Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In-Situ Conservation Part II

But creating wildlife parks creates jobs, doesn’t it? And it allows for tourists who bring money, right? Well, while Berenty certainly does have a large staff of guides, guards for the park, maids for the rooms, cooks and servers for the restaurant, the sisal plantation down the road employs far more people, and I’m sure it produces more cash.

Trash burning by sisal field
Madagascar is currently in the midst of trying to hold elections for a new president after a coup-d’état. The election keeps getting pushed back and people protest and mini-buses (the main mode of transportation for Malagasy people) are occasionally attacked. While the violence currently appears to be limited to Malagasy and tourists have not been targeted (at the time of this post), tourists have reservations about coming here. It takes time and the right conditions for a country to become a tourist destination.

Rice fields in the countryside
Saotra, my assistant here, told me that he saw a boy with a bamboo lemur for a pet. Bamboo lemurs are critically endangered and were only recently discovered. I was immediately sad to hear this, but I know that every bamboo lemur counts when there are so few of them. For this boy, he may see a bunch in his “back yard” and not realize that the few in his “back yard” are all that is left. He does not know that scientists have only begun to study these creatures. He does not know that the species may not survive. And, even if he knows these facts, that bamboo lemurs are critically endangered, this may not have any real meaning to him. Having a pet bamboo lemur may just seem cool!

Sisal plantation where spiny forest once stood
Conservation efforts within a country must be undertaken only with substantial understanding of the life of the local people. Is the government stable? What are the religious beliefs of the local people? Is hunting primates taboo or is it allowed? Why? What are people’s choices in terms of jobs (are there any jobs)? It’s insanity to walk into a community, educate that community on how rare their primates are, and expect them to stop hunting primates if their religion/spirituality tells them hunting primates is a way to appease the gods or if hunting primates and other wildlife is the only way of keeping their bellies full.

Successful in-situ conservation efforts understand the local people they work with. Some examples of efforts that have had great success include Gorilla Doctors, which brings trained veterinarians to treat mountain gorillas harmed in snares or with other illness/ailments.

Critical thinking: You’re a conservation biologist tasked with educating a local community about the unique wildlife that surrounds their village. What must you take into consideration before attempting to your assignment?

Critical thinking: What might the locals be able to teach YOU about the wildlife surrounding their village?

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