Regarding wildlife as a commodity to manage sustainably has become part of our conservation protocol over the years and is often employed as a strategy to alleviate poverty. But how will this affect the environment we rely on for survival in the long- term?
On 20 December 2016, Sanparks published an article on their site citing that the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr BEE Molewa, has approved the rezoning of the Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area (MPA) to allow limited fishing by members of local communities. Prior to this the DEA has cited that one of its reasons for the move is that the Tsitsikamma has an unemployment rate of 50 percent. The announcement follows Sanparks’ move last year to open the Kruger Park to “culling” by local communities.
This example illustrates a growing trend to kill/cull/harvest wildlife in protected areas in South Africa in spite of the warnings made by scientists claiming that these moves will bring long-term environmental disaster. The approach allows for the exploitation of the protected reserves and abuse of the law as short term financial interest and greed (human nature) have shown to direct people’s actions in cases like this.
Wildlife as a commodity and our disconnect from nature
Since early civilisation, we have been physically moving away from nature. The rise of agriculture and our move out of rural areas into towns has separated us from our food source processes. We are out of touch with nature and our dependence of the planet as this crucial awareness falls outside of our daily lives.
This disconnection is exacerbated by globalised consumerism, instant gratification and the manner in which technology shapes our current lifestyles.
In Southern Africa around 1652, when the Dutch arrived in the Cape, set up farms and then conducted an unprecedented slaughter on our wildlife, our relationship to nature changed drastically.
The late 19th century saw the passage of the first pieces of wildlife conservation legislation and the establishment of the first nature conservation societies.
Before the Dutch arrived in 1652, the indigenous people lived harmoniously with wild animals, learning from them about medicinal herbs and natural food sources. Their livestock was protected by using herdsmen and they shared their crops with the wild animals that came to eat from them. Living like this ensured that people were reminded daily of their important connection to nature and they respected other life forms as a result.
The objectification of wildlife and regarding it as a commodity was not born from African culture.
In his book, Isilwane the Animal, Credo Mutwa describes how African people did not see us humans as separate from nature in the past. He describes how African tribes respected nature and our interconnectedness with the Earth by holding wild animals as their totems – a system which served to preserve the environment and showed a clear respect for a healthy biodiversity. “The African people knew, just as the native American people knew, that if you destroy the environment, you will ultimately destroy the human race. A remarkable Tswana proverb states that, “He who buries the tree, will next bury the wild animal, and after that, bury his own ox, and ultimately bury his own children.”
This indicates that people were aware, even in ancient times, of the interdependence on all living creatures upon this Earth, and that if you harm one, you harm others and in the end, yourself.
Is the use of Wildlife Sustainable?
The concept of sustainable use has been pushed as a sound wildlife management tool which appears to work in theory. In practice however, it has involved far more “use” and not much sustainability. Sustainable use only works in the short term, bringing in its wake, long terms disastrous damage.
History has shown that it generally results in the over-exploitation and decimation of the species involved.
The sustainable use of wildlife can either be consumptive or non-consumptive:
The killing, trapping and capturing of wild animals for commerce (for ivory, the pet trade, biomedical research) or recreation (sport hunting, entertainment).
An activity that generates income without harming animals or removing them from their habitats.
Depletion of species used is almost always a foregone conclusion because of several factors, some being:
- The short term financial interest and greed (human nature) of the users.
- Inadequate scientific knowledge about wildlife populations
- The inability to predict the outcome of our attempts to manage wild animals with any degree of accuracy.
These factors and results have almost, without exception, characterised past efforts at consumptive management and the commercial use of wildlife species.
Examples of damaged wildlife populations
Treating wildlife as a commodity has resulted in damaged wildlife populations.
According to the IUCN, (September 2016) Africa’s overall elephant population has seen the worst declines in 25 years, mainly due to poaching. (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160926151854.htm)
Poaching of rhinos for their horns has reached unprecedented levels. While ten years ago, a mere 25 rhinos were poached, the number poached in 2015 estimated at between 5,042 and 5,455 rhinos.
New surveys and estimates suggest that the lion has disappeared from about 80 percent of its African range and the pangolin (threatened with extinction) has become the most trafficked mammal in the world.
Wild species that are perceived to be in competition with agriculture and forestry are generally painted as healthy and plentiful in spite of the fact that their populations are not monitored. The reason for this is to keep the real damage done to these species hidden from the public so that agriculture can appear to be justified in persecuting them.
