Mark Car­war­dine

The broad­caster and cam­paigner ex­plains why we need to per­son­alise con­ser­va­tion, as now, more than ever, an in­di­vid­u­ally named an­i­mal will make head­line news.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents - MARK CAR­WAR­DINE is a frus­trated and frank con­ser­va­tion­ist.

A badger called Beryl? How nam­ing an­i­mals can help in con­ser­va­tion

Peo­ple might take no­tice if they were in­tro­duced to a tiger called Eric.

One of the great chal­lenges in con­ser­va­tion is that there is no end. We can never let our guard down and say, ‘Right, that’s such-and-such a species saved – now let’s go and save some­thing else’. The orig­i­nal threats rarely go away and, with unerring in­evitabil­ity, there are new ones lurk­ing just around the cor­ner, ready to strike the mo­ment we take our eyes off the ball.

This means two things. First, it makes con­ser­va­tion in­ter­minably ex­pen­sive, be­cause we can’t take money away from one species to save another. Sec­ond, con­ser­va­tion is se­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to ‘sell’. How can we in­spire peo­ple to sup­port some­thing so com­pli­cated and long-winded, with ab­so­lutely no guar­an­tee of suc­cess?

When I first started work­ing in con­ser­va­tion – straight out of univer­sity – one of my first tasks was to pro­mote a cam­paign to save the tiger from ex­tinc­tion. Thirty-seven years later, noth­ing much has changed. We are still try­ing to save the tiger. It hasn’t dis­ap­peared yet – so we must be do­ing some­thing right – but it’s still tee­ter­ing on the brink, just as it was all those years ago. To the pub­lic it has be­come lit­tle more than back­ground noise: ‘Haven’t you saved the tiger yet? What have you been do­ing all this time?’

Sav­ing in­di­vid­ual an­i­mals is so much eas­ier. Sup­pose there were two cam­paigns: one to res­cue a cru­elly treated tiger called Babar from a di­lap­i­dated zoo some­where, and the other to raise money for tiger con­ser­va­tion in In­dia. Res­cu­ing Babar would get the most public­ity and raise the most money, be­cause it is an easy con­cept with a be­gin­ning, a mid­dle and (most im­por­tantly) an end. You can imag­ine all those up­lift­ing pic­tures of him look­ing happy and liv­ing it up in a re­tire­ment home for tigers in the wilds of Sur­rey. Job done. Thank you very much. Pro­tect­ing wild tigers, on the other hand, can have no grand fi­nale. And even if we do ul­ti­mately bring them safely back from the verge of ex­tinc­tion (though, to be hon­est, I’m not sure we ever will) we are des­tined to watch over them for­ever.

Last year, two lions – Saeed and Simba – made the head­lines. They were res­cued by the an­i­mal wel­fare char­ity Four Paws from aban­doned zoos in war-torn Syria and Iraq. They’ve just been in the news again, be­ing given a new lease of life in a big cat sanc­tu­ary in South Africa. That’s fan­tas­tic – we should care about in­di­vid­ual an­i­mals as well as en­tire species – but the frus­tra­tion is that we strug­gle to in­spire ac­tion to stop the cat­a­strophic de­cline of lions in the wild. How of­ten does that make head­line news?

The les­son is sim­ple. We need to per­son­alise con­ser­va­tion. These days, thanks to the rapidly grow­ing trend for sim­ple so­cial me­dia sound bites, most peo­ple aren’t in­ter­ested in de­tail. They don’t want to hear about the chal­lenges of anti-poach­ing op­er­a­tions, the in­tri­ca­cies of trade in tiger bones, or ef­forts to close down the Chi­nese mar­ket. But they might sit up and take no­tice if they were in­tro­duced to a tiger called Eric. I’m be­ing face­tious, but it’s true, and there are many ex­am­ples to prove the point. Keiko the killer whale opened our eyes to cetaceans in cap­tiv­ity, Ce­cil the lion put the rep­re­hen­si­ble ‘sport’ of tro­phy hunt­ing well and truly on the map, and Sirocco the kakapo (who shame­lessly shagged my head in Last Chance to See) in­tro­duced the world to the Crit­i­cally En­dan­gered night par­rots of New Zealand.

I’m not sug­gest­ing a change in con­ser­va­tion pol­icy. Just the recog­ni­tion that in­di­vid­ual an­i­mals, with heartwrenc­h­ing sto­ries we can all re­late to, raise money and sup­port far more ef­fec­tively than en­tire species. And if that re­quires a lit­tle an­thro­po­mor­phism, by putting the spot­light on a badger called Beryl or a hen har­rier called Harry, then so be it.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? If you want to sup­port Mark in his views or shoot him down in flames, email wildlifele­t­[email protected]­me­di­

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