The Number 1 Fatal Flaw in Conservation Efforts and 4 Ways to Fix it

Don’t get me wrong, conservation efforts have had many wins. These days, however, the question is: does everyone win equally? In the following extreme example from Tanzania, where locals retaliated against endangered elephants to provoke local conservationists, the answer is “no.” The locals weren’t inherently evil, but they were frustrated with being excluded in conservation efforts.

Conservation’s Fatal Flaw

As reported in New Scientist, in 2009 in Tanzania, angry local villagers forced a herd of critically endangered and protected elephants off a cliff where six elephants lost their lives. Hatred, anger and frustration prevailed over the fact that six sentient beings were dead. The crowd erupted in triumph and many proceeded to take selfie pictures with the carcasses to remember their victory.

This wasn’t a savage victory; it was more like an act of desperation. The locals reached their “breaking point.” Farmers were sick and tired of losing their crops, as protected elephants freely raided and destroyed them. The problem, however, doesn’t really lie with the elephants, but rather with the people protecting the elephants: conservationists and government authorities.

While the poor farmer had to helplessly watch his family’s livelihood destroyed by elephants, he also had to helplessly watch others growing rich because of elephants. Many locals will see conservationists as the source of their problems; conservationists brought the animal or wildlife cause to the forefront and to the attention of local authorities, and beyond.

As New Scientist describes:

Conservation policies had restricted access to ancestral lands, reducing the settlement to an island in a sea of game reserves. Locals watched powerlessly as private safari operators and government officials became rich from the booming tourist trade, while their crops were regularly destroyed.

It’s also about human dignity. It’s speciesist, I know, but the prevailing belief is that humans are above animals. So when people feel that their leadership is more invested in animals than them, it’s a recipe for disaster. These tensions and dynamics between locals and conservationists and authorities aren’t limited to Africa or elephants. We see similar scenarios all over the world in situations where ”[t]igers and leopards have been beaten to death, wolves are illegally hunted and birds of prey fall victim to poison.”

The number one fatal flaw in conservations efforts is excluding locals from those conservation efforts. Solving the tension between locals and conservationists is going to come down to respect. We have to respect locals enough to include them in matters that directly impact their lives. Oftentimes, these people will have long histories of exploitation and disenfranchisement that don’t need to be added to. That way, they’ll be invested enough to carry over and extend that respect to animals and wildlife. We’ve seen that when they have “a social or financial stake” and feel empowered, then cooperative conservation is a real possibility.

4 Ways Conservationists Can Help More Wildlife and People

Mongabay highlights how Nona Shanee and colleagues thought they were just going to Peru to help the yellow-tailed woolly monkey, but as they would learn, they were also there to help the local campesinos.

Deforestation, hunting and wildlife trafficking were the norm in yellow-tailed woolly monkey habitat, and the monkey was on the brink of extinction. The marginalized campesinos had earned an infamous reputation in the country that started when “industry representatives” (involved in deforestation, hunting and wildlife trafficking) blamed the campesinos for the environmental and wildlife degradation. This portrayal of bad campesinos caught fire with the government and the general public.

Unfortunately, the idea of a bad campesino helped the conservation cause. As Shanee explained in Mongabay:

In order to capture funding, [big conservation groups] need to create a spectacle presenting themselves as conservation heroes fighting against ‘bad’, illicit destroyers… when projects fail because of institutional inefficiencies, campesino nature is often blamed.

Obviously, the campesinos aren’t going to want to help the groups that vilify them.

Shanee’s team could’ve gone the typical conservation route of excluding the locals and focusing on authorities, but they didn’t. Instead they turned the story around by adopting four main principles and turned the campesinos into allies, not enemies:

1) Conservation groups need to be flexible.

2) Groups need to include locals in their conservation efforts where locals are in lead roles.

3) Groups need to support local communities in their struggles that aren’t conservation related.

4) Groups need to stop using locals as scapegoats and change the rhetoric from negative to positive.

By working with — not against — the campesinos, Shanee’s team scored some major victories. One major highlight is how preliminary research indicates that there’s been “an increase in average group size and individual densities of around 30 percent since our first study” of the yellow-tailed woolly monkey.

Photo Credit: Frontierofficial


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Colleen Prinssen
Colleen Prinssen3 years ago

finaly, care2 is posting "good things" and not painting all elephant killers as "greedy bozos with tiny genetalia who need to stafify bloodlust and get a trophy"

and to see that conservation efforts have those flaws, and loopholes.

and the hard line between "animal lives and human suffering". I've seen enough misantrophy to know that, it looks like more animal lovers would say horrible things about those locals dying of hunger, vs the elephants. "why don't they?" why don't the animal lovers then mail them food?

I have seen enough people here, and on facebook who act like they get off on "oh well to many humans anyway" or "they deserved it because of these reasons" all the while going on about how kind and compassionate they are(because they sign petitions and donate to questionable orginizations)

with situations as this, most people here, seem to say things like "then move into the cities, go vegan! it's 2015 for God'ssake! move and evolve"
should we be the ones to police the world?

this is a human rights issue. I've seen enough drama to think "animal rights trump human rights", and by human rights, that means allowing people to live in their cultural ways, and not forcing people do abandon life. so, do you really want both? can we have both?
should the farmers abandon their ancestral ways and "modernize and move into towns and get real jobs"?

because I've seen those things, here, FB, anywhere. it's so touchy, it brings out bad things in people.

Warren Webber
Warren Webber3 years ago

Live long and prosper!

William Moorman
William Moorman3 years ago

Thank You

Fi T.
Past Member 3 years ago

For the sake of everyone's life and future

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa3 years ago

Thank you

Hent Catalina-Maria


Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey3 years ago

Thank you.

Winn Adams
Winn A3 years ago


William Moorman
William Moorman3 years ago

Thank you