“You can’t have cats without a lot of cat food” is how Dr Ullas Karanth from Wildlife Conservation Society India spoke about his work saving tigers in India. “Fifty years ago I thought there was no hope for tigers but with so much work being successful I’m quietly optimistic. But conservation is long term, you can’t have quick deals.”
Yesterday I heard an engaging Dr Karanth speaking at the 9th Annual Wildlife Conservation run by Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) in San Francisco. About 700 people came along to hear twenty of the world’s top wildlife conservationists speak passionately about their work with endangered animals and the communities sharing their habitat.
Dr Karanth’s stories gave some insight into the challenges researchers faced working with wild animals. “Yes we have radio telemetry, wonderful technology and its easy to put on a collar, but how do you catch the damn thing? Also tracking tiger is horribly boring because you don’t see them very often. You have to follow their Pee-mails, as I call them, the scent markings and the poops.”
Founder Charles Knowles placed the event in context when he said “we are in the middle of a mass extinction rate in our history. Today one out of 1000 species goes extinct every year. While it is truly a catastrophe we believe there is hope and by working with local communities and the world’s best conservation agencies we can make a difference.”
Knowles founded WCN in 2002 and since then they have worked in 30 countries. “We have raised $15m and I want to tell you 93% of that goes directly into the field.”
Actor Edward Norton, spoke about his involvement with a Massai community project and his dissapointment the US has not signed the UN Convention on Biodiversity. “Although I’m talking to you about the political level, my passion is at the community level. The most effective work is small projects making a difference on the ground.”
This was supported by the many speakers telling stories of their work with local communities where support and education has helped change attitudes towards wild animals from being pests to being a appreciated and an asset.
Hundreds of wildlife supporters heard speakers like Rodney Jackson from the Snow Leopard Conservancy, Laurie Marker from Cheetah Conservation Fund, Iain Douglas – Hamilton from Save the Elephants and more. All had stories like working with hunters who are now conservationists, supporting women through handicraft sales and helping villagers increase income with eco tourism. Rodney Jackson quoted one villager in Ladakh India, “the snow leopard has gone from being a pest to becoming the necklace around around our mountains” through the work of the Snow Leopard Conservancy.
Exhibitors from lots of other groups working with wolves, Saiga antelope, African Dogs, Pandas, Orangutans and so many more shared stories at their tables and sold beautiful craft and art works by the communities they work with. Tables were overflowing with stuffed toy animals, handstiched carpets, cushion covers, beautiful beaded braclets and more.
There were also harrowing news stories of animal losses that could be avoided. All the more sad when we think that often it only takes as little as $5 a day to make the difference between poverty and a good life for a villager and the life and death of the animals. But we heard so many success stories of collaborative work between communities and these agencies that it was truly an inspiring day.