Conservationists of the World: What flavour are you?

Hey Folks

Don’t know how many career conservationists we have here on the forums, would be interesting to get a rough idea, but what I’d like to know is: What is your approach to conservation insofar as what meaning you perceive it to carry for the betterment (or otherwise) of the world and where it fits in?

I’ll give an example or two

My personal approach to conservation is being a generalist. Firstly, this means I don’t restrict my field of knowledge or studies to just 1 subject, but to as many as I can (plants, geology, chemistry, animals etc.); the reason for this, secondly, is to have a suitable baseline of applicable knowledge with which I can jump in to assist in a broad spectrum of environmentally related issues in practice anywhere, or at the very least in Southern Africa. The first jobs I landed taught me much about how to practice and maintain elements in the construct of “Fortress” conservation, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that trying to fence off and fervently guard isolated wild areas from the many exploits of humankind is a folly and that, in truth, the future of conservation and how relatable it can be made to the masses lies in its ability to be adopted at a grass-roots resource management level with input from all segments of the local community in question

I’ve also met others with a completely different approach: where too many land concessions from national government to the “people”, coupled with too little oversight and regulation of how said group uses and replenishes natural resources, had led to a staunch anti-community attitude wherein what little financial resources remain are spread wafer thin over a foundation of trying to remain aesthetically relevant to a very small demographic, which further isolates the property from broader stakeholders and feeds into a cycle

It’s important to note that in this discussion, we are not here to cast judgement on one particular stance or another, or even to explore the pro’s and con’s of each (though anyone who wishes to do the latter can go ahead), but instead to describe each of our experiences, either of ourselves or of those we have met along our journey

So, what kind of conservationist are you? :)


Career conservationist here, currently based in Vietnam, but done conservation work in a few South American countries, other Asian countries, and the US and Canada as well.

Definitely holistic approach, and with a strong recognition that the root cause of the problems we face are due to human behavior, so if you want to actually find solutions to the problems, then you have to address human behavior and get that to change in some manner.

My academic background includes anthropology, geology, and ecology, and all three subjects have been extremely useful in my on-the-ground conservation work.

I give a lot of presentations on conservation and there are a few things I usually conclude with:

One of these is that if people want to be effective in conservation it’s helpful to have a decent understanding of the things that people base their actions on, so some social science field is useful (anthropology, sociology, psychology, etc), as well as an understanding of politics/law, economics, and possibly religion are important.

the others are:

  • It is the capacity of the environment to adapt to change that we are trying to protect/conserve, not any particular moment in ecological time.

  • It is absolutely vital that we view humans as integral to all aspects of the environment and that the very concept of “the wild” or “wilderness” represents fundamentally flawed and potentially culturally oblivious thinking.

And most importantly:

  • We need to conserve for what the environment will become not what it was.

I have not been successful in obtaining a conservation career, although my bachelor of science degree was in environmental studies. I did a bit of this and that in my younger days – a field season here, teaching evironmental ed there – but I never managed to leverage these experiences into anything lasting.

Honestly, my philosophy is in many ways opposed to that of @earthknight . That’s okay; if his way of presenting things gets people to care and to do something, then it is valuable. As to what “flavor” of conservationist I am, I would have to say: angry.

Angry as in Y2K was a big disappointment.

Angry that when I was about to go for a swim in the Napa River, a bystander warned me that I probably didn’t want to do that because of the pollution. I thought, why TF do we still put up with this so long after the Clean Water Act? Don’t the people of Napa see anything wrong with their river being unswimmable?

Angry that after Seattle Pride the one year I went, right behind the parade came the street sweepers, taking away the thousands of pieces of plastic waste – marketing materials handed out to the crowd, holding their attention for maybe a few minutes, now to spend thousands of years in a landfill. Some religious people may believe that being gay is a sin; but what happened at that Pride event was a sin against planet earth.

Angry that my generation, Gen X, who grew up knowing about the greenhouse effect and global warming, grew up to lead the climate denial movement.

I can’t keep writing, because I’m about to be overwhelmed with emotion. But I am angry at the depths of the human capacity not to give a damn.


I’m curious as to in what your philosophy is “opposed”.

If we don’t acknowledge the role humans have in making the problems we face, and understand some of the reasoning behind their action, then we do not have even the slightest chance of making any changes and bettering the situation.

This is not an anthropocentric approach, contrary to what some folks in other conversations here have made accusations of, it’s a simple recognition of the problems that humans have directly caused.

I’m angry as well, but I try to use and guide that anger into doing something with it, and use the fuel of that anger to avoid burning out when things get overwhelmingly difficult or frustrating.


