Solving dilemmas through experience
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CTA. 1999. Solving dilemmas through experience. Spore 81. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/48483
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore81.pdf
Endangered species, decreasing biodiversity, threatened wetlands, and lakes that are running dry are widely acknowledged problems. Many policymakers and experts are convinced that they will find the one way forward to nature conservation. This...
Endangered species, decreasing biodiversity, threatened wetlands, and lakes that are running dry are widely acknowledged problems. Many policymakers and experts are convinced that they will find the one way forward to nature conservation. This claim is ridiculous. The right way forward is a process of trial and error. We should acknowledge that now. I grew up in a village next to the Murchison Falls Park in northern Uganda. It is difficult to forget the sleepless nights when people beat saucepans to chase away the elephants that had entered from the park. They trampled and ate the crops and wreaked havoc. Later I found out that the nuisance caused by wildlife is a common problem across Africa. Animals such as lions and leopards threaten people directly and prey on livestock and chicken. Later, as a researcher in the same park, I realised the complexity of the choices. Both the needs of local people and those of conservation are real and urgent. I am convinced that the only way forward is to work together to seek meaningful balances of the needs. Ideally, we should find a situation where parks and reserves are no longer necessary, where biodiversity is conserved, animals feel safe to move freely, and people feel at ease with the animals. In the 1950s, parks were the predominant concept for nature conservation. The basic idea was to find suitable areas, fence them physically and legally to keep humans out and let nature take its course. Later, we saw many changes. It became impossible to leave it to nature. Numbers of herbivores rapidly built up in many parks due to reduced migratory range and reduced hunting pressure in the protected areas. Consequently, woody vegetation rapidly disappeared, which was disastrous for biodiversity. Although these changes were very visible, the stakeholders did not properly understand the overall dynamics. Since the early 1990s, people's participation has become a popular concept. There are various examples of controlled hunting schemes in combination with efforts to develop tourism. In many cases there is a lack of information and the people living in the areas do not feel in control. In countries such as Angola, Zambia, and Mauritania, most parks and protected areas exist only on maps. They were designated by experts and approved by national parliaments but the people on the spot had no real say in this. Numbers of animals were overestimated with no systematic counting. Animal numbers also decreased due to poaching for meat, ivory, and rhino horn, and the civil wars in various African regions. The people were left disillusioned. Tourists stayed away, since there was nothing left to see. Successful game ranch management In wildlife conservation policies, most attention was given to nondestructive uses such as tourism. In Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Burkina Faso local village committees were created to decide on hunting quotas and on how the proceeds from hunting or tourism are shared. In southern Africa strong demand for game meat and trophies led to the creation of game ranches. Once people learn to keep wildlife like cane rats, wild pigs, or impalas, there should be less fighting over game remaining in the protected areas. To benefit more from this, a more favourable market environment and overall production infrastructure are required. Conservation of African wetlands and lakes faces similar challenges. In Lake Victoria, scientists discussed the introduction of large fish, which would feed on smaller species. Local fishermen would then need to catch few large fish rather than the small species. The Nile perch was found to have entered the lake anyway! The perch increased in numbers and eliminated most of the smaller fish, although these were of great value to the regionÕs socioeconomy. Other wetlands experienced similar impacts. Some were destroyed and so too the lives of people who subsisted on them. In the wetlands livelihoods are intimately linked to the environment. Fishing, bird trapping, crop cultivation, and harvest of raw material for producing mats and boats, all form part of the local economy. But water is also used for supplying water and electricity to towns and for irrigation. Construction of dams is another serious threat. The interests of local people are never a priority. Informed debates among stakeholders and trials are essential. Conservation processes should be designed to facilitate the accumulation of experiences. It is like solving a complex and dynamic puzzle. This calls for good educational systems. In the long run, future generations will take charge and we must develop a society that respects of sustainability.