We believe that humans and animals should live alongside one another to the benefit of both. But what does successful coexistence look like? And what could happen if these relationships break down?
Supporting local livelihoods
Many rural communities in South Asia depend on the surrounding forests for food, fuel, building materials and medication. But as consumer demand grows and farming methods change, the delicate webs of interdependencies that have allowed humans to coexist with these landscapes for generations are being disrupted.
Growing communities move into new areas and there can be competition between wildlife and people. There may be tension as wildlife damages property or crops as they fight for food or space with people. Finding ways to bring these relationships back into balance is the key to successful conservation.
In Tamil Nadu in southern India, the invasive, toxic weed Lantana camara is disrupting the ecosystem by outcompeting local plants and creating ‘green deserts’ where nothing else grows. This is a problem for forest-dwelling animals and people, as local plants are an important source of food and resources for them, but there are solutions.
Our CoExistence campaign was a brilliant answer to this problem; it was a way to not only raise awareness about our work but both clear the lantana and support local craftsmen create profitable elephant sculptures from it. Also, as a result of the lantana being removed, native plants began to flourish, which in turn will lead to habitats restoration, and reduce human-wildlife conflict – benefitting everyone.
Stabilising community dynamics
Effective solutions rely on involving local communities in how to tackle problems between wildlife and animal contact. If this doesn’t occur, communities can be alienated and if the resources they rely on are compromised, they can inadvertently be pushed into criminal activities to survive.
For this reason, we partner with local organisations who are deeply embedded in local communities, have their trust, and understand their needs so that any conservation projects will benefit both wildlife and people.
For example, our project with Myanmar-based NGO Grow back for Posterity trains farmers to use solar-powered electric fences to keep their crops safe when they’re most vulnerable to raids from hungry animals. The fences are temporary so once the crops have been harvested, they can be removed to allow animals to migrate freely through customary feeding grounds and corridors.
Safeguarding the future
Globally, there is an increased focus on the environmental impact of human activity and the need to reduce carbon emissions to address the climate crisis. Recent discussions at COP26 highlighted that climate change cannot be solved without conservation of biodiversity, and vice versa.
For example, more than 35% of the world’s mangrove forests have been destroyed by human activity. Not only does this mean wildlife lose their homes, their dense roots provide natural protection from tsunamis and also help prevent coastal erosion. They can also store vast amounts of carbon and are key weapons in maintaining our ecosystem in the fight against climate change.
Connections like this between wildlife, our ecosystems and climate change are deep and complex.
Conservation and finding ways for wildlife and people to coexist is the only way forward.