ELEPHANT SLAUGHTER VII
ILLAR MUUL PhD
PRESIDENT & FOUNDER
The previous article sought to find alternatives to the current practices to save the elephants. This was in response to the excellent article, "Blood Ivory", in the National Geographic Magazine, in the October 2012 issue.
The international NGO's spend a great deal of money to "save" endangered species individually and to stop traditional harvest of "bush meat." Integrated Conservation Research seeks to conserve the ecosystems, or restore them, in which some endangered species live. The key is the local people within the ecosystems. If they resort to exploiting the ecosystem, not only are endangered species threatened, but the traditional resources (goods and services) for their support are also threatened.
To many "conservationists" the words conservation and preservation have the same meaning. Opportunities to preserve ("hands-off") ecosystems have mostly passed. If we attempt to preserve all the remaining elephants we will use up more funds than what is needed to conserve ("wise use") their ecosystems. Their ecosystems largely overlap or are intermixed with areas of human habitation. Re-locating humans is disruptive and unlikely. In fact, humans are rapidly invading elephant ecosystems or reducing them to "island" within a sea of agricultural development.
This is the situation for most endangered species, so it is much more economical to deal with all of them, than to try to save them individually (IUCN interest groups, expert committees, etc.). I was on the Rodent Expert Committee and saw only lists created, based on fragmented information. In decades of endeavor, not one rodent species became less vulnerable to extinction.
In Malaysia, I saw elephant populations stabilize, under the excellent leadership of Director-General Mohd Khan. However, elephant habitats have continued to diminish. One elephant herd attempted to cross the straits to Singapore, not knowing that suitable habitat there was even scarcer. Human-elephant conflicts continue to be more frequent. Fortunately, highly trained crews are usually successful in resolving problems through relocation. But, to where? Even if elephants are "saved", their habitat is disappearing!
But, elephants are highly adaptable. In Africa, they range from semi-desert/oases through various ecosystems throughout sub-saharan Africa, an area much larger than Europe and USA combined.
One of the most successful activities of Integrated Conservation Research (ICR) has been economically and ecologically sustainable development of nature tourism. New parks have been formed (Ghana) and existing protected areas have gained prestigious, international status as UNESCO's World Heritage Sites (Malaysia and China).
Tourism to Malaysia increased from 3.5 million in 1990 to 16 million in 2007. In our first demonstration model site in Borneo, international tourism increased from 1,200 in 1988 to 220,000 in 2005.
None of the sub-Saharan African countries are in the global top 30 for tourism arrivals, or per-capita income.
However, countries which have most actively strived to conserve their wildlife have among the highest GDP (e.g. Namibia and Botswana). They also have the least amount of loss of elephant habitats. In Botswana the rhino populations are increasing while elsewhere the numbers are decreasing, in some places rapidly. Elephants are not playing solo, they play best in an orchestra.
The tourism potential in sub-Saharan Africa is enormous. High-end, tented, luxury safaris are very successful already. (The Rolls-Royces are selling; we need to market more Minis). However, the political and economic situation needs to improve, and tourism can carry some of that weight (but, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?).
However successful tourism has been in some areas, it can not solve all of the economic issues local people and governments face! In attaining "critical mass", tourism is one layer out of many to be added to "tip the scale" to ecologically and economically sustainable development. But, the tourism layer may help "capitalize" the other layers needed.
Another layer can be increasing production of bush meat through semi-domestication (favoring food plants), instead of stopping traditional, mostly sustainable harvest. Substituting beef destroys the ecosystem for many endangered species. It is counter-productive, but needs some regulation.
For over 25 years, ICR has been promoting the idea of agroecosystems, pioneered by the Chinese ("man-made communities") in the tropics of Yunnan Province. In later research literature, it became synonimized with "agroforestry", which is simply a crop of one to several species of trees.
An agroecosystem, as the suffix implies, is ideally self-sustaining, or as close to being that as is possible. The first demonstration, begun about 50 years ago, included 208 species of plants of economic value. These included root crops, mycorrhizae (morel type mushrooms); ground cover; short, medium, to tall shrubs; trees; and vines that grow on trees, such vanilla.
Plants and animals from similar strata have been harvested/cultured in Africa by native people long before colonization. Stressing the soil and reducing valuable endemic species through "industrialized" agriculture, usually monoculture, made the colonial masters rich, but nearly eliminated the rich biodiversity on which the native populations thrived. They became poorly paid laborers in order to enrich the "empires."
Industrial agriculture and big game hunting has pushed wildlife, and some people, deeper into the interior. The frontiers from the east, west, and south have now converged in central Africa where the greatest conflict is occurring. Elephants, gorillas, and people are victimized.
But, our analysis all over the world, in tropical ecosystems shows that monocultures (oil palm, rubber, beef, etc.) are profitable only if workers are paid extremely low wages, thus poverty persists.
Reverting back to "agroecosystems" recovers the local economy, local pride, and interest in conservation and sustainable development.
In the next article, dear reader, I will describe the elephants role in agroecosystems and benefits to the local stakeholders.
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Illar Muul, PhD
President & Founder
Integrated Conservation Research, Inc.
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