Maybe when we baby boomers shuffle off, the NGOs educating kids will be able to make a difference for the current and next generations. That is my filter bubble.

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After about 30 years in this field and approaching retirement, I suppose I’m in the category of pessimistic conservationist. I’ve had some successes in conservation and reintroduction of endangered species but it often feels like too little in the face of bigger impacts to the biosphere that are far beyond any conservationist’s ability to address. But I’ve come to accept the view that many small local victories are perhaps the best we can hope for.


For me, the most important thing is nature protection, which is fundamentally connected with nature education. That is why I like the most forms such as parks, protected landscape areas, reserves, but with appropriate research, educational and even tourist infrastructure, then people understand the need for protection, otherwise they start to perceive it as forms of repression, and this creates conflicts at the interface between nature and the interests of local communities; in Poland, the lack of communication between officials and ordinary people accounts for 99% of problems in the field of nature conservation.


You expressed that the concept of “the wild” or “the wilderness” is flawed and potentially culturally oblivious. Can it be denied that Polynesian avifauna was better off before Polynesian people discovered those archipelagoes? I would not say the humans were “integral to all aspects” of those ecosystems, when those ecosystems were thriving.

At the Salt Creek trailhead into Mokulumne Wilderness, there is an interpretive sign about the original Native cultures in the area. It said that the Mokulumne River area was a buffer zone between two cultural groups; that they might meet there for trade or negotiations, but neither group lived there. This corresponds to today’s Congressional definition of Wilderness: “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Culturally oblivious would be denying that Native peoples had such places; that such places were part of the overall Native land management, and need to be so today as well.


Ah, seems like there is some misunderstanding there.

“Integral to all aspects” of the global ecosystem is simply a reflection of the fact that our actions have impacted, usually deeply, just about every aspect of all ecosystems. That doesn’t mean that they rely on us or anything like that, it means that we are affecting them all at fundamental levels, that we are integrated with them.

Similarly, the issue of “wild/not-wild” is a dangerous way of thinking because it promotes and encourages the idea that nature is, ‘something over there’, that can be compartmentalised and ignored rather than nature being a part of our daily lives no matter whether we live in cities, in rural areas, out at research stations, etc. This type of thinking of nature and the “wild” is a large part of why our landscapes are so badly fragmented and why the relatively intact portions are separated from each other.

Nature is just as as much in our kitchens and in the air we breath as it is in a remote part of Kalimantan, eastern Siberia, or under the Antarctic ice shelf.

As such we need to bring the “wild” back to the areas we live and occupy instead of isolating a small pocket of land and saying, “there, that’s ‘wild’ and we have now ‘conserved’ it.”

Obviously nature and other species would, with a few exceptions, be doing a lot better without humans, but that’s not going to happen and we have to recognize the impacts we have, the mistakes we are making, and find ways to deal with them.


I’m not so sure about that. You expressed the fear that thinking of the wild/not wild dichotomy encourages complacency: “there, that’s ‘wild’ and we have now ‘conserved’ it.” Well, I have a different fear – a fear related to your statement, “As such we need to bring the “wild” back to the areas we live.” Here is why.

A recent story on Mongabay was about camera-traps in Gabon. One use case is to reduce human-elephant conflict; an AI detects when an elephant passes the camera trap near a human settlement, and can signal an alert through WhatsApp. They are working on a system which would blare randomized sounds and flashing lights to scare off elephants that approach the community’s plantations. Sounds good, but it presupposes that there is an “away from the village.” How much “away from the village” is needed for all of the elephants in a viable population?

Bringing the “wild” back into the places we live may work for a lot of organisms, but it doesn’t work for lions and tigers and bears. My fear is that if we bring the “wild” back to the places we live, it will foster the thinking, “Okay, the ‘wild’ coexists with us and so we can build settlements in what was the protected reserve and it will be okay.” This type of thinking is also a large part of why our landscapes are so badly fragmented and why the relatively intact portions are so minuscule. Lions and tigers and bears – and elephants, and many other species – require a place “over there,” that is, where we aren’t.

If there was no Yellowstone National Park, would there have been a wolf reintroduction in the northern Rockies? If there was no Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, would there have been a red wolf reintroduction?


You need a balance. Obviously humans and certain animals have trouble cohabiting a specific landscape, and, and I’ve said quite often, solutions have to be sought.

Bringing the wild back into out more daily use landscapes doesn’t mean that we abandon having large conserved areas, in fact, if done right, it enhances the awareness of the need for them. This is part of why one of the most effective and important conservation tools is education.

