Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Conservation's Dirty Secrets (Part 2)

21 June, 2011 - 11:20 -- John Burton

Well what a let down. Conservation (like almost every thing in the world) has a few problems. It also has skeletons in cupboards. But Joy Adamson was neither a conservationist, nor is her story a dirty secret.  Joy (nee  Friederike Victoria Gessner) was a first rate artist, who became a 'celeb' because of a book she wrote about her pet lion. Her story was quite peripheral to mainstream conservation, and happened  half a century ago and is very well known. Like Diane Fossey, she treated her staff badly, and was probably murdered by one of them.  And  no conservationist would consider Daphne Sheldrick's animal orphanage as playing a mainstream part in conservation. It has as much to do with real conservation as Orang-utan rescue centres, or most other wildlife rescue centres. They cannot be dismissed, but should not be confused with conservation.

And as for working with communities, there is nothing new in this; it's what we do. It has its problems. Communities rarely exist as cohesive entities, as anyone who has ever lived in a village (or listened to The Archers) will know. Just as Indigenous People are often almost impossible to define. These are all problems that conservationists such as myself have to work with, and in our case we do it by working with local NGOs who understand the community issues.

To summarise. The despatches programme was certainly unhelpful. It did not actually expose anything significant. It probably did not actually harm conservation, as I doubt anyone really committed to supporting conservation would take it seriously. But send your comments (and show your support for our work, if you can, with a donation). We really can demonstrate success through our partners.

Conservation's Dirty Secrets - Part 1.


Submitted by Chris on

I didn’t think much of it either.

I didn’t understand the reference to Attenborough at the beginning, or the story about Joy Adamson. As you say, everyone knows her story.

They also focused on particular, local issues, instead of the wider picture. It would be interesting to hear opinions about whether the national parks system actually works in developing countries. Instead, there was a 5 minute clip and a few accusations of human rights abuses in Kenya.

He constantly confused conservation with animal welfare, and focused a lot on saving amphibians and smaller species, without seeming to realise that if you manage to save the large ‘megafauna’ species, you’ll save the smaller species by proxy.

He didn’t seem to bother with the way charities spend their money, despite meeting the CI executive at his extremely plush office block.

He also, as you say, didn’t focus at all on population growth, and he seemed pretty dismissive of the plight of elephants, saying they were not endangered, and not bothering to explain that their status and numbers fluctuates widely throughout their range.

Submitted by Gavin on

The most important result of the programme is the response of stimulating debate and for opening up discussions which may take place as a result. Hopefully by talking with each other and ensuring the public understand the difference between animal welfare and conservation we can make improvements in what we do and how we are perceived. Certainly there is perhaps an opportunity to respond with a Documentary on tissues which were identified and ensure potential donors know where to put their funding.

Comparing elephants to coral reefs and Tigers to Toads is somewhat unscientific but not to your average viewer who will question making donations. Corruption is the greatest turnoff for all of us.

Submitted by John Burton on

I agree that it may well stimulate a proper, informed debate. But it’s a pity that this has to be initiated by such a poorly researched and ill-informed programme. But that is the problem of all such programmes. In one hour you cannot possibly deal with a subject as large and complex as ‘conservation’. Particularly when the issues involved vary geographically, so generalisations become nonsensical very easily. But I wonder how much impact this has had on donations to wildlife. A nice piece of research for some university students?

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