19 Jan 2010: Opinion

Why Africa’s National Parks
Are Failing to Save Wildlife

The traditional parks model of closing off areas and keeping people out simply may not work in Africa, where human demands on the land are great. Instead, what’s needed is an approach that finds ways to enable people and animals to co-exist.

by fred pearce

The world has a template for conservation: protected areas. The United States invented the template with its great national parks, protecting pristine wilderness. But what if the template is wrong? What if it is doomed to fail in a crowded world where most species live most of their time outside protected areas?

This year is the International Year of Biodiversity. It will be a year in which calls for more parks will grow in order to halt the unprecedented loss of species across the world. The calls will come especially from mainstream environmental groups like WWF, the Nature Conservancy, and Conservation International, for whom protecting “hotspots” of biodiversity on land — which they either own or manage — is a core activity.

There are more parks every year. And yet despite this, conservation is failing. Neither the Biodiversity Convention, signed at the Earth Summit in
The great African parks of today are, ecologically, as artificial as an English country garden.
Rio de Janeiro in 1992, nor the promise made a decade later at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg to staunch the loss of species, has done more than prevent the losses from accelerating. Perhaps the whole idea of sealing off wilderness from human activity is fatally flawed — a misreading of our symbiotic relationships with nature.

The trouble is that what works in the wide open spaces of the U.S. — in Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks — may not work elsewhere, where there are more people and the demands on land are far greater. The test bed is likely to be Africa, where more of the world’s large mammals survive than anywhere else.

It was in Africa that the U.S. parks model for conservation was first tried out on a global stage. It began with the godfather of America’s national parks, President Theodore Roosevelt, and a safari hunt, probably the greatest and most famous safari ever.

A hundred years ago this year, the recently retired U.S. president spent a year with his son Kermit in the African bush, eventually sending home more than 10,000 carcasses, most of them to the Smithsonian Institution. To this day, one of his white rhinos, suitably stuffed, retains a revered place in the mammal room at the Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Roosevelt in Africa
Library of Congress
President Theodore Roosevelt’s African safari in 1910 attracted international attention, cementing the perception of Africa as a primeval landscape teeming with wildlife.
This orgy of killing in what Roosevelt called “the greatest of the world’s great hunting grounds” was big news back home, and cemented the outside world’s perception of Africa as a primeval landscape teeming with wildebeest and elephants, lions, and zebras. Not many years later, the old hunters became the founders of the great national parks that still cover much of the continent. For them killing and conservation went hand in hand. They believed they were protecting a wild landscape, the world’s last great hunting grounds.

Yet this was mythmaking on a grand scale, for much of the “primeval” Africa that Roosevelt saw was less than two decades old. And the great parks of today are, ecologically, as artificial as an English country garden. This misreading of the landscape, and miscasting of conservation, goes to the heart of many of the problems conservationists face today.

So what happened in Africa a hundred years ago. Why this misreading?

The story began when an Italian expeditionary force arriving in the Horn of Africa in 1887. The small band brought with them livestock from Asia that carried a vicious hitchhiker — a cattle virus that causes a disease called rinderpest. Native to the steppes of central Asia, this close relative of measles and canine distemper had periodically swept through Europe, but was unknown in Africa south of the Sahara.

The virus quickly spread to native cattle and traveled from Eritrea, through Ethiopia, and down trails south along the Rift Valley and west across the Sahel. The British colonial authorities in southern Africa tried to halt the passage of the disease by erecting a 1,000-mile barbed-wire fence and shooting infected cattle. But it was futile.

The pandemic was arguably the greatest natural calamity ever to befall
Rinderpest created an ecological revolution against people and in favor of wildlife.
Africa. “Never before in the memory of man, or by the voice of tradition, have the cattle died in such vast numbers; never before has the wild game suffered... The enormous extent of the devastation can hardly be exaggerated,” wrote Frederick Lugard, a British army captain who traveled the caravan routes of northern Kenya in 1890.

Rinderpest only targets cloven-hoofed animals, but indirectly it devastated the human population, too. Herders had no livestock. Farmers had no oxen to pull their plows or drive the waterwheels that irrigated the fields. Hungry populations fell prey to diseases such as smallpox, cholera, and typhoid.