In the elephant example (as well of that of other large animals, predator or otherwise) there is something I don’t think you’re considering; landscape connectivity. By encouraging a system where wildlife has more opportunity to roam across the landscape you make more territory available and you allow for connectivity between areas that are expressly set aside for non-human settlement.

Rather than restricting animals to 1% of the landscape (eg, keeping them in conserved areas), they’re keeping them out of 70% (eg. human used landscapes).

That means that the animals have a massively larger portion of the landscape that they can use. Is it ideal? No, Would it be better if the animals (and other wildlife) had 99% of landscape? Yes. That’s not going to happen though, no matter how much wishful thinking is expended, nor how much fury is unleashed about it.

However, by encouraging more integrated landscapes the possibility is opened up for an ever increasing amount of the landscape we have already take away to be restored to some management method that is more understanding and accommodating to the needs to wildlife.

None of these things are easy and none of them, unfortunately, bring the world back to it’s ‘natural’ state, but that latter thing isn’t going to happen until millions of years after we go extinct, and even then our impacts on the ecosphere will still be echoing around.

If we want to make change we have to work toward it. It’s impossible to make society-wide radical changes instantly, they have to be built up. We are racing against time with all this, and, while I sympathise with extreme hardline eco-stances (hell, I worked for a bit with the Sea Shepherds back in the early 90s when they were still doing stuff and not a media enterprise), outside of a few niche applications those approaches actually turn people against conservation in many cases. They’re useful to have as they allow for the conversation and approaches to be pushed further toward the ecological side of things than otherwise, but where the pseudopod hits the ground you have to be taking approaches that are effective and that you can build on.


Cape Town has similar issues with our Chacma baboons. People like to live on the urban edge, but, you know how it is, NOT actually as if nature and biodiversity lives right on the other side of my boundary fence / wall!

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This was bothering me this morning, so I will make one further comment. I feel as if this is actually the reason why my active engagement with the conservation community has tapered off. Because what the environment will become is what Bill McKibben meant by “the end of nature.”

There may not be an ecological apocalypse – and that is just the problem! McKibben foresaw a world of future generations who don’t know that the end of nature has happened, because they are surrounded by what looks like “nature” to them. We see it happening here on iNaturalist already:

As per the guidelines a “tree planted 1, 10, or 100 years ago by humans ” is captive/cultivated.

And yet in the discussions around it, the emerging consensus is that if you don’t know whether a given tree was planted, go ahead and mark it as wild. So in places like the Pacific Northwest, where managed logging has been going on a long time, you have entire captive/cultivated forests, as per iNat definition; yet people still go out and make observations in them as if they were wild places; and the trees themselves may be among those observations.

McKibben foresaw a world in which everything is captive/cultivated, but most people are entirely unaware of that.

I remember a Star Trek episode in which reference was made to – I forget exactly what they called it – some kind of technology placed over earth’s atmosphere that catches and dissipates tornadoes before they do any harm. Is that the direction we are headed? A world where the weather itself is captive/cultivated?

If this “what the environment will become,” no wonder I am not inspired anymore by mainstream conservation.


That’s not at all what I mean by “We need to conserve for what the environment will become not what it was.”

What I mean by that statement, is that, regardless of human activity, the environment is constantly changing. Sea levels, for example, are rising now as a result of human activity (which is a major problem), but at some point in the future we would come out of our current ice age and they’d rise then too.

In the absence of humans ecosystems would be able to move and adapt to the situation. As an example, coastal wetlands would be able to migrate to newly inundated lands that were once coastal plains, etc.

Right now we are developing things like mad and paving over the very areas that we need to be protecting, such as coastal plains that would otherwise become coastal wetlands.

We can’t be looking at the past and saying, “Well, that’s where the wetland was, so that’s where it has to stay.” This is an approach that a lot of conservation has been stuck taking, and that many environmental laws enforce.

Instead we need to be saying, “Well, sea levels are rising and the areas that used to be wetlands will be underwater, so where would the new wetlands be, and how can we preemptively protect them now so that the current wetlands can move and adapt to the changing environment?

That’s what I mean by, “We need to conserve for what the environment will become not what it was.”

It has nothing to do with captive species, nothing to to with planting things, etc, it has to do with understanding the changes that are taking place and protecting things/areas now that will be of much greater importance in the future as ecosystems and their constituent species try to adapt to the environmental changes taking place.

As an aside, the “death of nature” is when things lose the ability or opportunity to change and adapt. That’s when they go extinct.

