Imagine if ‘ecosystem’ was the most important word in the world

Yesterday in the jungle we spent some time in an area looking for sign of human activity. It was there, in a place it shouldn’t have been but that was the situation even before lockdown. Despite that though, there was plenty of sign of wildlife, there’s no doubt wild animals are getting more breathing space in many places.

Increased levels of poaching have been reported globally. This was totally expected, no one who works in wildlife protection is surprised. The pandemic has exposed shortcomings in the ways anti-poaching is resourced, there are valuable lessons to be learnt. The economic downturn which is going to last some time means pressure on wildlife will continue.

This means it’s an ironic state, wildlife is moving more freely in many places because of lockdown but there are people taking advantage of that situation. To counter that there are both short and long term strategies being formed, it’s a constant conversation. As always resources are the main issue so it’s a matter of doing one’s best in a world where the priorities for wildlife and habitat protection are still far too low.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ways to change those priorities. Yes, the pandemic has raised the issue to a noisy head but it remains to be seen if that is really followed through with action. After all, there were plenty of good people issuing warnings about our destruction of nature well before the covid-19 outbreak.

To me the only long term viable long term solution is grass roots education. I’ve written before how impressed I am with the kids in the Living with Big Cats wildlife classes, their passion to learn and understand. It continually gives me hope. It’s been interesting talking to Tharu friends here on the Terai, they have a yearning to return to simpler ways when in actual fact so many were living very simply anyway with very little impact on the environment.

That brings to mind another irony I’ve been thinking about lately. Many people involved in poaching at the actual ground level live simply with that little impact I’m talking about. Upper levels of traders and organized crime groups are of course caught up in consumerism just like so much of the rest of the world. Wildlife protection itself at ground level is mostly conducted by people living quite simply, I thought about this yesterday as I looked at the footwear of the two guys on the jungle track in front of me, my own shoes also in a state of disrepair. Yet these are the very people it’s easy to get to understand the importance of ecosystems even if it’s at a very basic non academic level. That raises the question of how we educate, what are the best ways to communicate the conservation message.

I sometimes imagine what the world would be like if ‘ecosystem’ was the God of words, the most important word in the world. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone did an environmental impact assessment (EIA) on their every action? Sometimes I wonder who the real poachers are … by that I mean I think if everyone got given a personal environmental footprint report card it would reflect a deep truth and a lot of hypocrisy.

While there’s so much going on in the meantime, it actually seems busier than ever, I am looking forward to when the wildlife classes start again so we can ask the kids these questions, what they think about consumerism and the impact it has on the environment, on our planet, on our health, on the wild animals we are teaching them about. The future of community is these children but the messages they get now can shape community even before that future. If a child can understand the importance of the leopard, the importance of all wild animals and their place in ecosystems then community must benefit, it’s a very simple solution but it does require good management. Good management means getting the right people involved, those people don’t need expensive footwear, they just need some.

Perhaps my vision of a dedicated wildlife school here in Bardiya isn’t a pipe dream … watch this space.

Education, education, education … community.

Appended 5 May 2020

An alarming amount of poaching reports hitting my inboxes at the moment. I’m prioritizing replies based on urgency at the moment so if I haven’t got back to you then my apologies but I will. I think it’s fair to say our dysfunctional relationship with nature is really being shown up right now.

Appended 6 May 2020