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Wildlife Management

Author: Gerhard R Damm ~ Member: International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC), Budapest, Hungary, and Conservation Force, Metairie, USA

( Article Type: Overview )

Africa’s wildlife within and outside formally protected areas is restricted to finite spaces by fences or human infrastructure. These restrictions threaten habitats or make them susceptible to change with the causal factors being human-made. Consequently, the management of habitats and the species within these habitats becomes a necessity. International agreements, national legislation, as well as public interest and pressure either empower or restrict wildlife management.

Traditional rigorous ecology and ethology do not guarantee effective conservation. The discipline of conservation biology bridges the gap between the two fields and practical wildlife management; it marries conservation concerns with socio-political, economic, administrative and managerial aspects. It creates the scientific base to respond under field conditions to data produced by scientists of varying branches. This is termed Adaptive Wildlife Management. The wildlife manager evaluates wildlife and its interactions within and with habitats to determine management actions. He reviews and assesses its consequences on species, biodiversity and people. This reviewing process will lead either to a continuation or revision of actions.

As an important step in getting wildlife management on an internationally recognised basis, the Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines for Sustainable Use of Biodiversity (AAPG) outline that benefits derived from the use of a species can provide the incentive to invest in conserving and reverse the loss of environmental resources. In 2004, the Convention on Biological Diversity decided in Kuala Lumpur to adopt the AAPG. This practical set of 14 principles and guidelines underlines how ecosystems serve and maintain cultures, societies and communities, and apply to any consumptive or non-consumptive use. The AAPG forms a practical tool for the implementation of the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and strengthens the role of Incentive-Driven-Conservation. The AAPG assists wildlife managers on international, national and local, as well as institutional levels to ensure that the use of biodiversity will not lead to its long-term decline. The AAPG was adopted by IUCN and CITES in the same year.

Nevertheless, a part of the conservation community (especially from developed countries) opposes the concept, arguing that not enough is known about the impact of use on wild populations. They question whether local people have the knowledge needed to manage wild populations and express concerns whether governments would have the capacity to control wildlife use systems. This attitude often subjects wildlife management decisions to the Precautionary Principle. The process usually starts with the statement that conclusive scientific data are unavailable or insufficient. Decision-making is postponed, deadlines are extended, additional assessments, research and reviews are requested, and public comment from an under- or misinformed public is invited. As a final step, legal processes and the Precautionary Principle are invoked. The concentration on minimising the probability ‘that a false statement is accepted as true’ leads to ignoring the probability of ‘rejecting a true hypothesis as false’ at great expense for wildlife conservation.

Wildlife management in Africa has many examples where this process, combined with emotional public pressure, impairs wildlife management. Conventional public opinion has created an automatic link between precaution and calls for bans on consumptive use options. Perceived mandatory hypothesis testing has been used by well-funded animal-rights organisations to put an unacceptable evidentiary burden on African wildlife managers. This arrangement cannot produce outcomes that best reflect available evidence, the range of stakeholder viewpoints and African needs and aspirations, or the best interests of the animal and plant species. It also poses a serious threat to conservation by reducing economic incentives to conserve species and restrains the actions of wildlife specialists. The Precautionary Principle in wildlife management is in need of examination for the simple reason that, due to prolonged interaction with humans there are no truly natural ecosystems left, that most ecosystems are inextricably affected by and linked to human activity and that human intervention can produce positive outcomes.

Some of its elements can be substituted with adaptive management processes as a method of responding to uncertainty. Adaptive wildlife management has already become the practical means of conservation risk management. It is described as self-conscious experimental approach involving incremental hypothesis formulation and testing. These processes have the advantage of greater dynamism, the ability to rapidly respond to new information and greater relevance in coordinating sociopolitical aspects with conservation objectives. It is a trial-and-error management process based on experience and observation rather than on models and theories. Nevertheless, adaptive processes carry risks, however infinitesimal, of serious or irreversible harm. Therefore they must function within a closed system with appropriate checks and balances.

The precautionary approach requires a detailed assessment of scientific knowledge and risk assessment before action is taken. Adaptive management, in contrast, responds to uncertainty by utilising a combination of scientific, practical and traditional knowledge, translated into small management steps that are subject to continuous monitoring and recording of consequences and effects. There need to be safeguards against abuse by pressure groups in order to prevent the processes being influenced by wasteful, disruptive or counterproductive interference.

Another critical element for the effectiveness and legitimacy of wildlife management is the Participatory Principle. The value of scientific tools and indicators in providing answers for wildlife managers is increased by local stakeholder participation and the acknowledgement of non-scientific indigenous and traditional forms of knowledge. Aid donors and international NGOs can support such processes by not imposing inappropriate external models and by refocusing existing investments to bring them in line with incentive-driven conservation and sustainable development objectives.

Solutions need to be reached within a predetermined time frame. Extensions rarely make much difference in knowledge gained or conclusions reached! A pragmatic ‘strategy of the attainable’ will do infinitely more for people and wildlife than endless bitter debates that usually centre on emotions instead of science and practical experience. Consensus-building and conflict-resolution techniques are therefore an important element of the management of wildlife.

