Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Revisionist historians

20 May, 2011 - 09:55 -- John Burton

Among the many things that get me annoyed is revisionist history.

I was surprised to read on the WWF website today that WWF was one of the founders of the TRAFFIC Group in 1976. Unfortunately the history of conservation has only recently become a subject in its own right (notably with Peter Marren, in the Collins New Naturalist series).

I happened to be the first Chairman of the TRAFFIC group, which monitors international wildlife trade. I also happened to be the Secretary of the Fauna Preservation Society (now Fauna and Flora International) and it was under FFPS auspices that TRAFFIC was founded (as a specialist Group of the Survival Service Commission). WWF had nothing to do with it in the early days.

In fact there was no love lost between myself and WWF in those days, since I suggested (at a geological symposium) that the Panda was a post-Pleistocene relict, and probably doomed to extinction. Because of that, the Chairman of WWF called for my resignation from FFPS but Lord Craigton, the FFPS Chairman stoutly defended me.  After I resigned as chairman of TRAFFIC in the early 1980s, WWF did become more and more involved, but I had always opposed any single organisation funding TRAFFIC because of the danger of compromising its independence, which was essential because of the nature of some of its investigations. But some of this will have to wait until I write my memoirs.

WWF has done some great things in its time, so why does it need to claim other organisations successes? And who invents these things? I checked the TRAFFIC website, and the Wikipedia entry, neither of which give any great detail, but then history is not TRAFFIC's priority.  Nonetheless, a history might be useful -- I am a great believer in not repeating the mistakes of the past; there is a lot that can be learned from history.

And for that reason I have been working with Simon Stuart, the Chairman of the Species Survival Commission of IUCN, to initiate a history of the SSC. Already much of the documentation has been lost, so if any of the readers out in cyberspace had contact with the SSC back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and would like to share memories, please email me and I will put you in touch with the right people.

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