While the dodo is famous around the world as the symbol of extinction, the country it once used to inhabit may be less known. That country is my home island, Mauritius, that little speck in the South Western part of the Indian Ocean.
As my mentor has explained to me once, Mauritius despite its size is a very interesting case study for conservationists. It is one of the last country to be colonized and yet it has shown one of the fastest and greatest biodiversity loss. As an island, it also has high endemicity among its native species, meaning many species lost here are completely gone. 30 unique plant species, 2 unique bat species, 8 unique bird species, 5 unique reptile species and so many more invertebrate species, ALL robbed from us.
Paradoxically, Mauritius has also been an international model of conservation success in the past decades with its successful bird recovery programmes. With species like the Mauritian Kestrel being brought back from the brink of extinction, when there was only 4 individuals left in the 1970s.
But today, Mauritius is a model of another kind. It is showing the world how facts and scientific-based arguments can be completely ignored during decision making, despite these being communicated to policy makers. It is showing the world how international agreements like the Convention on Biological Diversity, of which Mauritius is a signatory, can be easily disregarded by decision-makers in favor of questionable decisions. Continue reading “Vacancy for a new dodo”
There is no doubt that contemporary conservation needs to be more than biology, and that it has shifted to include more of the human dimensions. The key role that other fields such as the social sciences and economics play in conservation is being recognized more and more. Despite some oppositions to the anthropocentric approach, we can all agree on one thing (or two): Human actions create the need for conservation and conservation is implemented by humans. Considering that human beings have such a big influence on conservation, understanding human decision-making and behavior can provide important insights for conservation. Which is where psychology can play a role.
The field of Conservation Psychology
Carol D. Saunders first proposed conservation psychology as a new field of study in 2003, defining it as “an applied field that uses psychological principles, theories, or methods to understand and solve issues related to human aspects of conservation”. When introduced it was expected to contribute to environmental sustainability by addressing two main research topics: (1) how humans behave towards nature? And (2) how humans value nature?
From inception, to organisation to implementation; Ghanaian Alumni, Dr John Abraham, reflects on the experience of organising the latest TAAG African Students’ Conference which took place in June. Read on…
I remember sitting at my desk in my apartment in Italy writing e-mails as far back as October, 2013 asking members of the Ghana TBA Alumni Group whether they felt we should bid to host the 2015 TAAG African Students’ Conference on Conservation Science. At that moment, my individual interest did not matter because we are a group. Thankfully, every member said YES! Let’s go for it. The hard work began from then.
A small team put the bid together and in January 2014, the good news arrived “…we are happy to inform you that your group, the Ghana TBA Alumni Group won the bid.” I jumped with excitement from my desk in jubilation. I made a few telephone calls to the people who helped with the bid before writing e-mails to inform all members of the Ghana TBA Alumni Group. We were very proud to have won this bid.
It’s the end of the field course here in Kibale and I’m now looking forward to getting home. The day my plane lands there’s a wedding to attend, but even before that there are many things I’ve missed — my wife, hot running water, reliable electricity, my record collection, and the ability to walk in the forest without fear of being trampled by elephants.
On the very last night here I went out with a small group to look for bush babies. We were rapidly successful, scanning trees with our torches and looking for the orange reflections of their large eyes amongst the foliage. I was walking slightly ahead, looking for the next one, when from the vegetation at the side of the road, moving as silently as an iceberg, a large bull elephant emerged right in front of us. What are the chances. It made it clear that…
The three teachers on our Tropical Biology Association field course here in Kibale abandoned the station for a day trip to the Rwenzori mountains, around two hours drive away (if nothing goes wrong, which it did). These fabled peaks are known as the Mountains of the Moon and comprise the tallest mountain range in Africa*. The Rwenzori Mountains National Park runs along the border with DR Congo where it merges with Virunga NP on the other side. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
We began at the main park gate at around 1700 m and were led by our guide through several kilometres of valley floor which had been cultivated prior to the park’s gazetting. This remained in a rather sorry state, with little evidence of regeneration. I wondered why this might be the case, and whether this was a site where assisted regeneration through tree planting would be justified…
Most of the forest close to the research station here in Kibale is logged, and of the primary forest that remains, the majority is on steep rocky slopes where extraction of timber would have been impossible. I was getting a little frustrated at not seeing any tall-stature primary forest, but that may be because the forests here seem to be relatively young.
Yesterday afternoon I decided it was time to extend the range of my excursions and, following a tip-off from one of the local PhD students, I copied his GPS base maps and headed to the southeast, descending in altitude most of the way.
I’ve been looking at tropical forests with fresh eyes on this trip, largely due to two books which I’ve been reading out here. The first, Second Growth by Robin Chazdon, is a compelling argument for the conservation of logged, degraded and secondary forests around the world. Far from being wastelands whose only worthwhile use is development or conversion to agriculture (hence the spread of oil palm), they should be viewed as valuable repositories of future diversity. Left to their own devices, or assisted when necessary, these forests can and will recover. It’s an important positive message regarding modern tropical landscapes. This isn’t to say that primary forests can be ignored — what remains still needs to be protected — but that regenerating forests have a crucial role to play in the future of conservation in the tropics.
It seems that I’m an elephant magnet. Yesterday I encountered a herd while walking alone in the forest. As one of the local researchers put it, everyone wants to see the elephants, until they do. Actually I would have been quite happy not to see them at all. Instead I’ve now run into them twice in two days.
Following a morning spent accompanying my student research groups in the field, I decided to take off on my own for the afternoon and explore the infilled savannah on the far side of the swamp. The Land Rover dropped me at the swamp and left, but I didn’t get far. About a kilometre further on I came across a large, very fresh pile of elephant dung in the middle of the trail. A few beetles had found it and were enthusiastically burrowing but there was still plenty to go round. The only…
‘Savannahs are really a dynamic mosaic in which the shifting fortunes of trees and grasses are determined by changes in the climate, the populations of large animals, and the frequency of fire. The concept of ‘climax’ vegetation is of no use here. In a wet tropical rain forest it’s clear what state the system will default to once left alone. In a savannah we can only wait and see, or manage for what we prefer.’
Dr Eichhorn continues to share his experience in Kibale, Uganda. Read on!!
We’ve just returned from a four-day trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park, one of Uganda’s flagship tourist destinations. It’s an extensive tract of savannah where one can readily see buffalo, elephants, hippos, and, if you’re lucky, lions or leopards.
What you won’t see are giraffes or zebra. Put aside for now that these glaring omissions are the result of staggering levels of poaching during the civil war. Their continued absence is a deliberate policy on the part of Uganda Wildlife Authority, who maintain the parks such that no single site contains the full complement of large animals. The rationale is that tourists will then travel around more and spread their largesse across the country. The obvious question is why would a wildlife tourist choose to come to Uganda when they could go on safari in Kenya or Tanzania and see all the big game…