CUMBRIA, United Kingdom — Engaging in species conservation does not just benefit animals; it also drives positive change in areas engulfed with penury. From tourism to employment opportunities, the empowerment of women to improved health care. Wildlife conservation alleviates poverty.
Remote Places and Poverty
Across the planet, many remote places are home to some of the most majestic yet endangered species. They are also home to some of the poorest communities, with 79% of those living in poverty residing in rural spaces. Generally, rural towns often lack vital infrastructure such as hospital buildings and educational establishments, as well as food shortages and inadequate access to fresh water. Often overlooked is the intertwinement between wildlife conservation and poverty, but if highlighted and acted upon, a real tangible impact can be seen.
Famed for its wildlife, Africa attracts millions of tourists annually, providing the continent’s overall economy with roughly $169 billion in 2019. Tourism is a big business in Kenya. In 2019 it “represented 8% of total GDP” and overall provides more than 1.6 million jobs. When the economy of a nation blooms, governments can invest more in their citizens, by, for example, providing free schooling. Ultimately, more citizens receiving an education allows governments to witness vast and quick growth in their economic finances.
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)
WWF undertook six international wildlife projects spanning three continents, greatly benefitting the nearby communities. WWF emphasized that prioritizing animals improves the welfare of humans.
Partnering with the International Gorilla Conservation Program, Fauna and Flora International, and the African Wildlife Foundation, WWF gained control of some forest areas in Uganda and dedicated them as conservation spaces for mountain gorillas. Villagers are still permitted to use the forests for plants to make herbal medicine and even to keep bee hives; as a means of employment. However, now tourists visit the area, providing jobs to those in the corresponding communities and growth in their local economy. The development of a tourist campsite earned more than $70,000 in one year alone, with profits funding education and road infrastructure, according to a WWF report.
WWF also worked in India to protect the Ganges River Dolphin, setting out to educate the local populations in Farida village through a series of campaigns. It found that locals took great interest in its work and later forbade fishing in protected dolphin-inhabited waters. Villagers were getting more active in local governance and becoming empowered, gaining awareness of funding and different programs from the Indian government. WWF witnessed improvements in electricity, overall sanitation and safer roads, according to its report.
Farida village saw a huge increase in the number of girls enrolled in school following intervention from WWF, with all girls from the village now in classrooms. It also found that women are now taking on official roles in the governance of the village; previously, men only were considered for such endeavors, highlighting that wildlife conservation can empower girls and women.
Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund
The remote rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) house eastern lowland gorillas, a species of primate considered “critically endangered.” The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund works in the villages surrounding the forests to ensure locals have access to basic necessities. It aligns with their ethos that impactful conservation can only exist if these communities flourish. There is also the opportunity for locals to seek employment, access educational facilities and become more involved with the well-being of the animals they share their land with.
The Fund prioritized the creation of the Nkuba clinic, not only for locals but also to stop the transmission of infections to the nearby gorillas. As their DNA is very similar to humans, gorillas can develop most illnesses humans can. In particular, respiratory viruses can be fatal and wipe out entire groups.
The clinic, referred to as “a place of hope” by some, provides access to medical professionals, vital medications, some lab tests, and maternity facilities. It also employs some residents in the local area. The Fund explores the story of a now-clinic nurse, Acheteur. With a lack of job openings in rural DRC, Acheteur claims food scarcity drove him to poach chimpanzees to get money and provide for his desperate family. Since the Fund invested in the area, he could leave the dangerous wildlife trading behind, put his nursing degree to use, and gain a stable income.
It is clear that wildlife conservation alleviates poverty, providing local villages with facilities and opportunities they otherwise would not have. It makes sense that in the future foreign aid budgets ought to incorporate wildlife conservation, as charitable projects continue to highlight that investing in remote communities only increases economic growth and social development while protecting endangered species and ensuring rich biodiversity at the same time. “Conservation thrives when people are thriving too,” says the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund on its website.
– Yasmin Hailes