The Multinational Monitor


B O O K   R E V I E W


At the Hand of Man: Peril and Hope for Africa's Wildlife
By Raymond Bonner
New York: Random House, 1993. 322 pp.

In one of their most successful campaigns, U.S. environmental groups exposed the merciless slaughter of African elephants for their tusks and the danger of their imminent extinction in the mid-1980s. The U.S. public eagerly joined the anti-ivory bandwagon, showering tremendous support on organizations promising to save the African elephant. In late 1989, the signatories to the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species imposed an international ban on the ivory trade intended to decrease the incidence of elephant poaching. From the perspective of most Westerners, the ban seemed to he a victory hard earned and well deserved.

Now Raymond Bonner steps forward and raises some disturbing questions about the entire ivory ban controversy. Was an international ivory trade ban the best method of saving the African elephant? If not, why did powerful and respected conservation organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) support the ban? Was the effect that the ban would have on human welfare taken into consideration? And finally, how much influence did the African people and African governments have on the decision of these organizations to support a ban as compared to the influence of U.S. animal rights activists?

Bonner answers these questions in a behind-the-scenes look at the world of animal conservation and preservation in At the Hand of Man: Peril and Hope fir Africa 's Wildlife. Bonner argues that organizational politics and a narrow concern with the bottom line drove the consumer groups more than sound science did. Most African governments and people opposed the universal ban on trade in ivory advocated by AWF and WWF, on the grounds that it was contrary to their economic and other interests. African opponents of the ban pointed out that although the overall numbers of elephants were declining, the African elephant was not in as grave danger on the entire continent as the Western media reported. Many African and Western ecologists and other experts also opposed the ban, insisting that the preservation methods that best served the interests of people and animals were culling and regulated hunting.

The major conservation organizations, according to Bonner, were clearly aware of these facts. But with the influences that animal rights organizations who vehemently opposed these forms of "sustainable utilization" had on the hearts and wallets of the contributors to conservation organizations, AWF and WWF buckled. "Organizations discovered that embracing the elephant and calling for a ban brought in money like no other cause," Bonner writes. "Facts that rebutted the need for a ban were ignored. ...The end result, Bonner writes, was that "Africans were ignored, overwhelmed, manipulated and outmaneuvered - by a conservation crusade led, orchestrated and dominated by white Westerners."

After sifting through the unnecessarily lengthy and detailed account of the not-so-scrupulous history of conservation organizations and the even shadier dealings of sonic important participants in the ivory ban controversy, the reader finds the significance of Bonner's book in the simpler position of the Africans who opposed the ivory ban. The African elephant was not in danger of extinction uniformly throughout the continent and yet the ban was universal. Countries such as Zimbabwe and South Africa, strong opponents of the ban, noted their own stable or increasing elephant populations. Even Kenya, the country where elephant poaching was most severe and notorious, had too large an elephant population in many areas given the size and needs of its human population. A large elephant population means something quite different to African farmers than it does to animal lovers continents away with romantic ideas of majestic creatures in need of protection from the evils of humans. "We think of the majesty and beauty of wild animals. An African who has to live with them is likely to think about the devastation that a rampaging elephant can wreak on his crops or the death that a lion or a leopard can bring to his children," Bonner writes. To African farmers, the elephant is as helpful to their agricultural development as the wolf was to the U.S. farmers on the western frontier.

The most natural and immediate result of the ban on ivory trading - the increased population of elephants - was perhaps the least of the worries of the African people. It was the additional steps that might be taken by Western conservation organizations to save the elephant that were most feared, Many African villages have unfortunately had first-hand experience with the results of overzealous attempts to save endangered species or ecosystems. Too often, a concern for the welfare of human beings is absent from the projects of-Western conservationists. Bonner cites several examples where local African peoples were forced off their land either for the protection of an endangered species in an area or because the area was considered suitable for a conservation park. Consistently, the displaced groups were given substandard land and watched helplessly as hotels, campsites and other modern tourist attractions appeared on land they once called home.

The most egregious example cited by Bonner is the situation of the Maasai in Tanzania. The Maasai people were forced to move twice: once for the creation of the Serengeti National Park and again when the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater was designated a protected area. To make matters worse, cultivating on the small plots of land around the rim of the crater on which the Maasai were allowed to live was outlawed in the name of preserving the ecosystem. And, while wealthy tourists can buy the right to hunt wildlife for sport, the Maasai are not allowed to kill wildlife for food. While the Maasai are prohibited from entering their former home except by special permission, tourist companies set up semi-permanent campsites on the crater floor. A once-proud people are forced to beg from the foreigners "eco-touring" their former land to avoid starvation. The Maasai tragedy is representative, Bonner argues, of the consequences of conservation efforts imposed by Westerners on the African people.

Bonner uses the controversy over the African elephant and ivory ban to illustrate the flaws in conservation efforts in Africa in general. He concludes that if done thoughtfully, human life need not be sacrificed in the effort to preserve wildlife. In fact, the most successful conservation projects place a priority on the needs of local people, since programs that ignore or displace nearby communities will fail to stem, and may even increase, the social pressures on animal populations.

One African-run conservation project which Bonner finds to be exemplary is the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE). CAMPFIRE has conservation projects in Nyaminyami, Zimbabwe among other villages. This "radical conservation program [is] one that will do more to save the elephant than the ban on ivory trading, and one that goes farther toward giving people the benefits of wildlife than anything being tried in Kenya or elsewhere on the continent. The people of Nyanunyami can cull impala herds, or sell concessions to hunt lions or elephants, or set up tourist joint ventures - and they get nearly all the financial returns, not just a small share." The basic premise of such a program is one of self-determination. The people living near the wildlife are the first to suffer if outsiders execute their conservation projects poorly and without local peoples' interests in mind. With CAMPFIRE's approach, local people, not just foreign tourism companies, benefit from the preservation of wildlife. The success of this program buttresses Bonner's assertion that local people will take steps to preserve wildlife if they are empowered to design and implement programs that will simultaneously advance their own interests and protect animal herds.

Where CAMPFIRE's approach runs into difficulty is in Westerners' inability to accept the seeming contradiction that culling and hunting can indeed save wildlife, while also preserving and enhancing the livelihood of people in developing countries. Thus some U.S. conservation organizations publicly oppose CAMPFIRE's methods of preservation out of fear of losing members- but secretly allow such activity in the projects that they themselves sponsor. However, in supporting the ban in ivory trading, Bonner argues, AWF and WWF harmed African communities much more than the non-publicized parts of their projects did good.

Bonner's book leaves the reader asking the usual philosophical questions. To whom, if anyone, does wildlife belong? Should human beings actively intervene in the processes of nature? With much of Africa's wildlife in danger of extinction as a result of human population increase and African communities threatened by misguided conservation efforts, however, focusing on these questions is a luxury neither Africa nor the world can afford. On the other hand, certain questions must be answered if African wildlife is to be spared the fate of wildlife in the United States. First, how can conservation organizations incorporate the needs of people as a primary step in protecting wildlife? And, second, how can African people become more involved in conservation projects and thus more in charge of their own destiny? Failing to synthesize the interests of people and wildlife will not only harm humans, but is likely to ultimately boomerang on animal protection efforts. As Bonner concludes, "All we have to do to preserve Africa's wildlife is to care about the people as much as we care about the wildlife. "

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