A Digital Conservation Movement : The Holy Grail for wildlife?
The African continent is recognised by the world for its wildlife habitat. A much faster pace of industrialisation and earlier population explosions on other continents over the last few hundred years have resulted in extreme eradication of wildlife in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Africa is the last remaining bastion of wildlife preservation and the continent has the potential for impactful sustainable economic growth through safari and photo ecotourism. Sadly though, the demand for Africa’s animal heritage stems mainly from inhabitants of other continents. Non-African populations have used elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn for centuries.
Conservation efforts in the twentieth century managed tore-establish populations of species such as white rhinoceros, which was near extinction in 1900 when there were fewer than 50 left in the wild. Thanks to gigantic efforts of conservationists such as Dr Ian Player, nearly 20 000 white rhinos survive in the wild. Black rhinos, on the other hand, have diminished from 65 000 in 1960 to fewer than 4 900 today. In Asia, less than 40 Javan rhinos and a mere 140 Sumatran rhinos survive today. The last of the five species of rhinoceros, the one-horned Indian rhino, counts less than 3 500. South Africa’s conservation efforts have resulted in preserving about eighty-five percent of all rhinoceros populations. Yet over 2300 rhinos have been poached in South Africa since 2008, with projections of nearly 1000 for 2013 alone, a fifty percent increase on the 668 that were slaughtered in 2012.
With just over half a million elephants surviving in Africa, poaching of these magnificent tuskers has risen to alarmingly high levels in
Central Africa, where it is estimated that about forty thousand elephants are slaughtered every year, representing nearly eight percent of total populations. In March 2013, armed poachers massacred 86 elephants in southwest Chad, including thirty three pregnant females, in one week. Elephant populations follow traditional migration routes from the Central African Republic, through Chad to Cameroon. Three decades ago there were estimates of 150 000 across the region; today the figure is under 2 000. The Chadian and Sudanese poachers were armed with AK47 rifles and hacksaws, carried on horseback. It may take more than 20 years for the population to recover. It is reported that al-Shabaab, a Somali-based terror group, receives up to 40 percent of its funds from ivory users and buyers. War has been declared on the African elephant. The cause: demand from Asian countries such as China and from Roman Catholic worshippers in the Philippines. (Read Bryan Christy’s article in National Geographic October 2012: ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/10/ivory/christy-text)
‘Civilisation’ conjures thoughts of progress, refinement, cultivation, sophistication and development. Yet all civilisations, past and present, have been instrumental in the brutal and senseless eradication of wildlife on beautiful planet Earth. Today, a small percentage of mankind is instrumental in trying to preserve critically endangered species. In this modern age of technology and communication platforms, available to the world, it is incomprehensible that the last decade has yet again seen an explosion of wildlife eradication on the African continent. The brutality that men exert on animals reminds of a profound quote ahead of its time, by the great philosopher, artist, mathematician, scientist and sculptor, Leonardo da Vinci, who made remarkable discoveries in every field, from medicine to optics to engineering and applied science.
“The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men.”
Modern discoveries of the Internet, smart phones, digital cameras and the ease with which anyone can broadcast image messages to the world on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo and Google Plus, may just be the platform to educate the inhabitants of Earth to preserve wildlife for future generations. Never before did the tools exist to so effortlessly convey messages to different parts of the world at the click of a button. Facebook has over a billion users, a community larger than most countries. Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram and YouTube communicate billions of messages and images per day. A conscientious ‘Digital Conservation Movement’ is required amongst all different cultures across all social media platforms to initiate a paradigm shift in human behaviour to save wildlife species from extinction.
In late September 2012, WWF-South Africa launched a worldwide campaign on Twitter aiming to raise global awareness with the hashtag #iam4rhinos. From more than a hundred countries around the world, concerned citizens tweeted and re-tweeted, ultimately reaching 150 000 tweets in a few days. The hashtag made over 320 million impression and briefly trended worldwide at number one. Technological development of smartphones and the affordability of DSLR cameras with video capabilities will see an even bigger proliferation of images broadcast over the Internet. Growing up with instruments of technology and communication, generations Y and Z may just be the holy grail the animals need in creating ubiquitous awareness to counter what men have done for millennia: destroying mother Earth’s heritage of magnificent fauna and flora.
In a global effort to raise awareness, the Philippines government crushed and destroyed five tons of ivory in June 2013, becoming the first ivory-consuming nation to destroy its stockpiles. Kenya’s President, Daniel Arap Moi, set fire to 13 tons of ivory in 1989, one of the world’s most recognised acts of defiance against the slaughter of elephants. In the same year, members of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) passed a global ban on the international ivory trade. The explosion of Asian populations, now a staggering 4,8 billion people, poses a real threat to Earth and wildlife in Africa. The Chinese Government plans to urbanise another 400 million rural people to ensure its economy is less dependent on exports and more reliant on domestic consumption for growth. Legal and illegal deforestation in South America and Africa, combined with annual trade of twenty billion dollars in wildlife trafficking, are catastrophic for the biodiversity of Africa’s wildlife.
Never before has the world – governments and people – more urgently needed to change their thinking on the preservation of wildlife. The era in which humans have destroyed so much, so easily, has to end. Technology and a younger generation may just prevent a cataclysmic result.
“We have not inherited this earth from our parents, we have borrowed it from our children. Anyone who fails to recognise this is either ignorant, a fool, or evil.” – Moses Henry Cass: Australian Minister for Environment and Conservation, 1974
By Dex Kotze
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The African continent is recognised by the world for its wildlife habitat. A much faster pace of industrialisation and earlier population explosions on other continents over the last few hundred years have resulted in extreme eradication of wildlife in Europe, Asia and the Americas…