Sometimes the people most passionate about wildlife conservation are accused of not caring about the human element that lives side by side with the animals in question. Critics say that these conservationists would rather have the people lose their homes and way of life, rather than negatively impact a species and its habitat. Yet rarely is it that black and white.
Yes, in many cases a species comes under threat because of the actions of people. Indigenous people hunting rare animals for bush meat, villagers killing animals that threaten their livestock or agricultural fields, poachers hunting animals for traditional medicine, farmers withdrawing too much water from a river… the list goes on and on.
Many times conservationists do come into a country from abroad, with the plight of an endangered animal in the forefront of their mind. But if they don’t take into consideration the views, lifestyles and concerns of the surrounding populace, their efforts are almost certainly doomed to fail. The conservationists will leave that country at some point; the locals will remain. They can either be allies in the conservation effort or undermine it every step of the way. A heavy hand is not always the most effective means to get your way.
Conservationists need to think about the reasons behind the threat and ways to deal with those reasons. Why are villagers relying so heavily on bush meat? Are they having a difficult time raising their own livestock? Are they too far away from other villagers where they can buy and trade food goods? Is it a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation? Once these problems are identified the conservationist should work with some of the well-respected locals to create solutions that both aid the people and the animals. Can someone come in to teach them animal husbandry techniques? Can they focus their hunting on more common, non-threatened species? Can they find hand-made goods that would be marketable for trade with other local villages?
The solutions won’t always be easy but they will be more effective in the long-term than when a conservationist comes in laying blame and accusations at the locals’ feet without offering realistic ways for the people to live in harmony with the natural world. There will always be a balancing act between people and all other animals and plants on the planet. We have the brain power and strength to dominate the natural world, bending it to our will, but we also have the resourcefulness and creativity needed to get what we need from the planet without destroying it for all other life forms. We just need to be willing to use that creativity for the greater good.