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egilio

Conservation

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The title pretty much says it all. I have my thoughts about it, but I rather let some other people first dwell on this.

Should conservation be approached as a luxury or a necessity?

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@egilio:

 

A tempting invitation to debate! Unfortunately, there are so many different definitions of conservation that that any such debate could quickly become chaotic.

 

I assume that the moral question of non-human species rights to exist is not the main or defining subject of your question. Instead, I guess that you are coming to the party with your "ecosystem services" hat on.

 

As it happens, I have been mentally playing with myself on a related topic, namely the pros and cons of establishing or maintaining large chunks of Africa where primacy is given to wildlife. I have little doubt that most readers of this forum (myself included) and most so-called conservation NGOs would consider that the pros outweigh the cons. The attitudes of the locals who reside in or beside such chunks are likely to be more pragmatic and will probably be judged on the basis of the effects on their personal material benefits. However, if one looks at your question on a much broader scale, conservation, if defined as the avoidance of irreparable damage to the environment, is clearly a necessity and not a luxury. Thus, anthropogenic climate change, ocean acidification and topsoil loss have catastrophic consequences for all species, our own included. If we avoid irreparable damage, conservation, defined in terms of survival of wild species, could, by some, rationally be considered a luxury. I would like to dwell on this latter question.

 

Nature is generally very resilient. In the UK, we have wiped out many wild species without obvious loss to ourselves. We could re-wild if we wanted, but the advantages of so doing are far from clear-cut. By the same token, most mammalian wildlife has been eliminated from all but small patches of India. However, because there are so few small patches, they are probably able, when combined with sustainable forestry, to generate more income from tourists than from any other possible land use. In Africa, with low, albeit rapidly rising, population densities, there is more wilderness area available for wildlife. We tourists like this - we currently have lots of places to visit. (We choose to neglect the fact that our international travel almost certainly causes more irreparable damage to our environment than the potential benefits that we like to think accrues as a result of visits to wildlife reserves). The downside is that we are sprinkled so thinly that we generally provide less income for individual sites than is necessary to compete with alternative land uses. In consequence, we are beholden to international NGOs to provide additional funding, often extracted from those who cannot themselves afford to go on safari, but whose emotions are manipulated into believing that they are playing an important role in conservation. Perhaps, they are. However, emotion-based conservation can and, in my view, often does lead to poor policy decisions.

 

From a personal perspective, I find it very encouraging that in, for example, South Africa, some landowners are finding it more profitable to abandon the farming of domesticated livestock because they think they can derive more income from the exploitation of mammalian wildlife. It should, perhaps, be unsurprising that a mix of wild herbivores, each with a slightly different ecological niche, could be more productive than domesticated stock. Income can be derived from controlled annual culling for meat plus minus that from photo-tourists or hunters. However, the introduction of predators into such system will change the picture completely - annual offtake of meat will fall and will need to be compensated for by upping tourist income. One adult lion, for example, requires the same amount of daily meat as 25 typical westerners or 50-75 Africans. Are lions luxuries that can only be tolerated in limited areas? What about elephants? Habitat-destroying surpluses can quite quickly develop in the absence of control or emigration. But for poaching, the advantages of a sustainable trade in ivory would be obvious as, indeed, would be a trade in rhino horn. The loss of these trades, as legitimate activities, clearly makes life more difficult for conservationists of these species. (I'm not necessarily arguing that, given rampant poaching and corruption, trade would be a good thing. I'm merely saddened that a trade ban deprives conservationists of valuable resources, which could benefit many species of wildlife.)

 

I've been rambling. However, I wanted to stir the pot a bit. I'm still trying to come to grips with the huge range and complexity of the issues raised by your apparently simple question.

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@@douglaswise Good points!

 

Not sure which I hat I'm wearing in this one, and yes, it depends on the scale of how you define conservation. Saving the Mauritius kestrel from going extinct is clearly conservation, but very different from trying to curb human induced global warming. The latter, undoubtedly, is a necessity, but the former? From a moral viewpoint humans were obliged to save it from extinction, as humans caused it's demise. But the kestrel which nearly went extinct fed mainly on lizards, the restored kestrel feed mainly on rodents. So while it being the same species, it's fulfills a different niche (as it's original niche is still not restored).