In Southern Africa, “problem” species have historically been fatally injured and killed in exceptionally cruel ways – poison, gin traps, bow and arrows, dog hunting packs, barbed wire are some of many methods that have been used.
The Wild Dog – once perceived to be a “problem animal” or “damage causing animal”, has been exterminated from large parts of Africa and is an example of how a species that is not monitored, is plagued by misconceptions and is encouraged to be persecuted by legislation and ignorance can become highly endangered due to the message of disrespect conveyed by the consumptive use camp. Today the Wild Dog is one of the continent’s most rarely encountered animals. Other Southern African species that suffer similar effects as perceived “problem animals”, are likely to go the same way unless there is change.
The vervet monkey and chacma baboon are generally believed to be healthy due to that fact that they are “commonly” seen in certain areas but the damage caused to troop structures , and how this impacts on related ecosystems has not been taken into consideration. As a result those that work hands-on with these species report a dwindling in numbers and troop structure damage that has a ripple effect on future generations and all related systems.
Founded as the Botswana Wild Dog Research Project in 1989, the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT) has expanded to cover all the large carnivore species in Botswana. It is one of the longest-running large predator research projects in Africa and one of only a handful of its calibre worldwide.
BPCT research on wild dogs has made it abundantly clear that the health and welfare of the entire predator population is a key indication of overall health of the ecosystem.
Preservationists and animal protectionists have begun to realise the importance of focussing not only on endangered species but on working towards a healthy biodiversity.
In his book Animals In Peril, ex chief executive, John Hoyt from the HSUS, says:
“Whales were supposedly sustainably exploited for decades under the careful scientific management regime of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) – until all eight species of great whales were pronounced endangered.
Sustainable use did not work with such developed North American resources such as grizzly bears, ducks, californian sardines, ancient forests, or just about anything else that has supposedly been managed, conserved, exploited , utilized or harvested on a sustained yield basis.
Not even white tailed deer which have thrived, can be considered an unmitigated management success. Creating and maintaining a “harvestable surplus” of deer has adversely affected other species, and has been achived by the removal of old growth forests and predators.”
The “Damage” Caused by Elephants Benefits Biodiversity
Although things may not look particularly pretty to the human eye does not necessarily mean that it is detrimental to all the life that is there. Studies showing environmental benefits conducted by elephants, that are often perceived to be environmentally damaging, illustrate how inadequate scientific knowledge about wildlife populations can be destructive to the environment. It has been noted that:
”Areas heavily damaged by elephants are home to more species of amphibians and reptiles than areas where the beasts are excluded” – (African Journal of Ecology).
“Elephants, along with a number of other species, are considered to be ecological engineers because their activities modify the habitat in a way that affects many other species. They will do everything from digging with their front legs, pulling up grass to knocking down big trees. So they actually change the shape of the landscape.” – Bruce Schulte
The elephants’ digestive system is not very good at processing many of the seeds that they eat. Their faeces are a great fertiliser – elephants are also able to rejuvenate the landscape by transporting seeds elsewhere. Scientists have concluded that difference in abundance and species richness in “damaged areas” was probably a result of engineering by elephants, generating new habitats for a diverse array of frog species.
Why we need a healthy environment to survive
The variety of life on Earth, its biological diversity is commonly referred to as biodiversity and the survival of our species is dependent on this.
“At least 40 per cent of the world’s economy and 80 per cent of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources. In addition, the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical discoveries, economic development, and adaptive responses to such new challenges as climate change.” ~ The Convention about Life on Earth, Convention on Biodiversity web site.
How a healthy biodiversity affects you
Ecosystem services, such as
- Protection of water resources
- Soils formation and protection
- Nutrient storage and recycling
- Pollution breakdown and absorption
- Contribution to climate stability
- Maintenance of ecosystems
- Recovery from unpredictable events
Biological resources, such as
- Medicinal resources and pharmaceutical drugs
- Wood products
- Ornamental plants
- Breeding stocks, population reservoirs
- Future resources
- Diversity in genes, species and ecosystems
Social benefits, such as
- Research, education and monitoring
- Recreation and tourism
- Cultural values
All living things are necessary for Biodiversity – sun, water, plants, insects, reptiles, mammals, soil, fungi and bacteria are some examples of these life forms. The variety of living things all act together to make the web of life work. Over time this variety has been dangerously reduced by one species – humans.
The consequences of this ensure that the present destructive events will continue until it is too late; unless we bring about serious, sustainable change.
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