Modern researchers have not estimated how many people died, but Lugard wrote: “Everywhere the people I saw were gaunt and half-starved, and covered with skin diseases. They had no crops of any sort to replace the milk and meat which formed their natural diet.” In places, epidemics coincided with drought. Between 1888 and 1892, roughly a third of the population of Ethiopia, several million people, is thought to have perished.

Great pastoral civilizations across the continent were shattered. Central African cattle-rearing tribes like the Tutsi and Karamajong starved, along with Sudanese nations like the Dinka and Bari, West Africans like the Fulani, and southern Africans like the Nama and Herero. The folklore of the Maasai of East Africa tells of the enkidaaroto, the “destruction,” of 1891. They lost most of their cattle, and two-thirds of the Maasai died. One elder later recalled that the corpses were “so many and so close together that the vultures had forgotten how to fly.”

Cattle Herder Kenya
Getty Images
A young boy herds cattle near his home on the border of the Masai Mara National Game Reserve in Siana Springs, Kenya.
Many of these societies never recovered their numbers, let alone their wealth and power. Rinderpest served up the continent on a plate for European colonialists. In its wake, the Germans and British secured control of Tanzania and Kenya with barely a fight. In southern Africa, the hungry and destitute Zulus migrated to the gold mines of Witwatersrand, helping to create the brutal social divide between black and white from which apartheid sprang.

It is an extraordinary story, rarely told. But the ramifications did not stop with the “scramble for Africa.” Paradoxically, this cataclysm for wildlife created the “primeval landscape” discovered by Roosevelt and his hunting chums.

How come? First the epidemic killed huge amounts of native wildlife. But it created an ideal landscape for the spread of the tsetse fly, which even today is second only to AIDS as an obstacle to Africa's development.

The tsetse fly lives in lowland tropical bush. It carries trypanosomiasis, a disease that is often endemic among wild animals such as ruminants — likely conveying some immunity — but can cause widespread epidemics among cattle and humans, in whom it is called sleeping sickness. Tsetse flies like lush vegetation, where adults can deposit their larvae. Before rinderpest arrived, the cattle herds kept by pastoralists on the African plains had always checked the spread of tsetse by grazing the bush. But with rinderpest decimating the cattle, the woody vegetation grew fast. So after the epidemic passed, when wild animal populations revived much faster than the cattle, the tsetse flies spread fast through bush they had once been unable to occupy.

The flies and the sleeping sickness they carried in turn kept humans and their cattle from returning to graze down the bush. In East Africa, highland areas where cattle had until recently roamed free quickly became tsetse-infested bush and woodland. In southern Africa, the fly spread through the Zambezi and Limpopo valleys, creating no-go areas for cattle where once they had thrived.

In this way, rinderpest created an ecological revolution against people and cattle and in favor of wildlife. Africa has never fully recovered. Probably half a million people contract sleeping sickness each year, of whom some 100,000 die. The tsetse fly remains a major obstacle to the economic development of whole regions, often thriving in the most fertile lowlands that would otherwise make ideal cattle country.

For conservationists, this makes sleeping sickness “the best game warden in Africa.” But it has also warped our perceptions of Africa. European
Conservationists are seeking to preserve a version of the wild that has not existed for thousands of years.
colonists “just assumed that the country they found packed with animals and empty of people was the way that Africa had always been,” says John Reader, author of Africa: A biography of the Continent. Julian Huxley, head of UNESCO and a founder of the World Wildlife Fund in the early 1960s, described the East African plains as “a surviving sector of the rich natural world as it was before the rise of modern man.”

In their ignorance, conservationists created Africa’s great national parks in regions where rinderpest had recently destroyed human society: the Serengeti and Masai Mara, Tsavo and Selous, Kafue, Okavango, Kruger, and the rest. And they decreed that humans and their cattle had henceforth to be excluded at all costs. One of the most famous of these conservationists, the German biologist Bernhard Grzimek who in 1960 wrote the book Serengeti Shall Not Die and directed the film of the same name, worked indefatigably to keep the Masai out of the Serengeti. “A National Park must remain a piece of primordial wilderness to be effective,” he wrote. “No men, not even native ones, should live inside its borders. The Serengeti cannot support wild animals and domestic cattle at the same time.”

