We need to sweep away a number of illusions. If we are to become effective in conservation we must first stop deluding ourselves: we are not winning the battle for conservation.
On our behalf government agencies and others create nature reserves, sanctuaries, national parks, biosphere reserves and other similar undertakings in an attempt to protect wildlife. We develop national and international laws to protect endangered species. We put in place agencies to fight illegal trafficking in species and in species’ products: yet with all of that in place we are still not winning the battle.
True we can point at a number of skirmishes that we have won, or appear to have won – the whooping crane project, the Arabian Oryx undertaking, the work to protect the nana goose. But these successes are only campaigns in a fractious battle. The real struggle is not for swamplands; it is not for Indian rhino, it is not even for ozone or rain forests. If conservation is to succeed the engagement must be for the minds of people.
Books on conservation often offer us lists of species that have become extinct. Species with wonderful names that stir our imagination – the giant flightless owls of Cuba or the laughing owls of New Zealand; the Japanese wolf; the Samoan wood rail; the pygmy hippopotamus and the legendary dodo. The songs and sounds of these once delightful creatures are now lost to us.
And today across the world, wonderful birds and animals are close to their tipping point. Are they, like the Carolina parakeets, to become for us a receding memory of living things that once were?
National park staff, biologists and NGOs can only do so much in protecting species on our behalf. Countless men and women across the planet dedicate their lives to what they can do that species be protected, often with little resources at their command; often against political indifference and on occasion in direct danger to their own lives. We owe these people a lot. Bless them. But they are far too few in number when stacked up against what is needed if we are to be really effective in conserving biodiversity: a popular word now on many lips.
Professional biologists and others need help. Help from whom? From the rest of us. Unless all of us begin to see and to commit to an ethics code of conduct in our relations to wildlife that will become strong enough in numbers to spill over into the political world we will remain forever tinkering around the edges of what needs to be done if species are to be protected. Let us be clear here – scientists and dedicated conservationists will, in the end, in spite of their admirable work, not be able to protect species. They need our help. They need the broad and deep roar of many demanding that our societies develop and subscribe to a set of behaviours that will benefit the protection of nature. Without the majority of citizens demanding that certain ethical standards become general in our everyday thinking then we will continue to lose species to extinction.
I have worked for many years both in Canada and in Ireland in conservation education in parks and in nature reserves and have come to the conviction that without a wide-reaching behavioural change in society in its attitude and indeed in its perception of wildlife that conservation of habitat and of species will fail. The primary conservation battleground must now shift its focus onto this area.
I hope others agree – and agree to come together to speak out for a need to force into existence a ‘land ethic’ as first proposed by Rachel Carson many years ago.