Both in theory and in practice, Adaptive Wildlife Management aims to manage ecosystems to a point where species are in an unthreatened or abundant position. Preservation and Conservation are its interlinked core functions:

  • Incentive-driven Conservation incorporates sustainable consumptive and non-consumptive use options of unthreatened or abundant animal and plant populations for human benefit. Any nonconsumptive and consumptive use must not pose a threat to the viability of species’ diversity and biodiversity.
  • Incentive-driven Preservation protects animal or plant populations that are either threatened or in decline, with the objective of returning them to unthreatened status under the conservation function.

Emphasis is placed on animal or plant populations and communities in contrast to individual animals and plants and also in contrast to the total number of individuals within a species. Wildlife management must be removed from the emotional individual level. We must also avoid grouping entire species, such as the African elephant, into a continent-wide management category, without considering the vast differences in the status of individual populations and their habitat. Within these two interlinked core functions, wildlife management has to pay close attention to a significant hierarchical conservation order:

  • Fulfilment of the legitimate needs of the African people
  • Incentive-driven protection/conservation of the soil
  • Incentive-driven protection/conservation of the plants that grow in the soil
  • Incentive-driven protection/conservation of the animals that use the plants for food or cover and that live in the specialised habitats provided by the different plant communities and their physical environments.

The long-term future of Africa’s wildlife will only be secured if incentive-driven wildlife management models produce tangible benefits for the rural African. One could argue that plants in terrestrial ecosystems play the primary role in driving life, since they alone convert solar energy to carbohydrates. Yet plants depend on soil. Therefore biodiversity conservation and wildlife management begins with soil protection. Without soil, plants cannot grow and without plants, animals cannot exist.

More than 6% of sub-Saharan Africa is allocated to National Parks and reserves and the area is increasing steadily. Africans have proved that they are prepared to pay a high price for the conservation of their natural heritage: damaged crops, lost opportunities, direct expenditure, etc. Thus, for wildlife conservation to stand a realistic chance in the future, wildlife managers must address Africa’s fundamental needs for food, shelter, health care, education and economic participation.

The widespread, yet antiquated philosophy of fortress conservation or rather fortress preservation excludes market-based policies and sustainable use options of natural resources in protected areas and hampers it outside. Fortress preservation wants to preserve an untouched wilderness. Yet none of the parks or other wilderness areas in Africa is untouched by human hand. All are fenced in by either wire or people. It is also true that only a minute percentage of Africans can afford to enjoy them. Yet all Africans have to pay the bill. The hands-off preservationist strategies make protected areas untenable, ensure conflict around them and excludes wildlife from normal economic processes.

Private conservation efforts fared somewhat better in southern Africa. The private ownership of land and game were the reasons for an astonishing comeback of wild game, although there are cases where the ecological principles have been sacrificed for economic gain.

The future of private and public wildlife management (or any combination of the two) and their contribution towards an African Conservation Strategy will rest on mixing ecology, economy and social responsibility in order to achieve an equitable triple-bottom-line result. Wildlife managers must be empowered to unlock the ecosystems’ capability to yield a return on investment by increasing the economic value of wildlife on public and private land. The frequent exclusion of consumptive use options in favour of non-consumptive options (or vice versa) needs to be replaced by a holistic triple-bottom-line approach in order to reduce the dependence on unsustainable donor funding as well as dependence on subsidies from public budgets

Robert H Nelson said in an article titled ‘Environmental Colonialism – “Saving” Africa from Africans’ in the Independent Review (Summer, 2003): The myths of Africa are more attractive than the realities.’
He concludes with: ‘Fantasy sells, and millions of people in [the urban centres of] Europe and the United States enjoy images of the Garden of Eden, whether in Africa or elsewhere in the world. By contrast, the rural people in these areas who are directly affected by the setting aside of park lands constitute a small and less moneyed minority that has less political influence both with their own national governments and in international arenas.

This is the reason why we have a huge elephant problem in southern Africa; this is the reason why our parks struggle to balance the budgets; this is the reason why African Economic Empowerment in wildlife conservation does not advance and why utterly necessary incentive-driven conservation struggles to achieve mainstream public recognition.

Elephants in southern Africa recovered from a population low of a few thousand in 1900 to more than 250 000 today. What problems do they cause? What’s the solution? Dr David Cumming presents some of the concerns in his article ‘Elephantine Dilemma’ (Quest1 (2-05). Cumming says: ‘A harvest of 5 000 elephants from a population of 200 000 elephants could generate US$40 million a year – enough to protect and manage 200 000 km2 of protected area at a rate of US$200/km2. National parks in Mozambique and Zimbabwe are currently operating on budgets as low as about $5 and $10/km2.’ He also says that the ecological and economic questions can be examined and analysed scientifically. But, ultimately, management decisions have to do with public choice, governed by the worldviews and the values of those who influence and take decisions.