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What is wildlife conservation?


Introduction - Tom Opre (00:00):

Hey folks, this is Tom Opre, your host to understanding everything related to wildlife and habitat conservation. I ask the tough questions regarding man's impact on the world's wildlife. Raw and unfiltered, I strive to have you fully understand the real issues at hand. Our goal? Ensuring the world's wildlife and wildlife habitat exists forever. Sit back and enjoy another excellent discussion.

Tom Opre (00:23):

Hey folks, I'm Tom Opre here with Shepherd's of Wildlife Society. There are so many important things that we deal with every day. I mean, we're listening to things in the major news media about wildlife poaching. We're hearing about conservation issues. We're talking about the very essence of our planet. And today I'm really happy to say that I have a great friend here—Professor Adam Hart from the University of Gloucestershire. Maybe if you just give us a quick rundown, maybe in a minute or so, just who you are and what your background is.

Adam Hart (00:55):

Yeah, sure. I'm Professor of Science Communication at the University of Gloucestershire, but my background interestingly is actually I originated as an entomologist. So I did my PhD looking at insects and I moved from there into kind of general ecology. So I started looking at all sorts of things. And from there, I developed a really strong interest in African ecology. And that's really developed since about 2001, but actually really strongly over the last decade or so. So now I've got several strands of research that I do, but quite a lot of what I do is based in Southern Africa, looking at Southern African ecology but also looking at big conservation issues. So from the very small to large wat to look at it. But it's a way of bringing together a lot of those interactions and a lot of big issues. Actually, they're all interconnected, you know, science these days is much more interconnected than it ever was.

Tom Opre (01:43):

The topic for today's discussion is, What is wildlife conservation? It's become a very ambiguous word, I would think, because I've seen the word used in many different manners, by many different people and organizations. What I would like to do is try to maybe get our hands around, our heads around, what conservation truly is. Webster's defines it as a planned careful preservation and protection of something. Another definition is the careful use of natural resources. And so when you start using the word preservation and conservation, they, they kind of their head-butting each other in the English language. And so I see people say, I'm a conservation filmmaker, I'm a conservation biologist. We see people out there that say, hey, I'm a conservationist, we hear all this terminology where people use it.But really, what do you think conservation is? Wildlife conservation specifically?

Adam Hart (02:55):

It's a good question. Isn't it? I mean, look, I'm sitting in one of my daughter's bedrooms here. It happens to be one of the quieter rooms in the house. And I suppose the way I look at conservation is, is making sure that the planet is, is at least no worse, you know, for her next, in the end, of the next generation than it is now. And I think we achieve that through lots of different ways. You've already hooked upon the big, the big clash really in sort of conservation circles, which is between preservation, yessentially excluding people from the natural environment, almost treating the wilderness as an other entity and sort of humans are so that the kind of stain upon it and trying to exclude us from it, and that's where you develop things like the fortress conservation model, which it works wonderfully, right?

A mile away there's a nature reserve. No ones building a house on it. No one lives in it. It works wonderfully here, but that's because this is a setup within the United Kingdom. That type of forest conservation doesn't work so well when the habitats you want to preserve have within them people. And those people may have lived there for a very long time. So that's when you start getting into the idea of conservation being the wise use of resources and integrating people with it. And we see this playing out all the time. There's a movement at the moment looking to sort of make one-third, two-thirds model. You've probably come across this idea that humans live in one-third and we leave the rest, to nature like as if we're not a part of nature and not relying upon it.

And I think that’s where these conflicts come because certainly from the way I live I don't need to use the natural world as my resource because I've outsourced that to other people. And then I go and purchase it through a shop. So I'm not connected to that anymore. If I'm going to do a building project starting next year, I won't be going and mining the gravel myself or cutting down trees and clearing timber myself. I'll buy it. Someone else will do that. My mark upon the world will still be there, but I don't see it. I've outsourced it. I've sanitized it. Same with food, same with medicine, but for a lot of people around the world, that is not the way that they live—they are living within the landscape. They are part of the landscape and in a way that's very fundamental.