 

Ecosystems services. Yes, I think they're important and underestimated and that they don't receive management budgets in proportion to their value. But, for land based ecosystems, how important are the animals in relation to the plants? I don't know, and it's vary difficult to estimate it I think as there multiple trophic levels involved. Obviously, grazers/browsers have an influence on the landscape they reside in, but how much does that influence the service of the landscape to providing clean air and water?

 

I 'like' seeing more wildlife, even when it is on game farms/private game reserves, but I don't think that a higher number of game animals equals conservation. And, like douglaswise pointed out, game farms work well to increase numbers of herbivores, but not so much when it comes to carnivores, or animals like elephants.

 

Looking at conservation on different scale:

Globally: conservation is a clear necessity dealing with issues like human induced climate change, ocean acidification

Continent wide: conservation is a clear necessity dealing with issues like clean water, clean air, climate change, topsoil loss

Regionally: conservation is often a necessity dealing with issues like clean water, topsoil loss, deforestation

Locally: Does local conservation have an impact more widely? All bits help obviously, but is a bottom-up approach the best approach?

Species level: Is it a necessity, or more done on moral grounds? Does it matter?

 

Yes, this topic can quickly get chaotic, but I think that's fine. It isn't bad to dwell about the drivers of conservation, whether these are based on moral, science, personal feelings/perceptions/experiences, environment, economics, or whether they are species driven or system driven.

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http://on.natgeo.com/216xKKK

This terrific news because Gorongosa is without a doubt an up and coming destination. I would love to go there with hopefully with Rob Janisch as my guide. I'm glad that the population of lions is growing,nevertheless, Mozambique doesn't have the numbers for sustainable hunting.

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Do we not have a duty, @@egilio and @@douglaswise as creatures of some intelligence who can modify our surroundings like no other, to preserve and if possible restore natural ecosystems (or as close as one can get to them) and in doing make our lives better practically, emotionally and with self-preservation in mind? Can a functioning ecosystem work without both plants and the animals that ecosystem can support? I suppose man could take the place of some predators to limit herbivores but there are surely enough lessons about unintended consequences that suggest caution about trying to manufacture an ecosystem without all its functioning parts? ( the tragic decline in Indian vultures due to diclofenic used in cattle for example-leading not just to loss of vultures but changes in how human death is dealt with and possible increase in disease. Now on a small level-say the Mauritius falcon, it appears not to matter from an ecosystem point of view if it survives, but then where do you draw the line?When does it matter and what are the consequences?

Of course I write from the point of view of someone whose crops are not threatened by elephants or whose life is not threatened by lions but to make the world what i would consider to be a better place, I would gladly pay a tax that allowed folk who did have more immediate problems with wildlife some non lethal respite. (or in extremis lethal respite)

Perhaps a different way of looking at it is -does wildlife have to have a financial value to be preserved, and if so how is that to be calculated? should those who have removed all their large mammals , have to pay a tax to help those who have not preserve them?

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There are also many people who believe that god gave humanity dominion over animals. But it appears humans don't really know the extend of the effects of their actions. This would suggest a careful approach to any intervention, however, if there's money in it, those who profit, will always argue that they should be able to harvest more (fish, mammals, trees etc). Especially in a capitalistic world where making profit is not enough, but making more profit is what counts.

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@Towleronsafari I frequently talk to Kenyans about the conflict between wildlife(of all types) and humans. Of course we'll all agree that nobody should have their crops destroyed by elephants or their child killed by a lion or hyena. Nonetheless, I've never met a single Kenyan after living here in Nairobi who thinks that big game hunting is a solution to the conflict which has gone on since for thousands of years between humans and wild animals. They see a return to big game hunting as simply a pathetic excuse to put more heads on the wall and see no difference between hunting and poaching.They are proud of the fact that hunting was eliminated in the early 1970s. Of course they know that dogs,cattle and even horses kill far more people than all the wildlife combined.