This is the image of conservation that we perpetuate to this day. But it is built on a myth. It is only recently that researchers have realized that, before rinderpest, cattle and wild game coexisted on the plains of Africa.

More from Yale e360

The Growing Specter of
Africa Without Wildlife

Recent studies show that wildlife in some African nations is declining even in national parks, as poaching increases and human settlements hem in habitat, Richard Conniff writes. With the continent expected to add more than a billion people by 2050, do these trends portend an Africa devoid of wild animals?

A Total Ban on Whaling?
New Studies May Hold the Key

As the International Whaling Commission debates whether to ban all whaling or to expand the limited hunts now underway, recent research has convinced some scientists that the world’s largest mammal should never be hunted again, Fred Pearce reports.
“Pastoralists had herded their cattle in harmony with wildlife for thousands of years,” says Robin Reid, who until last year was an ecologist at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi. By excluding cattle from large areas, colonial ecologists and their successors destroyed that dynamic of coexistence and replaced it with a conservation ideology based on separation — nature on one side of the fence, mankind on the other. But by following this goal, we are trying to put back together something that has not existed for thousands of years.

And not just on the plains of Africa. Rainforest researchers from the Amazon and Central America to the jungles of Africa and Borneo have recently been discovering that there are probably no truly pristine rainforests anywhere in the world. Prior to 1492, the Amazon was infested with humans. Most of central Africa’s forests have been consumed at least once for iron smelting. In setting pristine nature as the ideal, conservationists are seeking to preserve a version of the wild that has probably not existed in most of the world for thousands of years. Is co-existence possible between man and wildlife? In a few parts of Africa, where rural communities are able to benefit from the profits from wildlife tourism and even trophy hunting, a new accommodation has been found. Perhaps other models can be found in the 21st century.

Maybe, a century after Roosevelt toted his guns across the African bush, parks need replacing with a new approach to wildlife conservation: one based not on separation but on coexistence between wildlife and humans.

POSTED ON 19 Jan 2010 IN Biodiversity Business & Innovation Energy Policy & Politics Africa Asia North America 


Mr. Pearce's article is correct in many of its main points, but it leaves the false impression that protected area conservation in Africa (and elsewhere) is stuck in the year 1960. In fact, the myths he excoriates, and his solution of a more human-community-aware approach to protected areas, have been acknowledged and embraced -- albeit to widely varying degrees -- by conservation organizations large and small for at least 25 years.

In Africa, to give just one example, SANParks (South Africa National Parks) is based on a model of conservation for social upliftment.

Even the concept of wilderness -- lately a favorite target of pundits -- is much more sensitive to social concerns than is credited here. I suggest readers take a look at the website of the recently completed World Wilderness Congress in Mexico.

I'm not saying that the Yellowstone model is no longer being applied in hamfisted and unintendedly pernicious ways, in Africa and elsewhere. But the situation is much richer than
Mr. Pearce paints in this essay.

Posted by Dave Harmon on 19 Jan 2010

Mr Pearce has woven a story of mismanagement that unfortunately does not apply only to Africa. Denuded of humans landscapes was perceived as the norm in the Americas as in Africa led to romantic notions of nature while also strengthening the drive to "develop" and conquer nature. It was a Victorian vision.

That being the past, Dave Harman points out quite correctly how parks and protected areas have evolved. It is worth while to note that IUCN recognizes 6 forms of management of protected areas and that there a variety of ways to govern these critically important tools of conservation. Accordingly, it is worth pointing out that the large majority of protected areas established in the world in the past decade are based on sustainable use principles (IUCN Management Categories V and VI) that recognizes people's role in maintiaining biodiversity.

I fully agree with Mr. Pearce that there are many improvements that could be undertaken. But, to discount all protected areas is not unlike throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Posted by Nik Lopoukhine on 21 Jan 2010

The crux of the story is that PAs are a totally artificial system - it is only in the last 100 years or so that we have had areas where humans are excluded (we have had to protect areas from ourselves - what a sad indictment of humanity!), and we have managed these areas for 'stasis', again totally artificially. Yes, we need to remove the fences and re-unit humans with the landscapes - but this will only be possible when 1) we learn to live within ecological limits, and 2) that means a human population of about 1 billion or less on the planet.

