by Richard Bonham
Although it is impossible to predict the long-term future of Africa’s wilderness areas – with negative forces at work today that include global climate change, seemingly inexorable human population growth, and the increasing misuse of scarce natural resources – there is a discernible path forward that Big Life can and must pursue to provide the solutions necessary to sustain Africa’s wildlife for the foreseeable future.
Without these solutions in place near-term, there is no long-term future for Africa’s wildlife – other than in glorified zoos -- even if the global and continent-wide negative forces mentioned above are somehow controlled in time.
Here are the solutions Big Life can provide for the foreseeable future.
First, as prices for illegal ivory, rhino horn, and lion claws continue to soar, and the demand for game meat continues to rise, Big Life must continue to expand and strengthen its resources on the ground to stem the killing of wildlife by human beings for whatever reason. But this battle cannot be won by guns and boots alone.
The outcome will instead be determined by whether or not the communities that live with wildlife are brought on side with conservation – that these communities actually choose conservation as a preferred way of life – and whether or not the demand for wildlife products and game meat can be greatly reduced at the buyer’s end of the distribution chain.
Second, as local communities are the ultimate custodians of wildlife areas, they must reap economic benefits from their tolerance of these animals that offset the economic losses otherwise suffered from human-wildlife conflict and the sharing of finite natural resources. Big Life can help make this possible -- not only by providing more conservation-based jobs, but also through compensation to offset verifiable economic losses due to wildlife, and through financial incentives to reward local communities for setting aside a portion of their land for wildlife conservation areas and migration corridors.
Third, Big Life can and must play its part in the political sphere as well: locally, nationally, and internationally. Governments must be persuaded to share more equitably the income produced by wildlife tourism with those most affected, to better protect wildlife and scarce natural resources, and to govern more honestly.
Big Life’s recent merger with the Maasailand Preservation Trust extends its capacity to help provide these solutions for the foreseeable future. Our combined efforts have come a long way over the past twenty years but we still have a long way to go and time is not on our side.