And I think that's when we start to get into this idea of conservation being that, in fact, I think you told me this definition a while ago, was the wise use of resource. It's about striking a balance between what

we take and what we give and doing it in a way that certainly doesn't make it any worse. And ideally, of course, given the state of the world and where we've gone makes it better. And I think that's definitely achievable with the right mindset.

Tom Opre (05:28):

That's the thing I think a lot of folks, they seem to live in this vacuum. We've talked a lot in the past, at least I have about this separation many folks in the Western modern world have, because we are able to outsource for all these resource. We’re able to have them packaged all up. There was a survey done in the Chicago public school district a couple of years ago, pre-COVID. But 47% of high schoolers didn't know their hamburger came from an animal. They thought it just came from the grocery store. So the outsourcing that's going on, the disconnect we have in our society, has probably led quite often to this misconception about what conservation is, because as you mentioned to me we are animals.

We are a part of this ecosystem, this planet, and unfortunately, or fortunately, we have the biggest footprint on this planet. We're the most destructive animals on this planet. And being a good steward of the land, being a wise wildlife conservationist, my definition has always been that we're going to utilize these resources. And if we don't utilize them properly, then we're going to destroy them. And there's all kinds of history, human history. We've done that right here in North America with the European , Northern European invasion in the sixteen, seventeen and eighteen hundreds. And of course, we realized here in America, the United States, in the late eighteen hundreds. We had president Theodore Roosevelt said, "Hey, wait a minute, we're destroying all this. Let's do something about this." And actually created the Boone and Crockett Club, which is the oldest wildlife conservation organization, that I'm aware of, in the world.

So, science, you guys are butting heads all the time, too. I keep track of your stuff on social media. Obviously in this day and age your opinions aren't liked by a certain segment of folks out there who I would call preservationists. They want to let the animals go do their thing and want humans to stay out of the equation and let God sort it out. I did an interview with Dr. Valerious Geist, the late Dr. Geist, who was just a phenomenal researcher and scientist on wildlife biology issues. And he said, "You know, Tom, God's not going to sort it out, never has and never will." Yet we're here having this huge impact on the planet. How can science help us better understand wildlife conservation in a way that actually will be beneficial to wildlife and humans?

Adam Hart (08:00):

That is a tricky one. And I think ultimately actually it probably isn't going to be science. We can sit and we can tell people numbers. So, for example, one of the debates that I'm often involved with is the sort of trophy hunting debate. And it's trying to tell people, listen, actually the way you think it is, isn't the way it works. Here are the figures, here's all the numbers. Actually, that doesn't reach people. What reaches a lot of people is the emotional images they see of people killing animals, seemingly fun, and that's what puts them off. And I think we need to address that. We need to accept that, but we also need to bring a different spin to it. And I think for me, it throws back to what we were talking about earlier, which is the way that people live.

It's not our decision from the West, when we outsource all these things, to say to a nation like Namibia, for example, or a conservancy in Zambia how to manage those resources. We don't live in their shoes. And what's more, I don't think many people actually have any concept of what those shoes even look like. I was having a conversation, I'm researching a book at the moment, looking at human wildlife conflict, and specifically actually fatal attacks from wildlife, and crocodiles feature heavily in this. And there's lots of studies of crocodile predation on humans. And one of the big factors is crocodiles live in the water. If you stay away from the water, you're probably fairly safe from a crocodile, but you can't stay away from the water if the water source is your source of water and where you do your washing and bathing and everything else. And I was having this conversation with someone, and they sort of said, well, why don't they just have taps in the house? It's ridiculous. Why are they putting themselves in harm's way?

I Ieventually managed to get through to them that this isn't the way that they lived and they kind of backed down from it, but their initial thinking about the way that people live was very much centered around the way that they live and then just transposing it. And I think that lack of empathy, and it's a lack of understanding, but it's also a lack of empathy and experience of the way people in other parts of the world live and the pressures upon them and their relationship with the natural world, which is very, very different from the relationship of most people driving around outside with the natural world.

