4 December 2022
LET’S STRIVE TO POSITIVELY COEXIST!
It’s World Wildlife Conservation Day and Born Free’s Head of Conservation Dr Nikki Tagg encourages each of us to play our part in a positive coexistence with nature.
To save endangered wildlife populations, we ask people to strive for human-wildlife coexistence, and this is a key theme in Born Free’s programmes. But, I would argue that we also need to point this finger at ourselves, as the ability to achieve positive coexistence with nature globally is necessary to combat the current climate and biodiversity crises.
Where people and wildlife live in the same landscapes, they encounter each other regularly, and these encounters can be negative for either party. In Born Free’s target areas, where we aim to protect endangered species like lions and elephants, such negative encounters can result in damage to property or loss of life, and greatly threaten the survival of many wildlife populations.
Born Free’s wildlife conservation programmes work to reduce the occurrence and mitigate the impacts of such negative encounters in order to maintain or improve human wellbeing. This empowers people to act as stewards for the surrounding wildlife, ensuring that wildlife has the space to thrive. In other words, we do not just want people to ‘exist’ in the same landscape as wildlife, but we are ultimately aiming for people to ‘positively coexist’ with wildlife.
To achieve this, we ask people to accept a certain level of threat and damage – perhaps a farmer living right next to the Meru National Park in Kenya will tolerate losing some crops to elephants a few times a year. We ask them to adapt the way they live – for example, we might encourage this farmer to try growing different crops that are less palatable to elephants. And we ask them to care for wildlife – not only do we ask our farmer not to harm or kill elephants in retaliation, but we encourage them to understand that elephants play a critical role in the ecosystem –they are intelligent, sentient beings, and they would not want to live in a world without elephants.
We ask all this of them because only by making nature-positive changes can we accommodate wildlife in our rapidly changing anthropogenic world and by extension secure the future of functioning ecosystems that will continue to sustain people’s livelihoods and lives.
“Let’s turn the finger of ‘positive coexistence’ towards ourselves. Only then might we find the motivation to adapt the way we live to help preserve and restore it – by considering nature in all consumer and lifestyle choices that we make.”
In the global north, such as here in the UK, we’ve moulded a society, culture and way of living that removes us from the natural world, almost completely. We buy our food in supermarkets, rather than growing it ourselves; we turn the tap to get our water; and we are generally addicted to a consumerist, human-made lifestyle. Perhaps we cannot be blamed for not truly accepting our reliance on nature, because it is not direct, and not as obvious as it is for our farmer in rural Kenya – though it is just as real.
For the ecological processes to function in order for food to be grown and delivered to us in our western world, and for fresh water to flow freely out of our taps, we depend on nature. For the electronic devices we so cherish, minerals are mined from nature. To cater to our dietary preferences, vast expanses of the world’s natural forests are removed. The list goes on. Our lifestyles are inherently damaging to nature and are dramatically accelerating the climate and biodiversity crises.
So, let’s turn the finger of ‘positive coexistence’ towards ourselves. Perhaps we should ask ourselves to care about this nature that we degrade and rely on. Only then might we find the motivation to adapt the way we live to help preserve and restore it – by considering nature in all consumer and lifestyle choices that we make. And, perhaps, we will feel willing to accept a certain level of inconvenience or compromise in our lives, in order to achieve it. As important as it is in the elephant territories of Meru, Kenya, only by achieving positive coexistence with nature globally will we succeed in combatting the climate and biodiversity crises.