The challenges facing the conservation of our natural resources, and particularly, the wildlife that underpins much of South Africa’s economy, are increasingly reflective of the complexities of the modern world in which the nexus at social, economic, political, cultural and environmental issues collide. Thirty years ago, the conservation community could not have imagined that the future of many wildlife species would in fact depend on the law enforcement agencies, both domestic and foreign, to effectively address illegal wildlife trade as part of transnational organized crime, as is now the case in relation to the rampant ongoing slaughter of rhino and elephant across their range. And it is unlikely that the sector would have foreseen that a particular Cape Buffalo individual with a 53-inch horn span would sell for R40 million, as happened in 2013. Nor did we possibly contemplate that game breeders would specialise in the ‘production’ of golden wildbeest, black impala and white kudu and that three white-flanked impala would sell for R27.3 million in September 2014.
Our modern world has also served up a thriving and highly lucrative canned lion hunting industry in which we now find that more than 6000 lions are located in approximately 150 facilities captive facilities in South Africa, comprising more than 67% of the total number of lions in the country. Related to this is the advent of a regular trade in lion bones from South Africa to East–Southeast Asia which has seen the export of 1160 skeletons lion bones between 2008 and 2011 alone (Traffic, 2015).
The issues present a whole new suite of challenges which potentially threaten not only the future of species such as the rhino and elephant, but they also challenge the conservation community to contemplate where and how ethics, animal welfare, the sustainability of wild populations (and what this means) and equitable benefit sharing should factor into decision making, policy setting and conservation planning. Importantly, they require the development of cross-sectoral partnerships and multi-stakeholder engagement like never before. The conservation community needs to take up both the challenges, as well as the opportunities that suggest (or insist) that we work within a tangled web of multiple sectoral parties that include religious leaders, social workers, politicians, law enforcers, educators, health workers, and in fact anyone and everyone who is working towards creating sustainable communities and social justice in a world where the lines between the various forms of abuse, of our environment, as well as its wildlife and human components, are becoming increasingly blurred.
The Symposium of Contemporary Conservation Science, hosted by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, has become a highly rated and much enjoyed fixture on the conservation calendar and results in the formation of many rewarding new partnerships every year. The Endangered Wildlife Trust is proud to be associated with the symposium and to be able to contribute to and benefit from the outcomes. The EWT would like to challenge the 2015 participants, to consider the emerging challenges facing contemporary conservation that requires that we broaden our landscape of partners to include a diversity of interests and expertise that extend into new disciplines and ways of working. Conservation is not isolated but is a component within an integrated modern world that is being challenged to find novel solutions that address the ‘human condition’. Without humans, we would not in fact even need ‘conservation’ so the conversation around conservation needs to embrace the reality of how we have come to find ourselves living in a world where there are more pet tigers in apartments than there are left in the wild; where individual trophy lions can be selected via the internet; where rhino horn sells for more per ounce than gold; and where a white flanked impala has become more prized to many game farmers than a free ranging pack of Endangered Wild Dogs or a Cheetah. We need to navigate a way forward that sees wild and free roaming populations survive in a modern world and the only way to do this is to position conservation at the forefront of a dialogue that embraces an integrated and holistic approach to how we think and act as humans and with whom we work as conservation agencies.
The EWT wishes all participants a fruitful and enjoyable Symposium and looks forward to seeing this event take conservation forward in leaps and bounds.
Ms Yolan Friedmann
Chief Executive Officer
Endangered Wildlife Trust