Jonny suggests that studying the study’s research team can tell us a lot about conservation today.
Conservation has come a long way since 1903. Back then, a group of British statesmen and naturalists formed the world’s first international conservation organisation, calling it ‘The Society for the Preservation of the Wild Fauna of the Empire’. These be-whiskered Anglo-Saxon gentlemen, with their guns and safari suits, lived in a very different world to the one we inhabit today, albeit in the twilight of an era that was to be extinguished by the cataclysm of World War I. The safari suits, if not the guns, may have mostly gone since then but conservation has not. Over a century later, the microcosm that is our research team provides a window on a changed world.
Conservation is no longer the sole prerogative of a white, wealthy West. It is a rainbow movement made up of people from all classes, races and nations. In many places, pre-existing indigenous conservation ethics have fused with, or complement, aspects of current scientific conservation, such as the Buddhist respect for snow leopards discussed by Maurice in Modern Day Monks. We as a research team exhibit this same diversity. Between us we represent four countries on three (and if you include the African upbringing of Maurice and myself, four) continents. We hold a motley collection of values and beliefs. But we are united by a passion for people and nature.
Conservation is no longer only about counting things, counting what they eat and counting what they poo out the other end, i.e. natural science. For sure, biology, zoology, ecology and similar disciplines are the basis for understanding the diversity of genes, species and ecosystems which conservation aims to preserve. But 21st century conservation increasingly recognises the interconnection of environmental, social, cultural, economic and political factors, and that conservation itself is a social process – something done by people to nature. As a research team with eight degrees between us, and another underway, we also display this inter-disciplinarity. We’ve clocked up qualifications in forestry, zoology and conservation biology, but also in history, tourism and sociology, among others. We’ve also worked in a wide range of sectors, from hospitality and human resources, to zoo-keeping and international development.
Conservation is no longer just about putting up fences to keep people away from nature, such as by creating national parks. Protected areas like these are certainly an important tool in the conservationist’s toolbox, and fences are sometimes needed. But participation is now the name of the game. Including rather than excluding local communities from conservation management is meant to secure better outcomes for people and wildlife, and that’s something our study is looking at in the Everest and Annapurna regions of Nepal. In partnership with Nepali and international organisations and colleagues, we’re also asking people around Everest what they think of a plan to move blue sheep to the area, and we’re asking people around Annapurna what they think of a proposal for a conservation tourism scheme in the region.
Conservation is no longer a remote preoccupation disengaged from the masses. It is a global televised, digitised phenomenon. Powerful nature documentaries like the BBC’s Planet Earth have brought the wonders of the natural world, and of efforts to conserve it, into living rooms all around it. Now, the internet age brings the same wonders into people’s pockets. Our own research expedition is being followed on Twitter, Facebook and WordPress all over the globe. Over 1,700 people from 33 countries on every continent except Antarctica have logged on to track our progress. The world is getting smaller.
Conservation has indeed come a long way since 1903. That group of individuals who founded the first international conservation organisation then could not have envisioned that a century later, to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘from a single acorn a thousand forests [have] grow[n].’ They could not have imagined the international, interdisciplinary, participatory and popular process that conservation would become. Working on our own small bit of it in the Himalayas of Nepal, our snow leopard conservation study is part of the new expression of this old legacy. So too is that venerable organisation founded way back in 1903. Now simply called Fauna and Flora International, along with the rest of a global movement, it continues its innovative work in 21st century conservation.