To many the word ‘conservation’ evokes ideas of moral goodness and duty. Fighting for the preservation and just treatment of animals threatened by poaching and modernization is a noble cause. However, many people have died at the hands of conservation efforts. Today’s conservation model is actually based off of the exclusionary colonial model of conservation which has been historically used to take land away from indigenous people and contributed to their subjugation.
I recently did a paper on this topic in my geography class for which I researched the link between colonialism and conservation with a focus on South Africa and Kruger National Park. A history of British dominated sport hunting in South Africa and unregulated hunting of white settlers (Dutch) with little knowledge of resource management lead to a a deficit of game. The government attempted to place game legislation in which hunting was restricted, but in actuality it was an attempt to exclude only African people. The legislation did not restore game populations which contributed to a shift in ideology in regards to nature that leaned towards protectionism. Protectionism is the belief that nature must be preserved in its natural state away from human influence. This led to the establishment of game reserves, areas of land completely inaccessible to all races. This also required the violent removal of indigenous people from their own lands, often at gunpoint. This is also how the world’s oldest park, Yellowstone National Park in the U.S, was formed. South Africa’s Kruger National Park is actually the result of the merging of the Sabi Game Reserve and the Singwitsi Game Reserve.
This topic is very interesting and I highly recommend reading up on it. It helps in understanding why many conservation efforts have failed in the past. For instance, the preservation of nature in its natural state can not involve the absence of humans as humans are part of the natural world. Many times the displacement of indigenous peoples led to the declining conditions of the reserves as the land actually needed to be tended to. A fact that indigenous people knew, but Europeans perceived as ‘traditional knowledge’ and ignored. This highlights the fact that conservation efforts can not be sustainable without indigenous peoples.
Today, there has been a concerted effort by influential conservation organizations and scientists to shift away from the exclusionary colonial model of conservation towards a more inclusive community based model of conservation that works alongside indigenous people in the conservation process. This shift was largely influenced by the efforts of disenfranchised indigenous people advocating for their rights to their ancestral lands. One success story involves South Africa returning 20,000 ha of land in Kruger National Park to the Makuleke people. South Africa National Parks and the Makuleke people co-manage the returned land with the main economic benefits reaped by the Makuleke people.