2 Jun 2017

Showing only “doom and gloom” would cripple conservation action

Studies show that people can be overwhelmed by information depicting the magnitude of damage on wildlife and their habitats, causing the perception of an irreversible and helpless situation.

Griffon vulture rescued from mistreatment in Morocco pictured in the wild © Rachid El Khalmichi
Griffon vulture rescued from mistreatment in Morocco pictured in the wild © Rachid El Khalmichi
By Mercy Waithira and Jude Fuhnwi

Prolonged and worsening habitat loss and the species extinction crisis are some of the main environmental headlines dominating conservation news today.

Vulture declines in Africa are a serious and growing issue that some experts believe, requires a positive mobilising approach to fully recover the populations on the continent. Despite the seemingly grim outlook for the vultures, BirdLife International and partners across Africa are taking the approach to show that the fight to protect vultures is not a lost battle and that there is hope to turn the situation around, if we work together.

“People are motivated to participate where they feel the outcomes are positive,” said Dr Niki Harré, Psychologist from the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

Dr Harré was speaking at the first-ever global Conservation Optimism Summit, which was held at the Dulwich College in London with support from the University of Oxford, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS), the Zoological Society of London and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

The summit brought together individuals from diverse professional backgrounds from across the world.  Scientists, psychologists, artists, journalists and students all linked with marine or terrestrial conservation in some way attended the event to celebrate success stories in conservation and inspire positivity.

Back view of participants at the London Conservation Optimism Summit © Bara Noseido

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Studies show that people can be overwhelmed by the magnitude of damage on wildlife and their habitats and could perceive that a situation is not reversible or that nothing can be done to help it. Such perceptions might not encourage any action from people, and could instead cripple action worldwide.

“We at BirdLife Africa, through our partners are optimistic and determined to change the vulture narrative from a looming crisis to that of success,” said Mercy Waithira, Conservation Leadership Program intern, who represented BirdLife International’s Africa Partnership Secretariat.

Ms Waithira highlighted the solution-oriented approach and steps taken by the BirdLife Africa partnership to save vultures in the continent. She explained how the organisation has secured feeding zones in Zambia for the endangered birds and engaged local communities and governments to halt poisoning in the Maasai Mara area in Kenya.

“It is hard to imagine Africa’s wilderness without vultures, it would simply be a carcass riddled mess,” she stressed.

Illegal poisoning of wildlife has caused a chain reaction with disastrous effects on vultures who are the hardest hit by indiscriminate poisoning using poison baits where farmers and herders are typically targeting predators such as lions and hyenas. It is known that one poisoned elephant carcass can cause the death of up to 500 critically endangered vultures. Persecution, collision and electrocution with energy infrastructure and the negative perceptions of vultures by society still pose threats to the existence of vultures.

BirdLife’s approach to secure safe zones for the endangered vultures in Africa, and the involvement of locals, scientists, government and other stakeholders in the protection of the birds are important steps to reverse the dangerous trend that has engulfed their survival.

These collaborative efforts have given communities the platform and information to report poisoning incidents and governments have developed legal frameworks to address poisoning and prosecute perpetrators. In Zambia, farm owners have offered designated safe feeding zones in their farms for vultures.

The three-day summit in London was a platform to inspire students and young professionals to pursue careers in conservation. It also motivated conservationists to keep up their work for nature while encouraging governments and industries that rely heavily on natural resources to engage in sustainable approaches and monitor their ecological footprints. Conservation optimism recognises that threats facing the planet are serious and require positivity through solution-based strategies to achieve more gains.

“With this approach we are confident we will be able to make a positive difference for Africa’s vultures,” said Masumi Gudka, Vulture Conservation Manager at BirdLife International’s Africa Secretariat.