I think until we can get that message across, that the idea there can be a utilization of nature that's sustainable—that's good. That is, in fact, conservation can improve habitats and so on. I think is a difficult conversation to have. And the reality is we can't take everyone on a three-week field course to, Zambia or South Africa or whatever. We can't do that. And I think that's where we have to be telling

better stories. And I think those stories have to be focused around people and their requirements and needs, and then bringing the wildlife and the nature and that relationship with nature in. And I think that's, for me, really the best way. Well, I'm talking to you. That's what Killing the Shepherd is kind of about. And I think that's the type of storytelling we need more of actually, because I think is what hits home for people. They start to understand a little bit more about the situation than just somebody killing something, which, let's be honest, pointless killing of wildlife is clearly not conservation. So these sorts of things are the tension now. I think we have to identify those stories.

Tom Opre (11:13):

Yeah, I hear what you say. The killing of wildlife is not conservation, yet, it can be argued very successfully the value that's brought about by the killing of wildlife, in whatever form it takes: killing an animal for like you mentioned, the tourist hunting trade or specifically for the selling of meat, like what they're doing in South Africa, with their ranching for wildlife situation, there where they literally are taking animals which have lived on the landscape for eons and have evolved there, and replacing the domestic stock, which finds it a whole lot harder for it to survive. Iit wasn't meant to be there in the first place.

Adam Hart (11:54):

The productivity is very low compared to antelopes, absolutely.

Tom Opre (11:58):

Exactly. When we see this situation where people are concerned about this disconnect we're talking about in utilizing animals for food and other things like for medicine, there's all kinds of things we have animal parts and pieces in. We've outsourced all of our killing. And I ask people in my presentations, “Hey, how many of you have bought a McDonald's Happy Meal?" And of course everybody will raise their hand. Okay, let me explain something to you. There's nothing happy about a Happy Meal. You understand? There's nothing Happy Meal —doesn't meeter if you've ordered the chicken nuggets or the cheeseburger, you've paid someone to raise and slaughter an animal in order to feed your kid. I did some research for this book I'm writing about the film. But without the death of 72 billion land animals every year on this planet, humanity pretty much ceases to exist.

Adam Hart (12:55):

And you can have any sort of dietary preference you want and any form of lifestyle you want, but you're still set in a house that used to be habitat. You're still eating food that used to be, that was grown on area that used to be habitat. And no matter what you do, we have an impression on the world, but we, I think many people just choose to ignore that, or they look at what they see as being a worst thing and go, yeah, but ignore what I'm doing. Look at this terrible thing. And, and that's a big problem. It's not equating—it's not having any realization of your impact on the world. And I see this as well with people that sort of would advance other models of conservation. So people are very keen on tourism, and tourism is a wonderful thing. I mean photo tourism. And it's a wonderful thing when it works. And there's no doubt about it. We've seen some of the issues over the last year about sort of when it doesn't work. But what's clear is that many people have no impression of the negativity of that as an actio. They'll think that that's a wonderful thing, but they don't think about the enormous carbon footprint of thousands of tourists arriving, the paving and roads that's required, the hotel and infrastructure, the extractive industry that is required to build the infrastructure and then to furnish the tourists. And, of course, all those tourists love to eat exotic game meats. I've sat in a very nice lodge in South Africa, overhearing a conversation about how dreadful hunting is and everything, and then both people there ordered hams hock and, you know, the,, impala steak, and there was absolutely no shred of sort of realization [connection] of what they were saying, or indeed, the fact that the particular property they were on used to be basically a cattle ranch and was now a thriving nature reserve that effectively, that also, of course, extracted some of the animals to pay its way.

So there's all these kinds of disconnects. And I think that that comes really from two things. It comes, first of all, from a lack of knowledge. And I guess we can address that with education in all of its different guises, but then there's also—it's not just enough to sort of be telling people something. Someone has to make the decision to take that information on board and perhaps turn over the way they think. And that is arguably a harder thing because actually it requires a bit of humility, and it requires people to sit

I remember the first time I went to Africa back in 2001, you know, I was fresh out of the university degree. I expected to land and basically be looking upon, you know, David Attenborough documentary. I went to Malawi. I saw an awful lot of age-related funerals going down the road. I saw a lot of kids selling mice by the side of the road. I saw a lot of burnt landscapes and smelled a lot of charcoal. I saw one hippo floating in the river next actually to a dead person, but I didn't see very much else. Then we went across to Zambia, and I'm literally on this trip across, like just looking out the window, trying to find

wildlife and birds, cause I was dead keen on this stuff—still am—you know, a few birds and stuff, but goats, sheep. Then we go to a property, and I'm in there and it's suddenly, that's what I was looking for, right? There's stuff everywhere. There's a reticulated African rock python and a rather massive thing being dragged off the bed I'm about to sleep on, you know. Why are there so much wildlife there?