Posted by Nick King on 21 Jan 2010

"Yes, we need to remove the fences and re-unit humans with the landscapes - but this will only be possible when 1) we learn to live within ecological limits, and 2) that means a human population of about 1 billion or less on the planet."

1) Please clarify what you mean by "ecological limits." It follows that if humans belong in wilderness, wilderness belongs in dense human areas like cities. I'd like to see how the concept of ecological limits might apply here.

2) Please say why 1 billion. Is it that humans, evolved in small groups, can't psychologically deal with such large numbers as we have? Is there a material limit, discounting technological breakthroughs and radical conservation, to how many people the planet can accommodate?

Many of us are willing to get on the bandwagon for radical population reduction, but it would help if we were clear (and fairly science-based) about our goals. There is probably a spiritual aspect to population density too: an over-large population can spawn too much of everything for the human mind to handle.

Posted by Trevor Burrowes on 21 Jan 2010


To answer your first question, I suggest you to read about the notion of «ecological footprint». It is a very detailed notion that defines in many ways the why and how to live within «ecological limits».

Best regards.

Posted by William J on 22 Jan 2010

Without a substantial stream of visitors putting money into the local economy to enjoy these places, there is no sustainable economic justification to provide sufficient law enforcement to protect against environment misuse of land, control pollution, police hunting and fishing limits, and drive out/arrest poachers.

There massive tracts of land whose official designation escapes me; however the game has been managed according to best practices. It is well known among hunters that African big game hunting has improved year by year for decades, and is better now than at any time known in the past. Essentially, the whole gamut of large mammals thrive in these managed regions, just as in the US. Hunting is a part of this effort, culling animals past breeding years, of a certain sex, or over a certain age as judged by various factors, thus reducing competition for food.

While I am not a wildlife management profession, I know enough about conservation and economics that without sportsman funding the effort, management and law enforcement will be minimized to nearly nothing, and populations of wildlife will resume the natural cycles of boom and bust, leaving us with years of overpopulation, then massive die-offs from disease and starvation, then little more than a scatted subsistence population.

A perfect example can be found in places like Isle Royale in Michigan -- its Moose or Wolfs, but never much of both at the same time; an in Maine, it is believed the suddenly vanished deer herd has largely become food for an explosion in the population of large coyotes, which are insufficiently hunted.

Posted by Gregory Girard on 23 Jan 2010

Fred Pearce provides an interesting historical and ecological perspective on Parks in Africa, up to c30 years ago. However, the analysis is naive and outdated. From an ecological perspective, there is now overwhelming evidence that excessive livestock grazing, partly through development (borehole provision, enforced transition from migratory to settled populations, break down of traditional rangeland management systems), has resulted in scrub encroachment and rangeland degradation, exacerbated by loss of wild herbivores. There is also overwhelming evidence that key African vertebrate biodiversity depends on large Parks for persistence and is vanishingly scarce in the intensively settled, irrigated, farmed or overgrazed intervening lands.

Posted by Paul D on 23 Jan 2010

Now that people have better weapons and poison, is co-existence still possible? It is possible, but poachers are difficult to control. Even if you let some natives in, you still have to keep others out.

Posted by Mike A on 24 Jan 2010

The article talks about misconceptions that led to the establishment of ‘fortress’ style protected areas. The author explains that the principal misconception was the assumption that Africa was largely devoid of human populations and livestock (which he attributes to the 1891 rinderpest outbreak and to the subsequent spread of trypanosomiasis). It implies that in pre-rinderpest times (i.e., before 1891), wildlife and (he implies, a large number of) people coexisted happily and he concludes that it is by returning to this state that we’ll successfully conserve wildlife in the continent. While this is an important point, first, this is not new. Second, to achieve this is not as simple as stating it. Finally, there are muddles and flaws in the writing that don’t help him make his case:

1. The title is misleading. He doesn’t really explain or explore if and/or ‘why africa’s national parks are failing to save wildlife.’ There is no effort to explore protected area effectiveness, governance or, indeed, any other aspect of protected area management. So we end up not knowing whether the protected areas are or are not contributing to the conservation of wildlife. Would we be better off without them?