When we try to lock species and ecosystems into specific areas and don’t allow them to move and adapt we apply yet another extinction pressure on them.


I read that citation completely different. I read it as a comment someone says that is bothered by the many attempts in nature conservation to conserve a status quo of a certain area instead of natural processes taking it´s place. If that is so, I completely agree. One should allow natural habitats to change… that´s what they always did (in any case, I guess you have to clarify what you meant ;-)).

As someone who grew her love for nature and also her interest in conserving it in middle european Germany I was of course confronted with a very different situation and aproach to nature conservation then what it might be in primary nature habitats around the world. Germanys habitats are completely overformed by direct influence of humans. There is no “real wilderness” left. Anyways that does not mean that it is not worth conserving what is there. However, there are very different approaches. There is a lot of effort and even quite some money put into conserving open landscapes and it´s inhabitants… no matter what… even no matter that the natural processes would turn almost all of those areas into forest over time, if one would allow natural processes to take their course… If humans ever lose interest in conserving those unantural habitats in that area (however valuable they might be in terms of rare species) they will be gone in no time and all time, money and effort is wasted… I am not a huge fan of this kind of conservation, although I see some value in terms of connecting humans with nature and also to provide some islands for endangered species.

For example there are huge effords in protecting Otis tarda in Germany and middle Europe. A bird that did not naturally occur there until humans opened up forests for agriculture and pretty soon started disappearing again afterwards after agriculture intensified. Now there is an protected are in eastern Germany where they can breed in fenced areas, because they are also super bad with defending themselfs against natural predators such as foxes (which are btw hated by those people protecting this bird, even if they actually belong in our landscapes…). I always wondered how useful that is…

I am a mixed back when it comes to nature conservation… maybe a bit cynical at times… but I did not lose all hope (yet). I am convinced that all effords in nature conservation only make sense in the light of the human eye actually. Not because I think nature and it´s inhabitants only have value if viewed this way (actually, quite the contrary… I believe in the intrinsic value of nature), but because I believe it is the only way to have long lasting poistive results. Trying to make nature conservation without counting in humans and their needs and activities is a lost fight, I believe. We have to get everyone on board by educating them why nature is important to them as well… even if the only selling point is money. Who cares if it works.

I also believe that the only just cause to be interested in nature conservation are humans actually. It´s a very human concept. Nature itself does not care at all if millions of it´s creations die… as it has shown many times in the past, it will just go on without those species… nature does not have an interest in preserving something. But we should, as it is what makes our lifes as livable as it is today.

On the other hand, I am not a fan of the ongoing “bambification” of nature. No, in nature not everything is pink an pretty. Animal eat other animals, parasites and parasitoids do even more gruesome stuff, landscapes disappear and reappear all the time, forcing species to relocate. Of course in our human-overformed world we need to managed those processes somewhat unfortunately. We shoud not let habitats disappear without giving them the chance to reappear aswell. Some food chains might be out of oder due to human interferance. But my ideal goal of nature conservation would be to create space for nature to do it´s thing. For example have forests large and connected enough where a forest fire or mud flow can be viewed not as desaster but as a chance for naturel succession to take it´s course…

EDIT: Sorry, took too long for my response (dog´s nature took it´s course g) and there was already an reply…


I am a retired Entomologist which specialized in Lepidoptera, and in year 2000, I morphed into native pollinators as well as their predator’s. When instructing Docents at many preserves in my region, I would paint a sobering realistic future. I have been teaching this since 1997. Since I also have a Masters in Finance: Accounting, I have an analytical way of thinking. My spin on World Conservation in a simple statement is: It sucks!
Currently there are in excess of 8 billion humans on this planet. By 2040 or some predict 2050, there will be 10 billion. Question: Where are you going to put an additional 2 billion people? Question: Where are you going to have the land to have grazing animals as food resources? Question: Where are you going to have the land for growing crops? The 3 groups do not reconcile. This currently is and in the future have competition for the land. I have heard little to no comments from WHO related to this let alone making world recommendations to the 115+ countries to conserve, let alone Countries REALLY moving to take Climate issues seriously. So, World Conservation: It Sucks
As an Entomologist, when teaching the world of insects and many other Arthropods to the Docents, my position is unwavering: Outside of Air, if Mankind removed every plant and every insect from this planet, in the mathematical term, IT IS AN ABSOLUTE, mankind cannot exist on this planet and yet man goes out of its way with insecticide for crops, spraying in and around homes, sanitizing swaths of land or plowing over for living and industry. A crisis is and has been here since at least the industrial period and my calculations would take it back to the time man smelted tools and weapons.


