My Wildlife Worries — and Wonders
Gary Knell
1175

I too remember being entranced by my first and only encounter with African wildlife, also on safari in South Africa. Seeing elephants, rhinos and big cats in their (almost) natural habitat – actually enclosed in a private safari park – was awe inspiring. The potential loss for ever of these and many other creatures is an appalling thought and with goodness knows what consequences for both humans and the other surviving species of life on Earth. Of course everyone wants to save the elephants, rhinos, wild cats big and small from extinction and rightly vilify the organised criminals that organise the trade in endangered species for vast profit. But, and there is always a but, the solutions are not so simple. A lot of it comes down to the very unequal share of resources between rich and poor. I spend a lot of time on the beautiful nature island of Dominica in the Caribbean. Dominica is an important nesting site for a number of endangered turtle species including the increasingly rare hawksbill turtle. For a few weeks a year they come on land to lay their eggs in the same patch of sand before returning to sea for another year. During this time they are easy prey for local hunters and fisherman. And here is the difficulty. An adult turtle is worth around 2000 dollars to a fisherman, which is the best part of three/four months income to his family. Telling him that the turtle is more valuable alive as a tourist attraction than dead as turtle meat doesn’t make any sense to him. He doesn’t benefit from the tourist trade. He doesn’t own the hotels the tourists use, the airlines they arrive on, the tour buses they drive around in. Most of these are financed by foreign capital and any profits exported off Island. He doesn’t even grow most of the food the tourists eat on Island as much of this is imported to meet their tastes. I suspect much is the same in parts of Africa. For the local poachers there is good money to be made out of killing elephants and rhinos, money that they can’t easily earn through legitimate means due to the unequal access to education, jobs, land and capital. Until we can give local people a more equal stake in these resources it is hard to see how we can bring a halt to the devastating rate of loss of these irreplaceable creatures.