Conservation and Local Control

Conservation and Local Control

The front lines move to Africa

By: Teresa Platt  Date: 01/14/1998 Category: | Wildlife Journal |

Animal rights groups have mounted an all-out campaign to end US funding for Africa's leading development and conservation program. Their aim is to discredit the philosophy of sustainable use and to keep control of natural resources out of the hands of rural communities.

Why should Americans be concerned about this? Because it is the same war we are fighting here in the US as we battle animal rightists and preservationists eliminating local custom, culture and control under the banner of "saving the Earth."

The Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources, or CAMPFIRE, is a program of the Zimbabwean government which currently receives most of its funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). CAMPFIRE is carrying the concept of liberty, what once was simply the "American Way," to development and conservation in Africa.

CAMPFIRE replaces centralized control over the use of natural resources - primarily wildlife - with local control. Communities sharing the land with the resources are granted property and resource rights making them the legal stewards of those resources. They can manage them for their own benefit, but they must also assume responsibility for conserving them. So eager have rural communities been to accept this challenge that programs based on the CAMPFIRE model are now springing up across southern Africa. A revolution has begun in the way Africans use their land and relate to wildlife, an African/American revolution.

Animal rights and preservationist groups are working overtime to kill this revolution. They don't want the world to know that conservation works better in the hands of local, vested interests, than when "experts" from the cities, or even other countries, dictate what should be done.

CAMPFIRE demonstrates that when people are legally empowered to manage the natural resources with which they live, both human development and conservation are beneficiaries. And with Zimbabwe the site in June of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the preservationists are committed to discrediting and destroying CAMPFIRE.

And so, the front lines over conservation and control move to Africa. Another battle over conservation versus preservation. Another battle in the same war for self determination and local control that we resource providers are fighting here on US soil as we fight a host of regulations designed to "save the Earth."

Sharing your space with dangerous critters

Living alongside elephants, buffalo, lions and leopards, as with grizzly bears, cougars, wolves in the US is a perilous existence. Every year, hundreds of Africans are trampled or mauled to death. As in the US, there are loses to crops and livestock, a situation worsened in Africa with its minimal welfare support.

After colonization, the Africans lost local control completely. Human needs, they were told, were secondary to the need to conserve Africa's "biodiversity." Under colonial rule, wildlife was off-limits to rural Africans, and hence had no economic value for them. But at the same time they were expected to endure the constant menace posed to human life and crops. The consequences were predictable: poaching coupled with shrinking wildlife habitat as hungry people put more and more land under the plough.

Sound familiar? Removing the steward from the land has long been official African policy as it is fast becoming official US policy. But the CAMPFIRE program successfully broke through the barriers and proved in the international arena that by giving communities the right to manage their wildlife. People can co-exist with, and benefit from, wildlife. Once a liability, wildlife becomes an economic asset. People, animals and the land thrives.

New wells, grinding mills, schools, roads are the benefits of CAMPFIRE to the human communities. Natural wildlife habitat, which once covered 12 percent of Zimbabwe's land area, now covers a staggering 30 percent as people coexist in productive harmony with nature. Animal populations are increasing, with Zimbabwe elephant herds, for example, growing from 47,000 in 1980 to nearly 70,000 today.

Stop doing that!

But preservationists and animal rights groups want what they always want. "Stop doing that!" they shout. Led by the Humane Society of the United States, a massive public relations campaign is being waged to discredit and destroy CAMPFIRE, and eliminate USAID funding.

The preservationists recognize that their power as global green overlords is under threat. For most of this century, the trend in wildlife management in Africa, and now in the US, has been for centralized institutions to assume ever more control. Above all, this has meant control by governments, but in recent years there has been a rise in power exercised by international conventions such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Preservationist and animal rights groups have been successful in influencing such institutions to assume a preservationist approach to wildlife, limiting or banning economic exploitation. This approach is as alien to rural Africans as it is to rural Americans, as we all watch our land turned into preserves for eco-tourists.

By decentralizing the power, CAMPFIRE threatens the power base of the preservationists, animal rightists and global green overlords.

As Mike McCloskey, chairman of the Sierra Club explained to his board of directors, "This re-distribution of power is designed to disempower our constituency, which is heavily urban. . . . It is curious that these ideas would have the effect of transferring influence to the very communities where we are least organized and potent. . . . It is also most troubling that such processes tend to de-legitimate conflict as a way of dealing with issues and of mobilizing support. It is psychologically difficult to simultaneously negotiate and publicly attack bad proposals from the other side. This tends to be seen as acting in bad faith. Too much time spent in stakeholder processes may produce the result of demobilizing and disarming our side."