2. He also is not bold enough to state explicitly or even hint at is whether he thinks that existing national parks should be deconstructed to allow “men, even native ones,” to “live inside [their] borders.”

3. Pointing fingers at those a few generations back is easy. However, he may have described pretty accurately what they actually may have encountered: a land largely devoid of humans. I assume that everyone of us, including Mr Pearce, would probably have come to the same conclusion as those people did: wow, isn’t this amazing, let’s try to preserve some of this for future generations and to allow evolution to run its course in these few small areas where human influence may be limited!

4. It is interesting to note that the Berlin Conference (1884-85), a turning point in the Scramble for Africa, pre-dates the arrival of rinderpest (arrival 1887, but main epidemic in 1891), which, Mr Pearce states, “served up the continent on a plate for European colonialists”.. What about other factors? Slavery, for example?

5. He builds his case on the assertion that rinderpest decimated livestock and then tsetses and trypanosomiasis did the rest. He doesn’t really take into account the fact that rinderpest had exactly the same effect on wild ruminants.

6. He doesn’t mention the ‘game control’ programmes instituted across much of Africa during the middle decades of the 20th century, the aim of which was to eradicate wildlife populations to get rid of the diseases they harbours and to open land for domestic livestock. Tens or hundreds of thousands of animals were slaughtered.

7. He doesn’t present the results of the EU rinderpest project which found that rinderpest is now endemic among cattle in the poorly governed corners of Africa and that it emerges occasionally as epidemics through wildlife populations.

8. He states that it was the pastoralist’s cattle herds that kept the bush in check – thereby keeping tsetse flies at bay. What about the role of mega-herbivores, and how did the increase in bush (if indeed there was one) correlate with decreases in mega-herbivores (rhinos, elephants – notably not affected by rinderpest)? What about the (modern?) effect of overgrazing by domestic livestock which leads to increases in woody plants? In contrast, high densities of humans lead to deforestation (e.g., Eritrea, Ethiopia, Zululand). The ecology of bush regression and expansion may not be as simple as he suggests.

9. He asserts that trypanosomiasis is endemic among wildlife populations “conveying some immunity.” If humans and livestock have been part of the landscape for so long, as he asserts, why hasn’t the same immunity been conveyed to them as well?

10. He states that ‘fortress’ style protected areas work “in the wide open spaces of the U.S.” Let’s assume that he’s mainly talking about continental US (where Yellowstone and Yosemite are found but excluding that open areas of Alaska). The average human population density in the continental US is 36.48 people/sq km (2000 data); in contrast, the current (estimated, 2009) density in Africa is 33.16 people/sq km. There are, therefore, fewer people (not more, as he states) and I wonder whether the demands on land are really greater in Africa than the US?

11. Next, he states that the “great parks are, ecologically, as artificial as an English country garden.” Indeed – but so are the industrial estates of Detroit, the slums of Kibera, the wheat fields of Alberta. As we approach 7 billion, what is not “artificial”? Heck, what is not artificial or natural? Most importantly - and here's the nub, coexistence, by definition, precludes conflict – which, by extension, excludes elephants, lions, buffaloes, bush pigs, rodents, red-billed queleas, all pathogens, etc ... Is that any more natural than national parks?

12. The situation outside of protected areas doesn’t support his case. If coexistence is what we need, then surely wildlife should be thriving outside protected areas?

In conclusion, while I agree that in some circumstances we should work towards coexistence, first, I don’t believe that by stating it in loosely written articles that we can convince everyone to do it, second and until we can convincingly demonstrate coexistence can flourish, I think it would be dangerous to deconstruct national parks but accept them with their ecological flaws – as we do Yellowstone and Yosemite. Third, if and where the parks are not working, let’s examine their governance and other management aspects. But the key, for now, is to convincingly demonstrate that coexistence can flourish.

Posted by stuart on 25 Jan 2010

Well said Nik. Co-existing is ultimately the goal, but for that to work, there has to be a 'co' to 'exist' with.

