A few years ago, while walking through the Peak District National Park in the English countryside, Peter Lindsey, WCN Conservation Initiatives Director, was struck by how markedly different the concept of a ‘national park’ in the UK was relative to that in Zimbabwe—Peter’s birthplace and home. The way in which each country approached wildlife conservation was vastly different.
While the Peak District was beautiful, rather than encompassing wilderness, it contained human-engineered fields, moorlands, and scatterings of houses and businesses. Several of the large mammals that once inhabited the park were noticeably absent. By contrast, in Zimbabwe, a ‘national park’ comprises of natural wilderness that is comparatively untouched by human habitation, livestock, and businesses (other than those related to tourism). Here, people who live around the protected areas are expected to co-exist with a wide array of wildlife that also share the landscape, including large mammals like elephants and lions that pose a threat to their lives, as well as their crops and livestock.
To Peter, this observation raised an ethical question—did this mean that Zimbabweans and citizens of other developing countries were making greater sacrifices for nature than the citizens of countries like the UK or the U.S?
While appreciating that such comparisons were admittedly simplistic, Peter felt that this example emphasized the need to compare the conservation efforts of all nations, to assess their contributions and sacrifices toward conserving terrestrial ‘mega-fauna’ or land-based large mammals.
The team focused on mega-fauna —such as elephants, buffaloes, deer, lions, tigers, wolves (to name a few)—because these species are particularly threatened by human activities. They are also difficult to conserve and challenging to live with because of their tendency to come into conflict with people. In spite of these challenges, mega-fauna species play especially important ecological roles, and also inspire unparalleled passions in people for conservation. Peter and his colleagues from Panthera, Wildcru at the University of Oxford, and various universities created a ‘Mega-Fauna Conservation Index’ (MCI).
The Mega-Fauna Conservation Index’ (MCI) measured countries against three yardsticks:
A) The proportion of the country occupied by each mega-fauna species
B) The proportion of the range of these species that is strictly protected in each country
C) The amount of money spent on conservation by each country – either domestically or internationally, relative to GDP.
The purpose of this index was to establish a floating yardstick of effort by countries on the conservation of wildllife. The idea is to use this index to encourage ‘under-performers’ to invest more effort, which would thus raise the benchmark – thus encouraging greater effort by the global community of nations at large.
The results were surprising and can be found on the Panthera blog, along with solutions on how countries worldwide can improve their contributions to terrestrial mega fauna (large mammal) conservation, and by extension, all wildlife. The study was also published in The Economist and the University of Oxford website. In addition, the original paper is available for download.