Embracing the Unusual and Unexpected in Conservation

By Morgane Cournarie | October 13, 2021

Gorilla in Modika, Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park. Photo credit: M.Cournarie/WCS

Have you ever had a phone call with one of your bosses while you are in a bathroom stall? I have. Spoiler alert: no, I was not fired!

A few days after I started working in northeastern Madagascar, I had a briefing call with my boss. After a couple of minutes, he gently told me the noise in the background was very loud, and he could not hear me. As all offices were crowded and noisy, the only option was to quickly jump into the bathroom. I locked the door and sat carefully on the toilet, with my computer on my lap.

No need to describe how stupid I felt. Worse I cannot recall what drove me to naively tell my boss where I was, but I did. He started laughing, but not judging, and kindly teased me about what we must do sometimes to make things work. We ended our call and as I walked out of the bathroom I thought is that what being a good manager is? Could I ever be a manager like that?

One year and a half later, I stepped out of a canoe into the middle of one of the largest remaining intact equatorial forests in Central Africa. Along the Sangha river, the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park lies at the heart of one of the richest and most biologically integral forests on earth, hosting thousands of marvelous creatures, from forest elephants, buffalos and gorillas, to pythons, pangolins and plantain-eater.

That Monday morning as the sun rose, the park staff gathered to watch Fifi Madzimo — one of our best rangers — as she removed her cap and respectfully raised the Congolese flag. As the staff sang the national anthem, everyone got delightfully distracted by Freddy, who found it the perfect time to jump and run around like a crazy fool, expressing his antelope joy and love of life.

“As the staff sang the national anthem, everyone got delightfully distracted by Freddy, who found it the perfect time to jump and run around like a crazy fool, expressing his antelope joy and love of life.”

Freddy, a young duiker, was rescued from poachers by the ecoguards of the Nouabalé-Ndoki Foundation. The contrast between the seriousness of the rangers, our ambassadors, and armed law enforcement on the one hand, and that little naïve guy racing around on the other, captured both the precious and the precarious in conservation.

Protecting the environment, in Northern Congo. Photo credit: C. Kolopp/WCS

At the Wildlife Conservation Society, we use sound science and evidence to inform and guide our conservation actions. We have published thousands of articles published in peer reviewed studies. We have technology to communicate with rangers, even when they are patrolling deep in the forest.

We have research sites with more than 20 years of experience observing gorillas and chimpanzees, providing invaluable guidance to logging companies to reduce their impacts on great ape populations. We have close partnerships with communities living around the park, our best allies for conservation.

“Conserving nature is hard but we achieve remarkable things when we allow ourselves to accept and appreciate interruptions to our routines and treat one another and nature with reverence and compassion.”

But this mix of wonderful and strangely different situations with the reverent and ebullient communion of people and wildlife struck me as something deeper to consider. To reach ever greater impacts and successes in conservation, we must rely not only on our technical expertise and our commitment to engage honorably with local communities, but also on our respect for nature and our respect for one another.

Touraco in the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park Headquarters. Photo credit: B. Evans/WCS

Conservation has much to do with an often forgotten piece of the puzzle: kindness, empathy, and mutual respect. We must consider our colleagues as equals and treat them with kindness. Our own individual well-being is closely linked to that of our neighbors, which in turn is inextricably linked to the health of nature.

When I’m feeling that the work of conservation is impossibly complicated, and everything seems overwhelming, I think of Fifi and Freddy, and that day in the bathroom. The unexpected and the unusual help me reflect that conserving nature is hard but that we can and do achieve remarkable things when we allow ourselves to accept and appreciate interruptions to our routines and treat one another and nature with reverence and compassion.

Morgane Cournarie is the Program Coordinator for WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) Congo

WCS Conservation Solutions

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WCS Conservation Solutions

By discovering how to save nature, we can inspire everyone to work with us to protect wildlife in the last wild places on Earth.

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WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

WCS Conservation Solutions

By discovering how to save nature, we can inspire everyone to work with us to protect wildlife in the last wild places on Earth.