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@@douglaswise the fact is that hunters refuse to look at the number and admit that elephant hunting and any trade in rhino horn is simply no longer sustainable due to the fall in the dramatic fall of numbers both of elephants and rhinos. Furthermore,the hunting lobby refuses to admit that in Kenya or anywhere else the population of wildlife is growing in the absence of big game hunting. Hunters will have you believe that the number of wildlife would grow if big game hunting were brought back to Kenya as well as Botswana.

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@@optig I agree with your sentiments but I think this particular debate is more about the ethics and reasons why or why not there should be conservation, in fact @@egilio has quite rightly, in such a debate, thrown religion into the mix! I think there are attempts out there to put a financial value on ecosystems but I would suggest that may not be the way to go-if the only measure is a financial one, then surely everyone's lives are so much poorer!

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@egilio:

 

You have, with the final sentence of post # 7, nailed your anti-capitalist colours to the mast. I'm continually surprised that so many academics, particularly those with biological training, hold such left wing views. It's almost as if they've forgotten about "survival of the fittest" and the "selfish gene" and attempted to distance themselves from their animal origins.

 

I would like to point out that wildlife conservation owes much to the philanthropy of super-rich capitalists (Gorangosa, for example).

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Posted (edited)

@@egilio:

 

 

 

I would like to point out that wildlife conservation owes much to the philanthropy of super-rich capitalists (Gorangosa, for example).

 

Not sure if @@egilio is anti-capitalistic or left wing or whatever, but I would agree with your statement @@douglaswise.

 

If I think of the few examples i know of conservation initiatives in Africa working, there is always a huge philanthropic or "capitalistic" aspect - not just Greg Carr in Gorongosa, but also think of Paul Tudor Jones in Grumeti and Malilangwe. Also African Parks has a declared "business like" approach to conservation, and it is backed by several philanthropists (besides certain institutions).

 

Actually, conservation in Africa is really depending upon philanthropy, and I suspect it might be even more so in the future.

Edited by Paolo
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I think that it's of much significance that so many of the uber rich and famous are throwing their weight behind conservation. There's no better example of this just to see a list of the staggering number of celebrities who attended the ivory burning in Nairobi National park. Money and fame talk and nobody can deny it.

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Yes, there a quite a few very rich people who put money towards conservation, and they do a good job and should be commended for it.

But it comes to the essence of my question. For them it's something they can afford, a luxury, not a necessity. Or maybe their world view changed and they see it as a necessity now that they don't have to worry about anything else anymore.

Why is it that nobody questions the salaries paid by charities to doctors to do research into diseases. They do good, important work, have studied long and hard etc. But when it comes to conservation it is expected to be done by volunteers, or for meager salaries? They do good, important work too, have often studied just as long and hard. And continental scale, and world scale conservation work has a huge potential to improve quality and security of people's life.

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Supply and demand is the answer to your question. Zoology graduates are spewed out of universities in numbers vastly in excess of those that can possibly expect to work in their chosen discipline. In any event, there aren't many super-rich doctors either. Entrepreneurs seldom seem to spring from the ranks of professionally qualified people who can generally live well while remaining risk averse.

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@egilio:

 

You have, with the final sentence of post # 7, nailed your anti-capitalist colours to the mast. I'm continually surprised that so many academics, particularly those with biological training, hold such left wing views. It's almost as if they've forgotten about "survival of the fittest" and the "selfish gene" and attempted to distance themselves from their animal origins.

 

I would like to point out that wildlife conservation owes much to the philanthropy of super-rich capitalists (Gorangosa, for example).

 

You can be left wing and capitalist...Capitalism is the best model. At the same time, I don't see anything bad to have this capitalist environment be influenced by socialist ideas to ensure access to decent health care, education, environmental health and labour rights. I've lived in quite a few countries. And in the most capitalistic country I've lived, health care, good education, environmental health and labour rights are things not accessible for the majority of people.

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~ When I read this it brought to mind a quote:

 

Planning ahead is a measure of class. The rich and even the middle class plan for future generations, but the poor can plan ahead only a few weeks or days.

 

– Gloria Steinem

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