Thursday, 5 February 2009

Living in Balance with Nature. Is it possible?

Re-reading my recent Anonymous critic, I noted the claim that " biblical times people had great respect for animals and their environment..." * This is a claim a bit like the one often trotted out that indigenous people live in harmony with nature -- the modern version of the Noble Savage from the age of enlightenment. It's a great and noble concept. Unfortunately there is very little empirical evidence to support the idea. Throughout history, humans have lived at the edge of their technology. The reason that most indigenous tribes in South America haven't exterminated the wildlife is they didn't have guns. The reason the forest was not felled is they didn't have chainsaws. And in 'biblical' times every effort was being made to wipe out lions, wolves and other wildlife that threatened humans or their crops. I firmly believe that it is essential to involve indigenous communities and all other local communities in conservation efforts. But I also believe they should not be seen through rose-coloured spectacles. One of the reasons that humans lived in balance in the past was because they had high mortality rates -- and not just from disease, it was often inter tribal warfare, geronticide, or infanticide. I don't believe there would be much support for encouraging a return to this as a way of achieving sustainability.

The WLT is helping fund projects in South America that involve indigenous communities and other local peoples in the decision-making process that conserves land and wildlife, because without local support the long term prospects will never be good. Hunters turned wardens are just one way of using local knowledge, but we believe it is even more important to involve all local people at as many levels as possible. Imposing conservation from the outside can only ever be effective in the short-term, and is likely to leave a legacy which does not help the long term.

I am about to travel to Kenya and Tanzania, to see if there is any way the WLT can assist local conservation initiatives -- and both countries have numerous examples of the problems caused by conservation being pushed from the top down, as a legacy of good intentions during the colonial era. It is not simply a case of bottom up initiatives, which can often result in simply creating a new and different problem. More a case of full participation with all the stakeholders (to use the pc jargon).

If any of my readers want to support conservation in Africa, now is your chance -- deatils to follow when I return, after 15 February.

*I am not sure when biblical times were. Presumably when people in the bible were alive or when the authors were alive, so up to about 300 AD?


  1. The Australian aborigines are in fact noted for there wild life conservation, so did all of the island cultures of the pacific save the failed and doomed eastern island people. I think you fail to see the difference culture, the reverence people hold for some animals India has many cases to prove my point. The reason why they didn't use more then they need was because they knew better. Europeans culture and thought was to just move and take someone else and thus they did.

  2. I am interested in this comment, but I would also like to know the evidence for it. I can find no evidence of any culture, in the Pacific or elsewhere that did not exploit the natural resources to the limit of the available technology. The Aboriginals of Australia certainly did -- I think Tim Flannery's books demonstrate some of the evidence. Holding reverence for animals does not stop people exploiting them -- take the Inuit/Eskimo reverence for Bowheads as an example. And one of the ways the peoples of the Pacific controlled their own populations was by almost constant warfare. But I am still interested in anyone who can point me to some hard evidence of a culture that genuinely lived in harmony with its resources, that was not simply restricted by the limits of technolgy available to it.