Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The failures of tiger conservation

Tiger in Bhutan (c) Sonam Wang
Hello All,
In their latest edition, National Geographic have highlighted the failures of tiger conservation over the last few decades. This extract gives a flavour:

The tiger's enemies are well-known: Loss of habitat exacerbated by exploding human populations, poverty—which induces poaching of prey animals—and looming over all, the dark threat of the brutal Chinese black market for tiger parts. Less acknowledged are botched conservation strategies that for decades have failed the tiger. The tiger population, dispersed among Asia's 13 tiger countries, is estimated at fewer than 4,000 animals, though many conservationists believe there are hundreds less than that. To put this number in perspective: Global alarm for the species was first sounded in 1969, and early in the '80s it was estimated that some 8,000 tigers remained in the wild. So decades of vociferously expressed concern for tigers—not to mention millions of dollars donated by well-meaning individuals—has achieved the demise of perhaps half of the already imperiled population.

 The usefulness of highlighting these failures in a time of economic hardship (at least for the already poor) is questionable, but I think it points to a core issue within conservation.

I am, some would say overly, introspective, questioning and testing everything I do and believe in. It's an uncomfortable state of being and an inevitable curse of post-modernist liberalism. It is not to say that I do not have conviction about certain issues, but some are more solidly rooted than others. The effectiveness of conservation actions is not firmly fixed. I have believed for some time that many of the larger organisations involved are not capable of undertaking the work required, mostly because they are embroiled in their own politics and inevitably put their own interests first. I do not mean that these are not well intentioned people, just that they will always think they are the best people for the job. Otherwise they become mired in introspection and reflection, which arguably does not lead to effective action (from Monty Python's Life of Brian: "This calls for immediate discussion.").

What to do? The same large organisations are still driving the conservation effort for tigers, though often under new names. The possibly largest of all, The World Bank, has also stepped in. Do any of them have a plan that will preserve what remains of the species and allow the hopefully recovering populations to expand to their former range? Possibly not.

Why not? In my opinion (so take it cautiously) large outfits, governmental and non-governmental, have lost touch with people. Looking at my own Government in UK, I despair that they are carrying through actions that were not voted for by anyone and are being actively protested against by normal people (teachers, nurses, doctors and university lecturers included). Elsewhere in the world I see similar protests against the combined actions of governments and big business. People's voices are not heard and they are getting tired of it. In the case of tiger conservation, communities (often poor and so voiceless) are tempted with trinkets and money, but have no say in how the actions being implemented in their homes will carry forward. This is not inclusive. This is a cynical attempt to buy people in the short-term, which will supposedly to enable long-term conservation success. How does anyone think this will work? The people that will have their lives affected by tigers, or any other conservation outcome, need to have their voices heard and listened to from the very outset. Governments are currently not good at doing this and nor are large NGOs either.

Rant over. Take and care and Merry Christmas to those of you who do that and for all others I wish you nothing but peace and goodwill.