In the field of Conservation, Wildlife Management, Earthcare call it what you want as in most other 'disciplines', there is a general tendency to 'point fingers' and blame others rather than examine our own behaviour. We are all at fault in this respect and myself probably more so than others.
The safest rule is to remain silent and try to improve one's own performance but for certain reasons many don't have that option.
People do have opinions, whether right or wrong and most are not prepared to 'sit on the fence'. In most cases there is clear 'right' and 'wrong'. The debatable, 'grey' cases usually require analysing from a 'Need' or 'Greed' perspective. Consider the following: - I throw a 'cat among the pigeons' - somewhat 'tongue-in-cheek'.
It is wrong to shoot predators in or near the National Park. Yet, it was policy, not many years ago to shoot all predators within the National Park as 'vermin' on sight (to give the 'game' animals a chance to build up). After eradication of the tsetse fly, much of the present 'Park' area was cattle farms and the policy was to shoot all large carnivores for stock-protection. Many fine trees were felled for timber and there was much 'over grazing' by cattle, which were confined by numerous fences.
These cattle farms were eventually bought up or 'donated' to form the present National Park a process that is continuing. Artificial water points and fences ended the seasonal movement of herds. 'Game' numbers increased, veld quality deteriorated and the trend was set for increase in low succession species (impala etc) and decrease in high succession species such as sable and tsessebe.
Impala spread from one known population in the Rabelais Dam area near Orpen, to what they are now. It became sacrilege to shoot large carnivores. Recently, it has become 'economically acceptable' to permit trophy hunting within the National Park. Elephants and Buffalo 'Yes' but not Lions or Leopard. The latter may only be shot for 'research' purposes or if they dare to interfere with camp safety or human activity.
If they leave the park and dare to kill domestic stock they are immediately annihilated. One can appreciate the 'viewing potential' of large and 'conditioned' carnivores and the perspective that humans and their possessions are more valuable than wild animals. The perspective might change if the 'escapee' animals became the property of the adjoining landowners and they were able to realise some financial benefit other than 'compensation'.
Why the outcry when 'Kruger' lions are shot by professional hunters outside the park? I don't think it is the killing of these animals as much as the 'baiting' of these animals that is considered unethical. Why then is leopard 'baiting' legally considered an ethical form of hunting or the 'shooting' of animals at water holes or other attractants? Lions, leopards, crocodiles and other predators wait for and ambush prey at waterholes and 'nature lovers' consider this form of killing the highlight of their 'natural' experience.
Why are massive contributions made to save one leopard on the land of influential landowners when many other leopards are destroyed on land owned by peasant farmers. Would the donors be willing to pay out to 'non influential' land owners to save other leopards? or is one's 'status' more important than the species ? Is it because a beautiful, spotted leopard is 'in vogue' in the 'conservation world' rather than a beautiful, spotted Nguni bull or a beautifully patterned Beefmaster?
No, but cattle are bred to be killed and eaten - So what about lions that are bred to be hunted? Are bred lions more sacred than bred sheep? Why are 'white' lions accorded special status when we consider other animal 'albinos' as freaks? How do we form these perspectives of what is right and what is wrong? Is it 'fashionable' to be perceived as a Conservationist and is the 'credibility ' of Nature not often abused as an advertising tool for commercial junk? Look at it from the angle of 'Need' or 'Greed' and it might assist in forming a realistic perspective.
The 'bakkie' full of sticks or the woman with a bundle of wood on her head is denuding the veld but not the bulldozer clearing hectares of land into piles where it is burned without any benefit to the ecosystem. Throwing cans, bottles and other inorganic 'litter' around is bad for natural systems but the factories that produce such junk are hailed as progressive producers of commodities and job opportunity.
Junk is OK if you throw it in a bin or a rubbish dump but not if it is where people can see it. Smoking is bad for you and the environent but it is fine to travel by jumbo jet and burn up the ozone. - and by the way - "Don't smoke while breast-feeding you may burn your mother" !! Breaking down or damaging a big tree is sacrilege but slashing down a young one is OK. If the tree is damaged by an elephant or an eland that is natural and acceptable. Breaking a branch is natural but cutting it with a saw is unsightly.
Wild animal droppings are exciting but dog, cattle and human droppings are a disgusting form of pollution. It is damaging and illegal to fiddle around with a bird's nest or shoot birds unless it is by some 'qualified' person in the name of 'research'. The presumption that collared and marked animals are acting 'completely naturally'!! That dams will catch the water in our rivers but not the silt from denuded, upstream areas.
cattle ranching in the national park areas now when it was quite acceptable to do so a few years ago? Why clear job and timber giving plantations to save water when we are busy wasting and polluting our present water resources? Why 'skoonmaak' the road verges with a bulldozer, to the detriment of some growing trees, when many people could have benefited from jobs to do the clearing in a more delicate fashion? or was some private 'lucrative contract' arranged?
Why scrape areas bare anyway? To keep the rats and skellems away? The complaint that the ground water table is 30 metres down on normal is not surprising when you consider that the water is running off full of silt into the rivers instead of being held by vegetation and infiltrating the soil to replenish the ground water. Why, when water is such a rare resource in South Africa, permit unrestricted housing development along the banks of our major rivers?
What about the riverine habitat and the animals that live there and where is all the effluent from these developments going to be dumped? Why is water pumped out of river catchments that have been conserved into catchments where no conservation measures have been taken and the rivers destroyed? When the law states that no natural bush areas may be cleared without a permit Why is so much clearing done without permission?
Why are large areas consistently burned without legal authority or permission each year? Why, when AIDS is such a killer and so much money and effort is spent on, what has become 'big business', does the Government offer 'cash, child incentives' to any person, as soon as they are capable of having a child? To make sure that AIDS keeps spreading so that more funding can be claimed?
Why, when we find a lovely natural area 'away from it all', do we persist in scraping, cutting, felling, building and developing it (or destroying it) to suit ourselves? Why? forget it!! Live and let live. Maybe there is reason for the world's main religions starting in desert areas. May be that is where we are heading. Let's hope we wake up before then because, for sure, the stars look better in a quiet, clean atmosphere when you have a full stomach. I would suggest that the aspects to address are SELFISHNESS and GREED. They are not 'out there' they are 'inside'!
By Dave Rushworth