Conservation in theory may seem like a simple concept: protect wildlife, natural areas, and environment. But in application, it is much more complex, with many opinions to account for and numerous ethical challenges arising, particularly with international projects. At its worst conservation can be a tangle of ethical dilemmas, choosing between realistic and idealist, conflicting cultural beliefs, and miscommunication. At its best, it is proof that dedication, altruism, and cooperation can achieve great things for the benefit of the natural world and all those who depend on it. I have chosen to pursue a career in conservation not only because it is my passion but also out of a sense of responsibility to our environment. Despite the faith that I have in conservation’s potential, I am not blind to its many problems. Chiefly among them are navigating multicultural situations; debunking harmful myths while respecting cultural ideologies; the ethics of privilege and ownership of nature; and the challenge of establishing and maintaining trust as a foreign scientist. All of these can act as make or break factors when establishing a new conservation project.
Then you bring in the complexities of commerce and conservation. It is overly idealistic to strive for total conservation at the expense of any commerce – unfortunately, money makes the world go round. If conservation projects are to succeed, then there must be financial viability for all stakeholders involved. Both the local community and those investing in the conservation must feel like they will get some type of benefit from it. It can be challenging to convince a community that long-term benefits outweigh short-term benefits, but it is a vital concept that must be properly communicated. The onus of course falls to those who wish to create change. If the ultimate goals and the timeline to achieve them are not clearly laid out, then there is a great likelihood of failure. When efforts find a balance between conservation and commerce, there will be success.
Conservation in Africa feels like a series of delicate lines that must be walked in order to keep harmony while still achieving your goals. Some aspects of my work will always remain uncomfortable for me – I doubt I’ll ever shake the feeling that as a conservationist, I have no right to come into a community with the intent of altering their ways. I’m sure that I will continue to lie awake at night thinking about the dynamics of the issues plaguing conservation. In the coming weeks I’m going to do short posts on each of these major issues, discussing the various approaches and challenges that arise with each one.
Categories: Culture & Nature