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Durban - The old white conservationist with the big grey beard and booming oratory may not have won too many friends in Durban on Tuesday.
This was when Shane Mahoney reminded a conference of mainly white wildlife managers and ecologists that most of the world’s population was not white, and that there were many different views on environmental conservation.
“Of the 7 billion people in the world, only 1 billion are white. The rest are of different skin colours and have different views of the world… (yet) what is the make-up of this audience?” he asked rhetorically.
Mahoney, listed as one of the 10 most influential conservationists in Canada, said the “Edenic myth” was still common among many conservationists – that wildlife and animals would be just fine if humanity were to simply leave them alone.
The keynote speaker at the International Wildlife Management Congress in Durban said he was convinced that wildlife and wild places could only exist in future by virtue of human actions and choices.
“None of them will last without our interference.”
Mahoney said he also believed that the “conservation war” would never be over. “It is infinite and perpetual. There will never be a day when we can say, ‘conservation has worked’. It will be an effort every day to think about, and be concerned about and to do something about.”
He believes all people have to start thinking differently as the world begins to move from the “age of entitlement” to a new “age of ecological consequences”.
“No one on the globe will escape this reality, no matter their skin colour or income.”
Mahoney, who hails from a fishing community in Newfoundland, said the massive cod fishery of his home coastline had been closed in 1992 after almost 500 years of overfishing. “It was an ecological collapse of monumental proportions – even though it attracted less attention than the plight of tigers or rhinos.
“If conservation is to have any chance, it must be grounded in the hearts and minds of people.”
Conservationists needed to bridge the divide between animal rights movements and those who believed in the sustainable use of nature.
The conservation movement should also focus less on cold science and return to a position of trying to “move people in their hearts”.
“Martin Luther King did not open his extraordinary oration by saying: ‘I have a strategic plan.’ He opened by saying: ‘I have dream.’ So his words carry more moral weight than the word of any scientist on this planet today.
“There is power and inspiration in every individual of every race and colour.”
Nature conservation was “the most complicated business there is”.
“The ultimate goal is keeping wildlife with us, and intact – but we are not going to tell people that they cannot use wildlife, because cultural differences matter tremendously.
“Sometimes people make the assumption that people who harvest bushmeat are ‘bad’ or don’t value wildlife. But they are just trying to make a living.”
There was not one perfect world strategy or silver bullet to resolve the problems of conservation of nature, “but we either start to solve modern problems with modern solutions or we’ll fail”.
“We need something different. And that is in reaching individuals and making conservation an issue of nationalism, culture and pride.” - The Mercury