In Global Push to Save Endangered Species, Local Communities Are Key

Human Wrongs Watch

9 July 2021 (UNEP)* — When Elderman Ndubiwa Jabulani was invited to a consultation with a cross-sectoral group of local stakeholders from his native Zimbabwe and neighbouring Botswana, he was ready to talk about the elephant in the room.

Elephant, Amboseli, Kenya, credit Stephanie Foote

UNEP/Stephanie Foote / 09 Jul 2021

Or rather, the elephants in the field. Jabulani, a farmer, says the animals regularly trample his fields and ravage his crops in the Hwange district of Zimbabwe.

To wildlife officials, the elephants seemed to be more important than he and his family were.

“We have never been compensated for that damage,” he said of the land his family had lived on for more than 60 years. “We should be getting the same care and support that the animals do.”

Over the next several days, hard discussions were held by the stakeholders to come to a shared understanding of the challenges each sector faced in the landscape, and how their actions affected one another.

Examples like this are at the centre of a new report jointly released on 8 July by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

It calls on policymakers to consider the needs of communities when making decisions about conservation and land use, which it said would dramatically improve the prospects of several endangered species.

The report pointed to successful examples of community consultation, including the one in Zimbabwe.

“These are people-centered approaches, and not just decisions for wildlife by the wildlife sector,” said Julian Blanc, a Programme Officer in UNEP’s Wildlife Management Unit.

“By ensuring a judicious mix of bottom-up and top-down policy discussions, local buy-in can be cultivated. Human-wildlife coexistence requires locally developed, integrated and adaptive approaches for the long term, rather than just stop-gap deterrent measures to mitigate conflict incidents. We have to allow and plan for coexistence for both people and wildlife to prosper.”

Human-animal conflicts

The report, A Future for All: The Need for Human/Wildlife Coexistence, found that rapid infrastructure development and the expansion of farming and logging are worsening conflicts between communities and wild animals.

That contact often leads to people killing animals in self-defence, or as pre-emptive or retaliatory killings, which can hasten the extinction of species.

Globally, conflict-related killing affects more than 75 per cent of the world’s wild cat species, polar bears, Mediterranean monk seals, and elephants, among a host of other animals. At the same time, human-wildlife conflict takes tolls on both sides, with lives lost among humans and wildlife.

Decision making, the report said, is frequently divorced from the economic needs of communities, which are often impoverished.  As a result, local tolerance for conservation  – even among those who historically coexisted with wild species – is eroding.

The new report said that local communities should be treated as allies in the fight to save endangered animals.

Among a host of recommendations, the report calls for human-wildlife conflict to be recognized as a threat to sustainable development and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

It calls for coexistence considerations to be incorporated into the design and implementation of all relevant policies and programmes and provide financial means for their implementation.

It is necessary for us to be considered as equals.

Elderman Ndubiwa Jabulani

Extinctions and persistent poverty

The report comes amid what experts are calling a triple planetary crisis of biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution. Human activity could drive up to 1 million plant and animal species into extinction, a die-off that would be unprecedented in human history.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration provides an opportunity to mobilize the global community to re-balance the relationship between people and nature.

As an example of the power of collaboration, the report pointed to the elephant conservation effort in Zimbabwe. It was part of a larger project in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA), which spans five countries, Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Nearly the size of France, KAZA is the world’s largest terrestrial conservation area – and home to an estimated 2.6 million people.

There, UNEP’s Africa’s Coexistence Landscapes project aims to find solutions that conserve wildlife while stimulating sustainable economic development in areas where people and wildlife live side by side.

Funded by the European Union and executed by UNEP, in collaboration with the national wildlife agencies of Zimbabwe and Botswana, and the KAZA Secretariat, it used computer modelling to map out various conservation and land use options.

Stakeholders from several sectors, including agriculture, forestry, tourism, water and wildlife, discussed pragmatic ways in which coexistence might be possible.

The project, which is still ongoing, is now taking these scenarios and ideas to policymakers at the national and international levels to translate them into effective integrated policies.

For Elderman Jabulani, the consultation process was the first time he felt that his voice was heard over the rumblings of mining trucks and the trumpeting of elephants.

“Communities need to have inputs and to participate before they formulate policies,” he said. “It is necessary for us to be considered as equals.”

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030, led by the UN Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and partners such as the Africa Restoration 100 initiative, the Global Landscapes Forum and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, covers terrestrial as well as coastal and marine ecosystems.

A global call to action, it will draw together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration. Help us shape the Decade.

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