What we can learn from the quite different ways people are saving African wildlife.
“Just save the animals!”
Fewer years ago than I care to admit my thinking was that simplistic. I thought wildlife conservation was all about keeping wild animals and birds safe in their natural environment. Well it is, but modern life has made it much more complicated. In the lengthy well researched work, “Evolution & Innovation in Wildlife Conservation” the issue of protecting Africa’s wild animals and birds is presented in great detail.
However, during the first half of our ten week Africa Wildlife Conservation Tour 2014, Russ and I have learned a thing or two from those who are actually doing it, living it.
We have met some driven, passionate and dedicated people. Some are hands-on wildlife conservationists, others simply enthusiastic advocates, while still others focused activists. Each with his/her own angle, approach, opinions and set of ideals.
With many other people to meet and surely more ideas and strategies to include, I will attempt to tease out what has risen to the top so far.
Eight Ways to Save African Wildlife
Some of these are short term while others more long term solutions. Some specifically address the immediate rhino poaching crisis while others are more encompassing to include more species. Each has merit and is briefly summarized. Your comments are most welcome.
The Squeaky Wheel Strategy
Activists and advocates don’t generally work directly with wildlife, however, they are passionate about their survival and therefore play a key role in wildlife conservation. These two groups (the former seeking political change, the latter raising public awareness) are crucial in bringing about change at multiple levels. For example WildAid with their media campaigns has reduced the appeal for shark fin soup in Asia. Petitions and social media campaigns change laws and hearts.
Recently a gentleman (Greg) approached Russ and said, “You’re my hero.” Supposedly Greg had his pool cues decorated with elephant ivory and rhino horn. It hit him one day while watching a video that he was part of a huge problem, wildlife trafficking. Not only did he change his ways he told his cue supplier no more ivory or horn. Greg has become a voice for the elephant and rhino instead of an unwitting cause of its slaughter.
‘The squeaky wheel does get the grease’. My hat off to all you squeakers!
On the Ground Protection
Once upon a time a wildlife ranger counted breeding pairs, watched migration patterns and rid the area of poachers’ snares. Today a wildlife ranger packs a military style weapon and must be ready to use it much like any army soldier.
People like Peter Milton, Vincent Barkas and other anti-poaching rangers are highly skilled and trained specialists. They work tirelessly and put their lives on the line to be out there in the bush physically protecting the rhino from poachers on a daily basis. It is a huge costly effort to literally provide body guards for individual rhinos. Those that do have this protection are safe, those that don’t aren’t.
The Kruger National Park where most rhinos are lost is a large wild area almost impossible to cover adequately, especially with its entire eastern boundary being the Mozambique border. Poachers can cross this border and rangers can literally see them and not be able to touch them due to the laws.
Along with that obstacle, in South Africa, a ranger is charged with murder when a poacher is killed in a shootout. Unless proven to be self-defense the “good guy” goes to jail… go figure! In Swaziland it is a bit different and rangers have to worry less about themselves and can concentrate on doing their job.
Today’s wildlife rangers are soldiers in a ground war, without them the rhino and other wildlife species would already have gone the way of the dinosaur and dodo bird. Our deepest thanks to every one of them, they are heroes.
Rescue, Rehab and Release
Like humans wild animals and birds get injured, abused and orphaned. People like Louise (SanWild), Carol & Steve (Monkey Helpline), Ben (Raptor Rescue), Silke (Bambelela) and Roz (FreeMeKZN) to name a few, are experts when ti comes to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of wild animals and birds for another chance at living free.
You or I couldn’t stand up today and become an EMT (emergency medical technician) and help people injured in a car accident, so it is with wildlife, it takes experts. Their role is crucial in the preserving of Africa’s beauties. They heal pain and end suffering, from a young Vervet Monkey’s burnt fingers by hot road tar, to the pinning and repairing of a majestic Fish Eagle’s wing. Thank you, all of you.
Sanctuary for the Unreleaseable
Unfortunately there are some birds and animals whose injuries are too severe and they cannot be released. A bird of prey must have full usage of its wings and be able to fly exact and true or it can no longer hunt and feed itself. A leopard that has broken its claws or canines is now handicapped and cannot be released.