And that was when someone turned to me and said, "Well, you know, because we farmed them. You know, we're not farming them, but we encourage them here. And we've found that through hunting. And that, for me, it was just a real kind of, "What?" I'd just done a degree that included conservation biology. I was, I thought, pretty well-informed. I had no idea that this is what went on. It was kind of shocking, you know, looking through the SCI catalog and seeing that the dummy porcupine, skull legs and stuff, and all this kind of stuff—as someone that likes data and wildlife, it was kind of interesting. I takes a bit of intellectual humility to sort of step back and reassess how you think about the world. And, and I think that is a big problem that we have to overcome, because a lot of people get very entrenched in their views, particularly when animals are concerned and when perceived cruelty to animals is concerned. And turning that around, I think that's very difficult. I think for some people we'll never turn them around, but I think other people can be shown that actually the world is a different place than they think it is.

Tom Opre (17:01):

As you mentioned earlier, we just completed this film, Killing the Shepherd, which is just starting to run in the theaters here in the United States. And we'll be online after the U.S. Thanksgiving, the end of November. And in that story, we're telling the situation on the ground, the details of what these people, an indigenous, rural community trying to survive and eke out a subsistence living in a place where it's tough to live, even if you have everything you do need. And in doing our film festival showings we have these opportunities to showcase the film in front of a lot of different people from all over the world. We just got back from Spain the other day, and the responses are just amazing.

I call it the "duh" moment. People watch the film. Then everybody says, "Oh my, I can't believe these people live this way. So impoverished and their children being picked off by crocodiles on the side of the river and eaten." But that's the reality of these people. Then when you explain to them like, hey, here's the benefits which would come from conservation, the wise use of this wildlife resource. If you're not making any money and you're not seeing some sort of, or realizing a benefit, then these people aren't going to take care of it. They're going to destroy it. And that's the case in this film. They had destroyed

almost all their wildlife resources, and now they're building it back. From the first year I went there, you'd be lucky to see ten, fifteen, twenty animals in a week. Now, five years later, you go out and you see three or four hundred animals in a day. It's just amazing how mother nature can recorrect the situation. But the "duh" moment came for these people in the theater was at the end. Should these people realize—these indigenous folks realize—a benefit from their wise use of the wildlife? And of course everybody was well. "Yeah, of course they should. It's only a few animals. We're going to have a lot more leftover because everything's reproducing.”

It's just amazing.

Adam Hart (18:55):

Yeah, it's show, don't tell. We see it when we take students on field courses, and I've taken private groups down to Southern Africa before as well. You'll sort of talk before and you'll say, "Look, we're going to go to some places. We'll be driving around. The guy that drives us around will likely have a rifle. It’s possible an animal may get shot and stuff. And you have to kind of prepare people for the fact that if the animal is injured or whatever, something has to happen. And then you sort of start exploring with them how these places work and you can see for some people, they're just like, oh, hang on a minute. And then, within about a day or two of getting down there, they're like, oh yeah, of course, you're right. It's the "duh" moment. It's like, ah. It makes sense when you can see it. It doesn't necessarily make so much sense when someone's trying to explain it.

Tom Opre (19:39):

Now we see pictures of literally dozens and dozens of safari vehicles with people hanging off them to photograph the wild animals that are literally, in some cases, steps away from the vehicles. This obviously creates another situation, the habitualization of wildlife, which we'll talk about in another discussion someday. But the reality I hear from these people is at the end of the day, it's not been a great day seeing all the different species, the big five or anything like that. It's only been a great day if they watched a lion or a leopard, a cheetah kill something.