A pre-agricultural population of humans may be sustainable without loss of biodiversity, but our current levels are not. We take too much of the land and resources for other species to be able to compete. Yes, wildlife may be able to co-exist with cattle, but life will be harder and there will be less of them. We're very successful at making a living, which means the rest of the planet simply has nothing to eat and nowhere to go.

As a species, if we don't want to find ourselves alone in a desert, we have to self limit.

Posted by Lester on 25 Jan 2010

There's a lot of comments on human population level here. I'd just like to point out that considering the impact someone living in Africa has on the environment (his/her environmental footprint) compared to someone living in the USA or Canada, the problem might not be so much population level as such but rather consumption level. The Earth can support a huge population at the African consumption level, but not so many at the North American level. Given these considerations, advocating for global population reduction might amount to protecting the right of rich people in the global North to keep their high comsumption lifestyle.

In relation to the article, it's interesting to see how this idea that humans and nature are not compatible comes directly from the industrial mode of production that was developing during the 19th century, with the direct observation of its nefarious effects on the environment. This idea obviously makes no sense to pastoral peoples who depend on a close relationship with nature for their own production and survival. Hence the very colonial character of this idea of conservation, fencing areas off from people.

Posted by jps on 26 Jan 2010

Pearce has definitely done his ecological history here and gotten that story right, using sources such as John Reader's superb synthesis. However, as some other comments point out, the title is misleading, and except for a sentence or two at the end, he doesn't explain why parks are failing to conserve wildlife. The reason for that is:

1. Parks rarely contain entire ecosystems, which means that wildlife depends on much broader landscapes where, indeed, they must co-exist with human communities and economic activities.

2. Because wildlife in Africa is in most cases owned by the government, and most revenue from wildlife (which often involves very large amounts of money from tourism and hunting) is captured by the government or private companies (e.g. tourism enterprises) rather than local communities, the result is that local people do not have incentives to tolerate or conserve wildlife on their lands. These economic incentives are fundamental to understanding why wildlife declines even where large national parks have been established.

Two additional points might greatly enrich the article's purview. First, in countries such as Namibia and Zimbabwe that have given private landowners and rural communities the right to manage and capture revenue from wildlife, wildlife trends have been positive, with large-scale recoveries of many species since the 1970s. This is a critical lesson when examining the fate of wildlife across Africa.

Second, while Pearce suggests that national parks may have been a much more suitable model for the 'wide open' western United States than in rural Africa, this assumption should not pass so easily. In reality, American parks face many of the same challenges as African parks- in Yellowstone, bison and wolves and many other large mammals require access to private lands outside the boundary of the park, and conflicts between landholders and government authorities is the major management challenge. In North America, as in Africa, a major challenge is building local support for conservation through economic incentives and other means, so that parks' ecological shortcomings may be overcome.

Posted by Fred Nelson on 02 Feb 2010

This is a beautiful idea. Nature and humans co-existing, but that is all it is, beautiful. It is unrealistic. Mankind will always run to the extremes in population size and consumption. The attempts at saving areas that are "pristine", as the author putts it, are not so much the conservationists choice, then a desperate attempt at saving as much as he can.

Posted by J van Schalkwyk on 03 Feb 2010

A couple of points to add here, if I may...
Firstly, rinderpest, in all probability, is now extinct. The last remaining reservoir in the world, straddling the Somali/Kenyan/Ethiopian border has been surveyed and found to be free of it. It therefore follows smallpox (when confirmed after a couple more years surveillance) as the only virus to have been eradicated. When polio goes the same way, as is likely, in the next couple of years, it will probably be given this moniker. But rinderpest will have got there first.
Secondly, on the issue of population, both absolute numbers of people, and ecological footprints are relevant here. Sure, if we could all reduce our consumption, we could probably sustain a few billion people. But if we live as we do in the west, that number may be as small as 200 million. The challenge to reduce ecological footprints is enormous. Moreso, to reduce carbon emission footprints is even greater. Why? Because carbon emissions - despite technological innovation, greater awareness, change purchasing patterns, and scaling up of low emissions engineering solutions have all failed to change what is described by the Epstein equation. That is, carbon output is directly proportional to GDP per capita, between and within countries. As countries get richer - especially the poor countries - they almost invariably increase their per capita emissions, regardless of all the above interventions. Carbon output = GDP per capita X population. So how do you affect that? Population limits, for sure. And the second uncomfortable truth? Wealth re-distribution, because building wealth through GDP growth is killing us. It takes over 130 USD per capita increase in GDP to deliver 1 dollar each to the poorest using a growth model. It's challenging because capitalism is based on the premise of infinite resources, and growth ad infinitum. How many politicians, in discussing the climate change issues (which threaten African wildlife more than anything) have spoken of the need for zero growth in GDP? None. Zip. All of them support growth for the rest of eternity, and we can't win that one. Ouch. Sure GDP growth creates jobs, money for countries to find solutions to pressing problems, per capita wealth and so on. But it will kill us before we know it.