These animals and birds need a safe haven. Shannon’s Bird of Prey Sanctuary is one such place where the birds become ambassadors for their kind via flight shows or viewings. Some zoos and animal parks are specifically set up to take in such animals and provide them a long term home. Though a restricted enclosure is not the ideal, it is the only place most people and children will ever see a these species. Many thanks to those who run such sanctuaries.
With the rhino crisis reaching a peak and the very survival of the species becoming questionable there are those in South Africa who have turned to farming rhino. Although in most cases well cared for, the wild it taken out of them as they live more like herds of cattle.
People like Terry Bengis go to great lengths to assure a healthy gene pool and bar no expense in technology and other means to protect their “herds”. Sure these farmers are betting on the legalization of the rhino horn trade, but some say this may be the only way to adequately safeguard the survival of both the black rhino and the white rhino from the ever rising onslaught of poachers. Not an ideal situation for the rhino… however, it is keeping the species alive and right now we are grateful for that.
[Please note that we are against legalizing the trade of rhino horn]
Education and Activities
The old adage ‘education is key’ truly is the long term solution for many of our planet’s ills. Being here in South Africa I’ve been surprised how prevalent smoking still is. In the US with the heavy anti-smoking campaigns several years back it seems that smokers are a small minority or at least smoking in public areas is a thing of the past. However, education takes time, change does not happen overnight.
Another aspect of education is using activities such as Sheila (Dance to Be Wild) or Gareth (Rocking for Rhinos) where dancing or music are used to both raise awareness and funds to save wildlife. One of our own Nikela Volunteers in Hong Kong created Graze for Rhinos (getting friends together for a meal and drinks) to raise money to translate the ebook POACHED! into Cantonese (found in our free ebook section.)
Then there’s Margie (One More Generation) who recently joined ranks with Olivia, Carter and Jim from the US to expand the reach into the schools in South Africa with their education programs to stop poaching. Much obliged to all of you for your work.
Community Conservation Areas
Probably the newest large scale impactful wildlife conservation approach that is being used in various parts of Africa with some success, is community conservation. We spoke with two Conservation Managers (Patrick Sibeko and George Mbatha) in two different reserves in two different countries, both taut that it works. Both reserves have seen a reduction in rhino poaching.
Community conservation basically involves the local villages, tribes, and people living around the game reserve. In the past when a reserve was established the village people were moved out and fences set up as much to keep the animals in as to keep the people out. Today’s model is quite different. It pretty much turns the old model upside down and gives the local people ‘ownership’ of the wildlife. They are informed that without the wildlife no jobs, or money. In some cases part of the entrance fees go into the local communities for kraal fences or even soccer balls and shoes.
The locals are brought into the reserve to see the animals. They become partners with the rangers in keeping the poachers out. Again, here it seems like the small kingdom of Swaziland leads the way in making this work.
Are there downsides? There probably are, however, to this point my hat off to this approach as it seems to be the way of the future for wildlife conservation in some areas.
Game Park Estates and Developments
How would you like to own a piece of property with a gorgeous lodge-like home with a ‘to die for’ view of landscape and wildlife? This is another large scale high impact approach to preserving and protecting African wildlife. Patrick (Rhino Revolution) and his father, Trevor (Jordan Properties) have been instrumental in opening up thousands of hectares of land adjacent and near the Kruger Park. Here large tracts of former hunting or farming areas are returned to their bush state, with one small change, a limited amount of homesteads are sold with strict guidelines. The properties can have no fences, the homes must blend into the natural environment and the wildlife must be allowed to roam free.
Nothing like having a herd of wildebeest come drink out of your pond, or a horny pair of warthogs chasing across the front lawn. How about having giraffe stroll up your drive way or a herd of bachelor kudo bulls take a short cut past your living room window.
It does create an unusual lifestyle, not without its concerns. Like monkeys getting into the garbage cans, or a cobra paying you a visit in the bathroom. However, this model allows wildlife to roam freely and gives the humans who live amongst them the incentive to preserve them. So far, this seems like a win-win situation. Thanks to folks like Patrick.
With half of our Africa Wildlife Conservation Tour 2014 still ahead there may well be some additions and changes to the above, however, in the meantime, let us know what you think.
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