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Environmental Protection

Why Community Is the Cornerstone of Conservation

Photo: Courtesy of IFAW

Azzedine T. Downes

President and CEO, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

As a global community, we are bound by a common purpose — to promote conservation of the world’s animal species and assume the role of stewards upon this shared earth. Alarmingly, a 2019 report released by IPBES warned of the unprecedented rate of species extinctions, on par with a recent Living Planet Index that stated the world is on track to lose two-thirds of its wild animal populations by 2020.

The key to conservation

So what do we need to do to make conservation a success? For me, it is one element in particular — engaging the local community — that will prove the cornerstone of success.

As responsible stewards of the earth’s species, we must recognize the rights of the community — listen to their voices, support their grassroots efforts, acknowledge their role upon the conservation stage. Historically, conservation has been left in the hands of “experts” outside of the local community. This has fostered the notion that both animals and people are not complementary, when in reality, they are deeply interwoven. Ours is a shared history — one that must continue to unfold rather than unravel.

Our conservation work has taken us to communities around the world. From establishing safe corridors for native elephant populations that promote peaceful coexistence, to engaging local communities to combat illegal poaching, to rescuing individual animals critical to the survival of species. From the grassroots level to the international arena, we have seen how community forms the building blocks of sustainable change.

Let us embrace this collective movement of conservation and bring every community along in the push for progress. Only then will we be best positioned to protect the sanctuary of our earth.

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