Posted by Brett Sutton on 10 Feb 2010

Of all the comments on this article, stuart on 25 Jan made the best points. The article itself rides a hobby horse, tilting its lance at straw men it has erected. There is a good point in the piece itself, but it does itself no favours by getting its arguments half-right at best. Clearly the key to nature conservation is connectedness, and no protected areas anywhere can exist indefinitely as islands. For connections and corridors, or even just their very existence, coexistence of wildlife and wild habitats with people is essential. Even for Yellowstone to exist, it has been recognised that there must be coexistence with people in the "Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem". Creative approaches to coexistence, benefit flows and reduction of conflicts are being developed, in Africa and elsewhere, and these efforts must be supported and extended. And, dare I say it?, written about by journalists.

Posted by Keith Lindsay on 03 Mar 2010

Conservation through Poverty Alleviation: enterprise that provides incremental income (not replacement income) for subsistence farmers living near designated protected areas is the approach that we are piloting in Madagascar. While our work has benefited from generous donors during initialization, we are striving hard to make the enterprise economically as well as ecologically sustainable through positive economic feedback based on free market prices, not subsidies or hard to deliver and hard to police payments for ecosystem services.

Posted by Robert Weber on 17 Jun 2010

If humans and wildlife can coexist outside national parks, then why aren't they doing it now? How many pastoralists are going to tolerate elephants trampling their crops or lions eating their livestock. The problem is that humans occupy far more than their fair share of the Earth's surface. We need to respect the right of other species to live here also.

Posted by Tom Taber on 26 Oct 2010

May we take our strength and energy towards protecting the threatened species.

Posted by Daniel on 20 Jan 2011

Comments have been closed on this feature.
Fred Pearce is a freelance author and journalist based in the UK. He is environment consultant for New Scientist magazine and author of the recent books When The Rivers Run Dry and With Speed and Violence. His latest book is Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff. In earlier articles for Yale Environment 360 Pearce has written about the mishandling of the “Climategate” controversy, and the argument for a total ban on whaling.



Albania’s Coastal Wetlands:
Killing Field for Migrating Birds

Millions of birds migrating between Africa and Europe are being illegally hunted on the Balkan Peninsula, with the most egregious poaching occurring in Albania. Conservationists and the European Commission are calling for an end to the carnage.

Electric Power Rights of Way:
A New Frontier for Conservation

Often mowed and doused with herbicides, power transmission lines have long been a bane for environmentalists. But that’s changing, as some utilities are starting to manage these areas as potentially valuable corridors for threatened wildlife.

The Case Against a Legal Ivory Trade: It Will Lead to More Killing of Elephants
Proponents of easing the global ban on ivory are ignoring the fact that it was a legal market for ivory that pushed elephants toward extinction only a few decades ago. What’s needed now is not a legal ivory market, but better regulation and enforcement of the existing ban.

Ivory Trade Debate: Should the
International Ban on Ivory Be Lifted?

Although most conservationists oppose it, a proposal to allow a partial lifting of the ban on ivory trading would benefit Africa’s elephants. With proper controls and enforcement, a legal trade would choke off demand for illicit ivory and discourage the poaching now decimating the continent's elephant populations.

True Altruism: Can Humans
Change To Save Other Species?

A grim new census of the world’s dwindling wildlife populations should force us to confront a troubling question: Are humans capable of acting in ways that help other species at a cost to themselves?