Yes, overpopulation is an issue… it will slow down at some point, but it is like sitting in a car with shitty breaks and seeing the wall coming closer and closer.

The planet will have to carry quite some more human individuals until then and I firmly believe that we have to embrace partly solutions to the question “How do we house and feed them all” that are currently unfortunately still quite unpopular especially in some parts of the world… like GMOs for example or lab-grown-food … and the realization that we have already peaked the “freedom and possibilities for all”-idea before every country had it´s chance to get a part of this pie… resources are not endless, freedom is not endless. People that love to travel the world, own a car and imagine they can go everywhere in the world and do anything they want have the best time living right now between great wars and with a high in personal ownerships. People living 100 years from now (in both directions) have it worse and unfortunatey I think many people still don´t know how unbelievable lucky we are, borrowing our luck from someone else with no intent to give it back…

…ah, I get now what you said


Wow, I must say, I have thoroughly enjoyed not only the lively discussion between you and jasonhernandez74, but the input from all contributors to this topic. A truly humbling offering of food for thought :pray: :clap:

To add my 5 cents then:

I have to agree with alot, perhaps most, of the points made by Jason. If one takes a really pragmatic view of what is happening today, the stemming of the global population and the resource use and waste this entails actually depends on factors which are largely out of the hands of grassroots conservationists entirely.

What will ultimately decide the fate of the last few percentages of arable and biologically productive/ diverse land remaining, is the progress made in key theaters in the global south around millenium development goals like access to education, equal opportunities, and safe and sustainable housing and livelihoods; amongst a plethora of variants like legacies of political and social instability, and insurgencies and extremism. These issues are out of the sphere of influence of all but the most well-connected and established conservationists, and even those people will have relatively little sway in the grander scheme of things

Maybe all these loose ends will tie themselves up completely? Very unlikely. Partially? Maybe, or maybe lesser still. But you can be assured that whatever the eventual outcome produces, Planet Earth will inevitably lose more and more land which is meant to be “set aside for non-human settlement” for the purposes of accommodating those species which man struggles to live with, and land that has long since been developed or encroached on will be further denuded from increased drainage, reticulation, paving, landscaping transformation, and pollution.

Already in biodiverse cities in the south such as Cape Town, there are huge tracts of lowland which it is feared have lost their dormant native seedbanks as the effects of intensive urbanization and trophic pollution become too great to bear for alot of species. Even the hardy species that remain, those that are little effected by severing themselves from what were once complex ecological webs, will take many dozens or hundreds of generations to adapt to niche deprived human environments. In terms of communal adaptation and the evolution of related plant/ animal assemblages, the time-scale needed is more of the geological variety, one in which human dominance will have long since been rendered irrelevant

One is tempted to then ask: How much can society shift the ‘natural’ goalposts before they land up outside of the proverbial stadium?

I do think a bigger picture perspective like yours is helpful to longer term conservation in that it can break us from the trap of becoming sentimental for the way nature “used to be” and the networks and species that have been lost along the way. Being someone who was brought up in the school of in-situ conservation first and foremost, I may obviously be a bit biased but I really do believe that all efforts should be made to normalize human settlements not living off of diverse habitats, but thriving WITH them in a mutualistic manner (humans living a rich and productive life on land which is in turn, bolstered and better equipped to adapt to change). From where we are now, this may seem a bit pie-in-the-sky, but even small steps collectively can make a considerable difference. A good starting point in this endeavour would be to tackle the often pernicious “kill it with fire” and “not in my house” subtexts which are perpetuated and echoed to and from urbanites online. The reasons why we developed a deeply-rooted psychological fear of animals like spiders, snakes and rats are completely moot in todays context, and hence we need to instill a healthier outlook in society’s collective consciousness.

There are also alot of technological breakthroughs on the cards to help livestock agriculture and apex predators co-exist, and if we are to preserve our beautiful world and all its contents, we will need as many of these kinds of breakthroughs as we can get!

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Its a bit hard to follow the last few points of your post, but I get the just of what you’re saying: There is a hell of a lot of pessimism derived from the pursuit of real gains conservation

As someone who suffers from extreme medical depression and anxiety, I can assure that my career so far has put an ever-heavier burden on my mind when trying to consider which one of the millions of outcomes we will get for our world going forward

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Funny that you mention this Diana, as Urban Baboon sustainability is exactly the issue that I’m on the frontlines of these days

If you’re ever in Hermanus, you should come by for a visit :slightly_smiling_face:

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