Conservation in the United Kingdom (UK), whilst significantly limited by funding, is primarily focussed on the protection of the environment to allow species to flourish, along with re-wilding where UK indigenous species that have since disappeared are re-introduced to support regeneration in selected locations. Poaching is not generally perceived as a threat to species existence. In Africa however, the conservation measures required to promote bio-diversity, species protection, population growth and to also ensure a healthy environment are significantly different to the UK and other western countries.
Industrial scale poaching and human-animal conflict due to competition for natural resources are the big challenges most countries on the African continent are faced with. A threat to human life is not something an official in the UK would generally face in their day to day conservation activities. Unfortunately, in Africa an armed confrontation and fire fight are something that those charged with protecting the continents wildlife will likely face on a daily basis.
Wildlife in Africa possibly receives the highest interest from most western countries. The big five (lion, leopard, rhinoceros - both black and white species, elephant, and Cape buffalo) are, to a degree justifiably, placed on a pedestal of the animal kingdom. Both the wider public and governments of western countries continually challenge the African nations to do more to protect these majestic animals but unfortunately do so from an often uneducated understanding of the reality of being the custodian of the welfare of the animals, the challenges of living alongside them or the cost involved in implementing solutions to both. As with the UK, funding is the key factor in whether animals and the environment can or cannot be protected. We come back to the adage “if it pays it stays”!
Unbeknown to many people, a large proportion of the funding required to actively implement robust and successful conservation measures comes from legal authorised and regulated hunting. One outfitter who owns and runs a safari conservatory in Namibia has stated that he requires 72 photographic safari tourists to generate the same level of revenue as he achieves with a single hunter. Furthermore, the hunter is the catalyst for the need to have large populations of all wild animals rather than just a few easily accessible animals for visitors to photograph. We are therefore, back full circle to the ‘means justifying the ends’ conundrum.
To keep things in perspective however, international wildlife crime (IWT) is the biggest threat to many species. Elephants are persecuted for their ivory which is smuggled to the Far and South East Asia, pangolin (the most illegally trafficked animal in the world) is destined either for the plate as a delicacy or (Chinese) traditional medicine, again in the Far and South East, as are the bones of lions which are crushed to a powder and used for perceived medicinal purposes. Poachers of such species in Africa are generally indigenous people of the African continent who provide the animals, or parts thereof, to an advanced and sophisticated black-market supporting transportation and sale of the illegal animal remains. To combat these activities, local law enforcement and wildlife services such as the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS), non-government organisations (NGO’s) including the African Park Networks, private specialised organisations, for example the Endangered Species Protection Agency (ESPA), and support from foreign governments and multi nationals actively pursue security options that attempt to provide a protected environment within which the animals can live. This barrier is multi-layered and includes military type responses in the form of armed rangers and surveillance technologies to combat poachers.
Human – animal conflict arises due to the needs of man and animals competing for the same land and its resources. It’s hard for someone living in London to comprehend the issues a Masai tribesman, living in rural Africa, has with regards wild animals eating the same grazing pastures required for his cattle or the destruction a herd of elephants can achieve when passing through vegetable plots or orchards. The cattle and small holding farming activities are the only means of livelihood available with which to house, clothe, feed and school their children. Seeing youngsters, often less than 5 years of age, emerge from a tiny mud hut which has no discernible power supply in pristinely clean and pressed clothes, excitedly setting off for a possible two hour walk to school isn’t often paramount in the minds of animal conservationists sat at home in London.
Trophy hunting is seen only in a bad light. None can argue that images of hunters stood behind or above the corpse of a majestic wild animal publicised for all to see using social media are simply appalling. The photographs can belie the truth of the situation. That’s not the point however. Hunters conducting legal and regulated hunting activities need to be sensitive to the perception and feelings of others. Not only is the continued negative publicity damaging the hunting community it will lead to a weakness in the ability of organisations to fund and implement conservation work, if hunting is outlawed through public opinion, thus threatening the wildlife the hunter is actually currently supporting. Interestingly, Kenya is now considering a return to legalised ‘trophy’ hunting (something it banned in 1977) as results of Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programs conducted in Namibia and South Africa which yielded positive conservation results.
As can be seen. Conservation is a complex and costly activity. It isn’t something for which there is an easy and fast solution. Arguments on all sides of the same argument of how best to conduct it will, rightly, rage on for some considerable time to come. Surely the goal for now is to keep the end objective in sight and not let it get clouded by a media looking for a controversial headline simply to increase sales or a celebrity trying to extend his or her messiah complex.