20th June 2018: A world of wounds?

After publishing my first blogs last week I received a lot of positive feedback, but one or two of you also reported feeling that the overall tone was, there’s no way to sugar-coat this, just a bit depressing! Quite right, I thought at first (but bear with me), the world is depressing at the moment, and especially so for anyone with ecological sensitivities. In a world of shifting baselines, where most people seem increasingly accepting of the impoverished state of the natural world, I am often reminded of Aldo Leopold’s words:

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” 

But, while it is true that conservationists have never faced greater challenges and the world’s biodiversity continues to decline, there are also a few good news stories out there. So, it’s not all bad. And good news is much more inspiring than bad, perhaps even more likely to encourage us to believe that we can bring about change, that all is not lost, that the fight is still worth fighting. Thinking that we can’t possibly change X is one of the three dangerous narratives in conservation picked out by Dr Chris Sandbrook in his recent blog, an essay in which he rightly encourages us to challenge the status quo and believe in the possibility of change. As Madiba once said:

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”  

So, here’s a selection of environmental good news stories to rejuvenate any of you suffering from sagging spirits (especially if that is partly my fault), to put a spring back in your step and hopefully restore some hope.

  • In Chad, rhinos are back for the first time in 46 years! Six black rhinos have been reintroduced into Zakouma National Park by the not-for-profit organisation African Parks as part of the continent-wide African Rhino Conservation Plan. The park’s elephant population has also stabilised and is in fact growing, in a place where mounted poachers (mostly from Sudan) had previously decimated herds by as much as 90 percent, down to a low of just 400 survivors. Today, there has not been a confirmed poaching incident in the park since January 2016.

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  • Meanwhile, in America, wildlife crossings are making a positive difference for wildlife. Millions of animals are killed on America’s roads every year (as well as ±200 people in collisions with wildlife), while road networks can also trap animals within “islands” from which they cannot escape. But crossings recently constructed under and over roads in Oregon and Colorado led to declines of nearly 90 percent in the rate of collisions. Such crossings look set to be adopted more widely, not just in America, but as far away as Russia – a great example of how we can mitigate our negative impacts on wildlife.
  • Staying in the Americas, there may be cause for optimism regarding the jaguar’s survival prospects. This is a truly big cat, smaller only than the tiger and the lion, but Nadia Drake notes that the jaguar is perhaps exceptionally adaptive, smart and resilient; it has “jaguarness“. Perhaps crucially, jaguars are remarkably reluctant to attack people, leading some people to speculate that after centuries of intensive human persecution, only the most retiring jaguars have survived*, making them well suited to coexist with humans. That’s good news for people and good news for jaguars too. A recent camera trap survey suggests there may still be 170,000 jaguars in the wild (compare that figure to ±25,000 lions in Africa and ± 2,500 tigers in Asia), and while these numbers are in decline, in some places the jaguar’s range is growing (a few individuals even recently reappeared in Arizona). If we give them half a chance, they have all the characteristics to survive alongside us for many years to come, and Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative is trying to ensure exactly that.

So, there you go. Good things are happening! Sign up below to hear from me more regularly, or find me on Twitter @DrHWeb

*Persecution as a selective pressure for adaptive human-phobia in large predators would be an interesting thesis for somebody, wouldn’t it?!

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