MORE IN Opinion

True Altruism: Can Humans
Change To Save Other Species?

by verlyn klinkenborg
A grim new census of the world’s dwindling wildlife populations should force us to confront a troubling question: Are humans capable of acting in ways that help other species at a cost to themselves?

A Blueprint to End Paralysis
Over Global Action on Climate

by timothy e. wirth and thomas a. daschle
The international community should stop chasing the chimera of a binding treaty to limit CO2 emissions. Instead, it should pursue an approach that encourages countries to engage in a “race to the top” in low-carbon energy solutions.

Animal ‘Personhood’: Muddled
Alternative to Real Protection

by verlyn klinkenborg
A new strategy of granting animals “personhood” under the law is being advanced by some in academia and the animal rights movement. But this approach fails to address the fundamental truth that all species have an equal right to their own existence.

A Year After Sandy, The Wrong
Policy on Rebuilding the Coast

by rob young
One year after Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the U.S. East Coast, the government is spending billions to replenish beaches that will only be swallowed again by rising seas and future storms. It’s time to develop coastal policies that take into account new climate realities.

Why Pushing Alternate Fuels
Makes for Bad Public Policy

by john decicco
Every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan has backed programs to develop alternative transportation fuels. But there are better ways to foster energy independence and reduce greenhouse gas emissions than using subsidies and mandates to promote politically favored fuels.

Should Wolves Stay Protected
Under Endangered Species Act?

by ted williams
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stirred controversy with its proposal to remove endangered species protection for wolves, noting the animals’ strong comeback in the northern Rockies and the Midwest. It’s the latest in the long, contentious saga of wolf recovery in the U.S.

No Refuge: Tons of Trash Covers
The Remote Shores of Alaska

by carl safina
A marine biologist traveled to southwestern Alaska in search of ocean trash that had washed up along a magnificent coast rich in fish, birds, and other wildlife. He and his colleagues found plenty of trash – as much as a ton of garbage per mile on some beaches.

Our Overcrowded Planet:
A Failure of Family Planning

by robert engelman
New UN projections forecast that world population will hit nearly 11 billion people by 2100, an unsettling prospect that reflects a collective failure to provide women around the world with safe, effective ways to avoid pregnancies they don't intend or want.

As Extreme Weather Increases,
Bangladesh Braces for the Worst

by brian fagan
Scientists are predicting that warming conditions will bring more frequent and more intense extreme weather events. Their warnings hit home in densely populated Bangladesh, which historically has been hit by devastating sea surges and cyclones.

As Final U.S. Decision Nears,
A Lively Debate on GM Salmon

In an online debate for Yale Environment 360, Elliot Entis, whose company has created a genetically modified salmon that may soon be for sale in the U.S., discusses the environmental and health impacts of this controversial technology with author Paul Greenberg, a critic of GM fish.

e360 digest
Yale Environment 360 is
a publication of the
Yale School of Forestry
& Environmental Studies


Donate to Yale Environment 360
Yale Environment 360 Newsletter


Twitter: YaleE360
e360 on Facebook
Donate to e360
View mobile site
Share e360
Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscribe to our feed:


About e360
Submission Guidelines

E360 en Español

Universia partnership
Yale Environment 360 articles are now available in Spanish and Portuguese on Universia, the online educational network.
Visit the site.


e360 Digest
Video Reports


Business & Innovation
Policy & Politics
Pollution & Health
Science & Technology


Antarctica and the Arctic
Central & South America
Middle East
North America


Photographer Peter Essick documents the swift changes wrought by global warming in Antarctica, Greenland, and other far-flung places.
View the gallery.


The latest
from Yale
Environment 360
is now available for mobile devices at e360.yale.edu/mobile.

e360 VIDEO

Warriors of Qiugang
The Warriors of Qiugang, a Yale Environment 360 video that chronicles the story of a Chinese village’s fight against a polluting chemical plant, was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). Watch the video.

header image
Top Image: aerial view of Iceland. © Google & TerraMetrics.

e360 VIDEO

Colorado River Video
In a Yale Environment 360 video, photographer Pete McBride documents how increasing water demands have transformed the Colorado River, the lifeblood of the arid Southwest. Watch the video.