That’s the logic.
The route to cultivating wildlife values in the public psyche and respect for wildlife by people who share habitats and co-exist with wild creatures , landowners who invest and manage wildlife for profit must surely lie with the adoption of a policy based on a regulated use of wildlife as an socio-economic asset .
Persisting with policies which inhibit the regulated use of wild assets for commercial purposes has grave consequences which we seem to be taking an awfully long time to comprehend.