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Can Diversity Thrive In Conservation? Peter Allison Shares His Thoughts And More

Trophy hunting often finds itself at the crossroads of passionate debate: is it merely an exercise in ego inflation for those who pursue it, or does it, in an unconventional twist, serve a role in the conservation of wildlife? Is there room for diversity in the conservation world? What role does conservation play in the climate crisis? These are just some of the tough questions renowned conservationist and author of a best-selling book, Peter Allison, tackles on a daily basis. And lucky for us, he shares some of his wisdom with us.

Everyone can remember their very first exposure to the safari. Be it from watching documentaries, watching The Lion King, or even visiting a safari park. But the question always remains: how can we protect it? Enter conservationists like Peter Allison.

Peter Allison’s journey in conservation began when he landed in Zimbabwe in 1994 and started working as a barman in a safari lodge. “So by 19, I was looking for a change. I tossed a coin between Africa and South America because of the wildlife in each one; Africa came up heads, and two weeks later I was landing in Zimbabwe.” Peter shares a bit about his early journey with Sean Lee-Davies on Episode 7 of Our Future Nature Podcast.

This experience led him to become involved in guiding and wildlife photography, which eventually sparked his passion for conservation. He has since become an advocate for wildlife conservation and has emphasised the importance of better relationships and engagement in finding solutions to conservation challenges.

What is conservation exactly?

Well for Peter, he defines conservation as a process that involves building better relationships and mentoring individuals in communities who have an interest in conservation. He also highlights the importance of shifting the current dynamics in conservation, which often involve a predominance of older white men, and advocates for a more inclusive approach to conservation that involves diverse perspectives and solutions.

“Conservation is now about better relationships. And I think mentoring people means finding people in communities who have an interest in conservation and were sidelined by white men because they didn’t have a PhD from the right university,” explains Peter. “Every panel I see on conservation, that’s a lot of white guys, and that’s got to change.“

In the conservation world, understanding the importance of race and diversity is becoming more popular. For a long time, mostly white men have led conservation efforts, but now there’s a push to change that. People are starting to see that having a team with different backgrounds and experiences can make conservation work better because they bring new ideas and ways of doing things. There’s a move to make sure conservation groups have people from all kinds of backgrounds, to listen more to local communities, and to support anyone who’s interested in helping the environment, no matter where they come from. This change is about doing what’s right—making sure that taking care of our planet includes everyone.

Other than emphasising the need to engage with people in communities, particularly in Africa, to find out why certain practices, such as the use of rhino horn and ivory, are prevalent, he also believes that understanding the motivations behind these practices and finding ways to deter them is crucial for effective conservation efforts. 

Is trophy hunting prevalent?

Peter shares that trophy hunting is a prevalent activity in the areas where he operates as a guide and that is often presented as a conservation effort, but the idea that it contributes significantly to conservation is heavily criticised.

The contentious issue of trophy hunting as a method of wildlife conservation has sparked heated debates across conservation circles. Critics, including voices like Peter’s, vehemently dismiss the argument that trophy hunting benefits conservation, which Peter actually labels as an “absolute, thorough, utter steaming pile of bullsh*t.” 

Throughout the conversation, Peter casts a critical eye on trophy hunting, questioning its validity and effectiveness as a conservation tool. He sees it more as a pursuit of prestige among the affluent, a means to boast rather than to contribute meaningfully to wildlife preservation. He is particularly sceptical of the notion that hunting animals from the comfort of a safari jet offers any genuine thrill or sense of achievement, pointing out the inherent disconnection and lack of sportsmanship in such acts. Beyond his ethical and emotional concerns, he underscores the significant obstacles conservationists face when challenging the trophy hunting narrative, highlighting the powerful financial and lobbying forces that bolster its practice. 

Through his insights, Peter paints a picture of a contentious practice marred by moral and practical dilemmas, calling into question the future of conservation efforts entangled with trophy hunting.

“I think the way that a lot of documentaries present wild places is that they’re somewhat boundless… It’s an ocean of humans with small, shrinking islands of wilderness left.” But Peter understands why some areas are becoming smaller, and he emphasises that we can’t really blame those in the area as “there’s a lot of hypocrisy when we shake a fist at people far less well off than us.” Trophy hunting contributes to the gradual decline of wild animal populations in Africa, but it’s important to differentiate this practice from instances where hunting is carried out out of necessity.

Peter explains how, living in the UK, he and his family don’t have to worry about bears or wolves on the way to school because they’ve long been wiped out. And that again, it’s easy to “wave a fist down south towards Africa” without understanding and experiencing firsthand what the locals go through.

What role does conservation play in the climate crisis?

Conservation contributes to addressing the climate crisis in several ways. It serves as a dual purpose of preserving the intricate web of biodiversity while simultaneously tackling the root causes of global warming.  Through the careful preservation of natural habitats and ecosystems, conservation efforts ensure the stability and health of our planet’s biological diversity, a critical component for the equilibrium of ecosystems.

These ecosystems, in their pristine state, are adept at carbon sequestration, a natural process that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus directly addressing the challenge of climate change. Initiatives such as reforestation and afforestation further augment this process by increasing the earth’s green cover, enhancing its capability to absorb more carbon dioxide.

Moreover, by advocating for and implementing sustainable conservation practices, we can significantly curb deforestation and land degradation, both of which are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. “That’s the dream. That’s the biggest challenge of all. Can we take back some of the places that have gone to agricultural mining without negatively impacting our surrounding communities? You partner with them instead and say, “We can give you a better life by doing this.” Peter explains.

In essence, conservation embodies a comprehensive approach to mitigating climate change, promoting not only the protection and restoration of natural environments but also encouraging sustainable land management practices that respect the Earth’s delicate balance.

But we need to move quickly if we want to make a difference. Peter stresses the urgency of dealing with climate change by pointing out its visible effects, like extreme weather and odd rainfall. He points out the importance of speaking up about climate change and noticing its signs, such as extreme weather events and messed-up weather patterns. He also says it’s crucial to realise how climate change affects different places, like the heavy rain in Sydney and unexpected showers in Botswana. Overall, he urges everyone to take action before climate change causes irreversible damage to our planet.

“We are definitely living in a time of change.” And we’re absolutely with you on that, Peter.

By the way….

If this piqued your interest, we’re more than happy to let you know that Peter Allison dives even deeper into discussing the future of conservation in Episode 7 of the Our Future Nature Podcast, hosted by Sean Lee-Davies. Listen to the full episode on Spotify for Peter’s unfiltered thoughts about conservation practices and more.

FEATURED IMAGE courtesy of Peter Allison