There’s more than meets the eye when travelling and understanding human-wildlife conflict is one of them
You may have seen the efforts to Ban Trophy Hunting in the UK and other countries, initiatives that are fully worthwhile and yet missing one important voice – local people.
I have campaigned for wildlife for a number of years now, including organised demonstrations events, PR campaigns and photographic exhibitions in London and cities worldwide. My time working with wildlife conservation organisations, exposé rhino poaching films and anti-poaching teams in South Africa has allowed me a deeper understanding of the work that goes into saving wildlife, but also the often difficult tasks and hurdles that conservation teams face.
I’m passionately against all forms of hunting, because quite simply, we’ve made a mess of this world and further measures are required to not only rectify that negative impact into the red, but to reverse it back into the black.
Yet with all that being said, we all must demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of the issues and what is seldom spoken about when campaigning for wild animals, is the local person, the communities and villagers who come face-to-face with these wild animals every day and of course, the people on the ground working to protect them.
My partner Karen and I recently watched with great interest, the latest BBC documentary ‘The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride’. The film takes us on a journey of the now famous Marsh pride of lions from Kenya’s Masai Mara – and what beautiful lions we have seen down the years, thanks in part to programmes as The Big Cat Diary. We see in the film, how the world of the mighty lion can be both touching and traumatic, how safari tourists can see these majestic animals and how local people can see them – and at times this is a polar opposite view to one another.
Conflict with humans…
As we see in ‘The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride’, there are various issues and events that have led to the “king of the jungle” declining in the past 20-50 years. 50 years ago, there were an estimated 100,000 lions, today there remains an estimated 20,000-23,000. Climate change represents a new threat to all wildlife, people and habitats, but age-old battles still exist in the name of farming, land loss and resulting conflict.
Elephants can be known to trample a farmers’ crop and predators such as lions for preying on livestock. But the real issue here is humans after-all, we can be a very complex species at times, can’t we?
Conservation professionals in the field relay a common message in their texts and presentations and that is one of human-wildlife conflict. It’s a message that seldomly reaches the public’s consciousness because of the over-riding emotional value that trophy hunting can have – and what a truly disturbing, barbaric “past time” that is by the way. Yet we also have a duty to listen to professionals and factor in their messages when it comes to conserving wild animals.
As Ruaha Carnivore Project describe it;
“Human-wildlife conflict is one of the most urgent and rapidly-growing threats facing wild animals in an increasingly human-dominated world. Understanding and addressing this conflict will be a critical challenge as we move towards a world estimated to have 9 billion people in it by 2050. Large carnivores tend to cause particularly intense conflict, as they are dangerous species with the potential to harm domestic stock, farmed game and humans themselves. They also rely heavily on land outside formally protected areas, so managing them in human dominated areas is critically important for their conservation. However, it is unsurprising that people are generally unwilling to live alongside these species unless the direct benefits of doing so outweigh the costs.”
Established by Dr Amy Dickman, Ruaha Carnivore Project are working to help lions and people in and around Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park, where they work closely with local communities to prevent retaliatory killing of lions following attacks on livestock.
Amy is one such researcher who comes into conflict with animal rights campaigners in countries as the UK, where she quite rightly brings to the conversation the critical issue of human-wildlife conflict. The problem that Amy faces however, is that she uses the issue surrounding trophy hunting to argue her point, going so far as to condemn celebrities for using their voice to urge the UK Government to ban trophy hunting imports. Animal rights groups will always rebuff anyone who (in a way) discourages what they are aiming for and I completely understand that. I would also offer my advice, that it’s more than ill-advised to downplay the very people who are likely to support your work going forward, even when good points may be made.
Trophy hunting isn’t the top priority when is comes to the losses we see to lion populations and scientists will point this out – although personally, I do still include trophy hunting as ONE channel which is detrimental to lions and other wildlife – I’ve seen the elephant graveyards from colleagues in Botswana where hunters have dumped elephant carcasses and I’ve seen the evidence of under age lions hunted in Tanzania who have barely lived any life at all.
What I see here is a well renowned lion scientist, who clearly loves wildlife and genuinely cares about the survival of Africa’s lions, and on the other side the campaign to ban trophy hunting and trophy imports into the UK, who likewise love animals and wish to see lions survive. The issue is that Amy is correct and that is hard to accept sometimes when one is campaigning for animal rights – the biggest killer of lions, conflict with humans – is being largely ignored by the general public because of the morally reprehensible industry of trophy hunting which grabs the “limelight”.
