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Changing the Ideology of Biodiversity

This morning I read an interesting article co-authored by Dr. Malan Lindeque whose day job is Chairperson of Namibia’s Sustainable Development Advisory Council. Basically, he describes an ideological confrontation between rural African communities efforts to benefit their local wildlife and a pervasive international ideology.

On the one hand, he lays out an argument that African communities are the best protectors of wildlife since they live in proximity and are the first responders. Even if elephants or buffalo may graze on their crops if the overall community vs wildlife equation is positive, wildlife will thrive. However, and it’s a big one, one has to understand that the response must have associated benefits.

Communities need to be the beneficiaries of tourism and jobs as a result. They need to get work from licensed hunting operators. They need to be able to utilize protein from local small game hunting. If there is a reasonable mix of these benefits, communities will naturally and explicitly manage their wildlife interaction to maintain a balance. That’s a good thing.

A policy line that rejects any and all wildlife harvesting in the name of conservation will alienate African rural communities who are humanities’ front lines in the biodiversity crises. It certainly does seem counter-intuitive. But it also seems to be true. Promising and campaigning not to kill them has the opposite effect. It kills them. And that’s a bad thing.

I am a westerner and an animal lover. I hate the thought of hunters seeking trophies as magnificent as an elephant.

But it turns out that that equation is faulty. Local communities benefiting from wildlife and even trophy hunters harvesting wildlife for their egos bring a positive trend to wildlife viability. That, perhaps surprising, the situation seems to me to have two logical results. First off I need to change my view and support hunters and help them connect better with communities.

The second one is a tough one. Now I need to reset my understanding of conservation and the conservation movement. Conservation is important. With the biodiversity crisis and the spreading effects of global warming becoming ever more evident, conservation should be near the top of every engaged person’s priority list. But in the context of the global discussion, I am on the wrong side.

Mr. Lindeque in Namibia calls this issue an ideological problem. A set of tenants, ideological suppositions, have been set up and assumed to be the underpinnings of conservation responsibility. I think it is fair to say that once tenants such as this become rooted it is hard to change them. There are too many people and organizations of power who have invested in them.

What a devasting and ironic situation. Our public consciousness, our global debate, has got ahold of the wrong side of the stick and does not know how correct itself. The most powerful institutions that guard and try to benefit wildlife and biodiversity are locked into a formula for its destruction. Of course, they continue on that route because they don’t have the cohesion or courage to change course.

They can’t do it on their own. The institutions of global conservation are as inbred and fixed to the status quo as any other. They need to be pushed and prodded. If committee chairmen on multiple continents stood up, as Mr. Lindeque did, and put their careers on the line and explained it to us we might listen. Let’s hope we do, as it seems to be more and more difficult to distinguish ideology from reality.

The planet needs to have us make that effort.