It isn’t unusual to hear from wildlife conservationists that they entered their field expecting to work primarily with animals only to find that some of the most important parts of their job involve working with people.

Straight to the source

In most cases, major threats to endangered species are manmade. Our ever-expanding human footprint has remote and long-term effects and encroaches ever deeper into wild habitats. In the Himalaya, herders kill snow leopards that they believe have eaten their livestock. In Mozambique, local people set traps to capture bush-meat like antelopes and inadvertently kill lions. All over Africa, poachers slaughter elephants for their ivory.

With fewer wild places, conflict occurs as animals raid crops, predate on domestic animals or compete for basic resources such as habitat or water. Furthermore, an increasingly lucrative market for wildlife parts has intensified poaching pressure. As the world faces a likely sixth mass extinction event, the ecosystems we depend on become more fragile, putting human populations at risk. The status quo is a lose-lose scenario for people and animals. But it could be a win-win.

TRUST AND TUSKS: "There is no one-size fits-all-solution for wildlife conservation," Collomb urges, "But there is no doubt that working from the ground up with communities is essential for long-lasting solutions to save wildlife."

Turning it around

Humans who bear the costs of living in close proximity to wildlife also have the potential to be its strongest allies. By working with local people to improve their livelihoods and meet the aspirations they have for themselves and their children, we can turn wildlife conservation from conflict to opportunity. Numerous examples demonstrate that a community-focused approach to wildlife conservation is essential for wildlife and people to coexist and thrive.

Acting on their belief that hungry people cannot care about conservation, the Niassa Lion Project in Mozambique started a guinea fowl breeding program to introduce a new source of food. Fewer people hunting for bush-meat means fewer snares set out and fewer lions caught in those snares.

Conservationists also help herders to build better fences to protect their livestock or to use new technologies like flashing lights that keep snow leopards or other predators away. In Kenya, working with communities to restore healthy grasslands and regulate access to water is essential for the livestock of pastoralist communities as well as for wildlife. In Namibia, legislation empowers local people to manage and benefit from wildlife through tourism, creating a strong constituency for healthy wild animal populations.

There is no one-size fits-all-solution for wildlife conservation, but there is no doubt that working from the ground up with communities is essential for long-lasting solutions to save wildlife.