Do not confuse 'conservation' for 'wildlife management'

2014-05-16 07:10

What is ‘wildlife management’?  What is ‘conservation’?  People all over the world are confused by these two terms which many have come to consider as meaning the same thing.  Does it really matter?  The people who use these words differently seem know what they mean.  So what the heck!    It wouldn’t matter it if wasn’t so important; and it IS important because the confusion is causing inestimable damage to Africa’s wildlife resources.  We MUST, therefore, strive to develop and to use a common vocabulary in which every word has a specific meaning.  Only when THAT happens will everybody be able to speak the same language.  Maybe, then, more common sense and rationality will prevail?

The parent concept in this conundrum is ‘Ecology’ – which is “the study of living organisms (plants and animals) and their environment; and their interaction with other living organisms which share that environment.”  Such studies produce results that enable us to better understand what is going on in nature.

‘Wildlife management’ flows from ecology.  It feeds on the results of scientific ecological research.

Wildlife management is the action man takes to achieve a man-desired objective.  There is nothing natural, therefore, about wildlife management.  It is an artefact of man.  It is man-conceived; man-designed; man-implemented; man-manipulated; and man is the principle beneficiary.  Why is man the beneficiary (?) - because he achieves his own objective.

Wildlife management CANNOT be applied to a ‘species’.  It can ONLY be applied to a species’ ‘individual populations’ which are all always in constant states of flux; and they are all very different, the one from the other.  Each and every population is also specifically affected by its own particular environment and, so, it has distinctive ‘management needs’.

Thus, if one population of an animal species (such as the African elephant) is in decline, THAT POPULATION should be subjected to ‘preservation management’ - that is, it should be ‘protected from harm’; and specific attention should be given to removing the cause, or the causes, of its decline.  I call such populations “UNSAFE”.

“SAFE” populations, by comparison, are either expanding or they are stable in number.  That means they can be subjected to ‘conservation management’.  This implies they can be ‘used sustainably’ by man.   This can involve a number of management practices such as capture and sale to people who want elephants; their harvest for their products - for ivory, hide, meat and bones; culling for scientific management reasons (which has nothing to do with the procurement of their products – although their products are not ‘wasted’); and hunting.

Within the wildlife management equation, the practices of ‘conservation’ and ‘preservation’ are linked -by reason of the fact that the ‘objective’ of ‘preservation management’ is to render an UNSAFE population SAFE; and once it becomes SAFE  it must – in accordance with the principles of management – THEN be subjected to ‘conservation’ management.

Both ‘conservation’ AND ‘preservation’, therefore, are equally important and interconnected (but very different) subordinate functions of wildlife management, so it is quite incorrect to consider that ‘conservation’ is the same thing as ‘wildlife management’.   Many people - even giant organisations like the United Nations; and big national wildlife agencies (like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in America & SANParks in South Africa) - are equally guilty of incorrectly using the word ‘conservation’ as though it means ‘wildlife management’.   This poses the question: When this happens, what terminology should we use to label the TRUE ‘conservation’ function in the practice of wildlife management?

The word ‘conservation’, in essence, means ‘the sustainable and wise use of living resources (plants and/or animals) for the benefit of mankind’.

This is not an exercise in semantics.  It has huge repercussions throughout the world with regard to the general public’s perceptions about Africa’s wildlife and its essential management; and Africa’s wildlife is coming off second best in the ensuing battles.  The next essay in this series - “Forces at Play (5)” – will put this matter into better perspective.

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