It’s why it was great to see the recent BBC documentary ‘The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride’ that applied excellent focus to the issue of human-wildlife conflict in Kenya, it showed that some of the publics’ most beloved lions weren’t being lost to trophy hunting, but to conflict with humans. But that’s not to say that trophy hunting isn’t doing the same thing, and stories of well known lions such as Cecil and Xanda in Zimbabwe have shown that. The Cecil story exploded across the world because it was so rare for the public to hear about such a corrupt and brutal killing of such an animal from a trophy hunter – now imagine how many more lions, elephants, leopards, and so on, have been lost in the same circumstances that we didn’t get to hear about?
We’re an emotional species we humans and quite rightly emotion should come into decision making. As one example, I’m firmly on the side of naming lions, as it helps convey that these beautiful animals are sentient, individual and deserving of rights that humans seldomly afford them. Naming animals can help local communities look upon lions as beings, as friends, rather than objects – when we view objects, they are throwaway items and things, they mean nothing to us and it only helps us avoid the consequences of our actions by the way we treat those things. But, when we take pride in items, including animals and even our phones, we look after them, we cherish them and when it comes to throwing them away (or killing them in the case of animals) we think again and we consider the consequences of our actions… is this right what we’re doing and should we be doing this?
…and that’s the message that conservationists and scientists try to instil into local communities who must deal with wild animals on a daily basis. It’s a tough task when an animal is killing your life savings, as livestock is seen by a farmer.
First and foremost, local people must be at the forefront of conservation. Communities living on the edge of national parks and surrounding land, have a genuine connection to their habitats and to the animals and so empowering local people is severely necessary.
When you browse advocacy campaigns such as Ban Trophy Hunting in the UK, there is not one mention of local people, communities, nor even a mention of how conservation may be funded, should trophy hunting end. My understanding is that attempts by scientists such as Dr Amy Dickman to explain the situation have been ignored by this campaign. How can we progress wildlife conservation when the very people on the ground working with communities and lions, are ignored? … I myself have supported calls to end trophy hunting and trophy hunting imports into various countries, I have even organised protests outside Government embassies to highlight these cruel industries. But even I admit that such campaigns as Ban Trophy Hunting are flawed because they are simply not doing enough to properly educate, empower and create change .
The lack of UK Government (and other countries) legislative action on the issue of banning hunting trophy imports probably displays this lack of scope well;
Where is the action plan to move forward?
Where are the public & private investments to finance conservation?
Where is the outline of how conservation can affectively work without trophy hunting?
Where is the local community’s involvement?
We do also have to be careful that current trends have been built in Africa, concerning how wildlife is used, due to the historical implementation of trophy hunting in areas that have now accepted hunting as part of life. Trophy hunting has been given 100+ years to plant its dirty seed through a corrupt marketing approach of killing animals for fun, in return for money. It was the same marketing tactic used by tobacco companies and the meat industry, in presenting one way of life without thought of the ramifications to public health. The presentation of our natural world must change if we are to see a mutual concerted effort to protect it ~ Sir David Attenborough has been chiming this tune for what seems like a millennia.
In Botswana, Botswana Predator Conservation conduct regular de-snaring sweeps, in response to sightings of animals with snares in and around the local communities of Khwai Village and Mababe Village. Snares are commonly used in developing countries (across Africa, South America and particularly Southeast Asia) as a means of acquiring “bushmeat” for human consumption. One of the many issues with snares, is that they are indiscriminate with many non-target species being caught.
In Tanzania, Ruaha Carnivore Project have developed their ‘lion defender’ programme to re-educate and re-train Maasai from ritual and retaliatory killing lions, to protecting them. The project also runs a variety of outreach initiatives to assist their overall approach to conserving lions and working with local communities.
Meanwhile in Kenya, Mara Predator Conservation Programme utilises similar outreach initiatives to educate communities. The programme makes use of scientific solutions to track and monitor lions, which in turn assists in protecting communities and livestock, providing vital data on lion populations and their movements.
There are so many wonderful people doing great things for people & wildlife!
Booking a safari…
“Sure Paul, of course you’re going to suggest this”. You’d be 100% correct and here’s why I think travelling better is so important.
Safari destinations play an important role in the protection to a multitude of species. I do not believe for one second that we should simply travel for travelling sake, but travel to make our world a better place, factoring in ethics, morals and responsibility. A safari is a beautiful, soul-touching experience and I encourage you to book a safari with us, but I implore all of my clients to think seriously about their impact and how their travel benefits people, places and species. A safari isn’t a “silver bullet” to all problems facing conservation today, but it is one extremely valuable, ethical choice we can make.
Safari destinations, when done correctly;
provide refuge for biodiversity
help create corridors for species migration
create buffers between wildlife, people and other land uses
safari camps utilise their vehicles/drivers for conservation work
safari guests contribute to conservation through visiting, conservation levies, park fees and more
work directly with local conservation researchers and officers
Plan a safari and give back to conservation
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