Adam Hart (20:21):

Yeah, it's extremely—I'm always disappointed when I'm going around with people and that's their approach. I can remember going around in a quite big place in South Africa. And we were looking in, and there was some wildebeest and, and there was a really beautiful moment actually, because there was a

lovely—cause I can close my eyes and visualize it—there's this lovely kind of grass bank or sort of fell going up. It was beautifully backlit. And they were that classic line of wildebeest going around and just the golden hour and all of that, right? And the birds, you've got the cape turtle dove giving it in the background. It was an iconic image. I'm actually gotten goosebumps describing it to you. And there was an Australian lady in there, and I could just hear her chattering away in the background. She was complaining because we weren't getting any closer to them. I don't know what they wanted us to do charge across the veld trying to catch up with them? But there was no appreciation of the moment. You're right. If a lion had charged out of nowhere and taken one of them down, she probably would have been appeased in some way, but she would have been disappointed she wasn't closer. People have become—you talk about wildlife being habituated—and I think that's one of the sort of sub lethal effects of tourism that probably will likely to be quite important, but I think people have become a bit too disconnected to these animals and they have an expectation of what a safari will be in. They're not interested in the species.

They've not heard of you. You can show someone a Tsebe or a Hartebeest or something they want to see they want to see like the big five. Actually they don't want to see the big five because when you show them a Cape Buffalo, they usually don't understand what a Cape Buffalo is. They think they know what the fifth animal in the big five is, but they can only name the others. I remember going to the pyramids in Egypt and I overhearing people complaining about them as they look exactly what they expected them to look like. That was their complaint. And it was because they had seen the pyramids so many times that they've become habituated to the idea of them. And I think that may be one of the problems with people viewing wildlife. They've become habituated to what they expect. They don't appreciate it. They love animals, but they don't love nature.

Tom Opre (22:28):

Tthat's a great comment there. They love animals, but they don't love nature. And that's the thing is as human beings, we are part of this world, this planet, this worldwide ecosystem and all the other sub ecosystems that are around the planet. To sum up this conversation, what is wildlife conservation? What is your idea? As you're an educator yourself, try to educate folks that don't understand what nature is. Don't love nature. What is wildlife conservation?

Adam Hart (23:06):

Wildlife conservation is, is seeking to conserve, seeking to keep the interactions that we have out there in the natural world, not just the species, but the way that they live and the habitat on which they live. The entire thing. It's not enough to focus on the iconic species, the charismatic species, the lions and the elephants. It's their interactions with their environment, with all the other animals, with plants, with the fungi, with the bacteria, with the insects, all of that lumped together. And fundamentally what that comes down to is conserving habitat. If you can serve habitats, you are conserving the species on it. And if you use those species in wise way. If you use them n ways that are sustainable. If you don't over extract, then they will recover very, very well, even if you've overused them. And once they get to the right level, they'll stay there. So it's really all about protecting and using natural resources in way that mean they're there for the next generation and the generation after that,

Tom Opre (24:04):

But an excellent conversation with you, Adam, how about you tell the people, how can they reach you and be able to follow you? I know you're on the BBC radio, but give us an idea of where folks can follow you.

Adam Hart (24:15):

Yeah, if you go on to Twitter, I tweet as Adam Hart science. So that's a good place to find me. I'm also on Instagram, although I don’t tend to use that quite as much, but I'm working on getting better at that. And yeah, if you want to keep, keep an eye out on what I'm doing, that's, that's a good place to find out. There's a, I made a series of radio programs. I think that might be of interest to people over the summer, which were available at world service, looking at our relationship with predators, lions, tigers, crocodiles. We mentioned earlier and bears as another four of those in the pipeline coming out, hopefully over the next few months as well, looking at perhaps looking at hyenas, leopards and a few other creatures as we go around. So yeah, follow me on Twitter. That's probably the easiest way to keep on top of things.

Tom Opre (24:54):

That's great. You know, folks, if you want to know about wildlife conservation, habitat stewardship, you want to know where the come to end all is about this. You're going to be able to find it the shepherds and wildlife society's website. So go to You can also follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. And thank you professor Hart for being a part of this and we look forward to many, many more conversations. And hopefully it will be one of these days down in Africa, together working on a project. So thank you for your time. All right, cool.


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