By Cyrille Tchesnakoff
What picture first comes to mind when you think about wildlife?
A typical response: A rhino, standing picturesquely under an acacia, on savanna grassland.
To complete the perfect picture, let’s take it one step further. Let’s paint a warm red sun, setting on the African horizon. It is a powerful image, particularly as the rhino is such an iconic and charismatic species, and one that is facing extinction.
But, what if I told you this rhino was actually in a national park somewhere in Africa – say the Kruger.
What if I told you the Kruger is fenced. It’s still wildlife right? Especially since the Kruger is the size of Wales.
Now, shrink it further to a game reserve of about 30 000 hectares (300 Km2). This land is privately owned and, again, fenced.
What about a rhino in a zoo?
Does that still fit with your idea of wildlife?
I know I’m playing with semantics, but since these animals are undomesticated, they are, in theory at least, wildlife.
Environmental organisations and agencies sell beautiful postcard pictures of free roaming animals across vast expanses of luxuriant vegetation, because it appeals to people.
But, are those pictures a true representation of how things really are?
In reality, our best efforts to conserve species reside in heavily managed, fenced parks and reserves.
In the capitalism driven world we live in, money is the sinews of war.
The best conservation efforts in Africa are a result of wild animals having more monetary value than cattle. Inducing former farmers to convert their land into game reserves or hunting lodges.
Landowners in South Africa are willing to pay the heavy price tag to protect their iconic species for their business.
In other countries where wild animals are left to roam in open parks, their numbers are plummeting from hunting and poaching by local people, who fight for their own survival.
Wildlife has become a commodity
The conservation success stories of South Africa – despite increasing poaching pressures – are a product of monetising wildlife.
The hunting and tourism industries are booming behind the BIG 5 flag. They have created millions of jobs, and pumped millions of dollars in an economy relying on the survival of these key umbrella species.
Actual conservation happens when it is financially viable
Continuously asking for donations is not a sustainable, nor reliable, way of conserving animals. Especially on the African continent, where instability is rampant.
“Human tragedy often begets ecological disaster” (J.S Adams 1992).
So, the reality is, like your sofa, wildlife is a commodity. If the demand is high enough, there is a benefit to supply the product.
As long as people are willing to spend substantial amounts of money to come and see (even more to hunt) animals “in the wild”, there will be a benefit to keeping them, despite growing human pressure on their habitat.
As long as nature sells, companies will keep investing in it.