Compounding the issue, animal rights and preservationist groups are ethically opposed to hunting and trade in wildlife products. In line with their "no use/preservationist" philosophy, they decree, incorrectly, that trade in wildlife products is inevitably bad for conservation.

CAMPFIRE and similar programs involve killing wildlife for the meat, hide and other uses. US purchases of products made from African wildlife products will help build healthy human communities operating within healthy ecosystems on the other side of the globe.

CAMPFIRE demonstrates that managed harvesting of small quotas of wildlife benefits conservation. For example, before CAMPFIRE managed elephant hunts, more elephants were killed in Zimbabwe - either as part of culling programs or as crop-raiders - than are killed today. The reason is simple: hunting fees are an incentive to tolerate, and therefore conserve, wildlife.

Animal rights groups are now distorting this reality. A recent HSUS advertisement in the National Enquirer, of all places, is entitled "Innocent Elephants Slaughtered for Sport - and You're Paying for It!" An inhumane illegal elephant hunt was portrayed, backed by fiction about where hunting fees go. Readers were urged to complain about use of USAID dollars to Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO), who is heading the campaign to restore the centralization of resource management.

In seeking to protect the "rights" of individual animals, animal rights groups ignore the realities of life for people sharing the land with magnificent but dangerous creatures. And in so doing, they also fail to support the best option for conserving wildlife and biodiversity.

Support of CAMPFIRE and similar programs by USAID is completely compatible with the American ideals of the wise use of resources, local control and property rights. By supporting such programs overseas, we US citizens can confirm our support for own right to control OUR land and wildlife resources. CAMPFIRE will be center stage at CITES this June, coincidentally at the same time as the Alliance for America Fly-In for Freedom in DC. Let's help the Africans of CAMPFIRE teach the world how local resource management, coupled with property rights and economic incentives, is good policy for both human development and conservation. The alternative - preservationism, animal rights, and centralized command and control over natural resources - is rural genocide.

US assistance to CAMPFIRE is vital if the program is to succeed. CAMPFIRE is revolutionizing colonial African land use policies, addressing the needs of development and conservation at the same time, an enormous task.

CAMPFIRE will need funding until it becomes self-sustaining. People are being trained, new management institutions established, and infrastructure built. But if the CAMPFIRE approach is allowed to succeed, it will not be aid-dependent for long. Within a few years, a whole new class of rural Africans will be looking for trade, not aid.


Rhino and elephant populations are up as CITES conference nears

Increased security and improved habitat in some African countries have led to dramatic increases in elephant and rhino populations and requests to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to once again allow controlled hunting of the two giants.

CITES will hear requests from Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, and Mozambique to allow controlled hunting of elephants and sale of ivory and from South Africa to allow international trade in white rhino horn.

Elephant herds in the five nations have increased in size since the ivory ban was imposed late in the 1980s and ivory has been stockpiled from animals killed by the government for population control and from animals that died of old age, starvation, or disease. Zimbabwe has about 65,000 elephants roaming an environment that can support only about 35,000 and has an ivory cache of about 40 tons. Neighboring Botswana has about 60,000 elephants and has not done any culling in recent years. South Africa's elephant population is stable at 8000-10,000 animals and culls hundreds each year. It, too, has a stockpile of ivory.

The five countries are asking the CITES conference to downlist the elephant from Appendix I (threatened with extinction) to Appendix II (threatened if trade is not controlled) in their borders. The elephant would continue on Appendix I in those countries where poaching has not been controlled or conservation efforts have failed to increase herd numbers.

Zimbabwe has also been successful in growing its black rhino population. Under a program known as Operation Heritage, rhinos are staging a comeback. Poaching is down and habitat conservation is up, so the rhinos are recovering.

"The total number in the park is classified information," said Hwange National Park warden Norman English. Most of the rhinos live in the park where they are protected from poaching with helicopters and foot patrols.

In South Africa, an increase in the white rhino population and a desire for increased trade have spurred the government to request permission to sell rhino horn to Asia where it is used for traditional medicines and to Yemen, where it is prized for dagger handles.

The CITES meeting takes place in June in Harare, Zimbabwe.

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All Authors Of This Article: | Teresa Platt | Bruce Vincent | Patti Strand |
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