You were responsible for the world's first jaguar sanctuary, the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve. Why are these protected areas so critical?
I’ve learned over the years that if we want a world with animals we need to let them roam. They need a core area, a home, a protected space. In order to have a life, a space to reproduce and exist, they need a private home; a ground zero. They will have to exist in other areas, cultivated areas shared with humans, movement corridors, but these core protected areas have to exist if we are to succeed in preserving the natural world. I don’t keep count but I think it is seven protected spaces I’ve helped establish now, although I’m frustrated as there is still so much to do, and still so much work ahead to ensure the protected spaces that wildlife (and us humans) need are preserved.
What high-priority conservation challenges do you feel the natural world is facing at the moment?
The greatest conservation challenge, which I believe is holding back the preservation of the natural world right now, is perhaps a little controversial; it is a lack of partnership between conservation organisations. So often they don’t work together, they are territorial, don’t share data and don’t pool resources. These are well-meaning people working towards a common goal, but everyone is reinventing the wheel, doing the same studies. Conservation lacks funding. People are moved by messages they see in the media and maybe contribute a little, but that isn’t enough. People don’t realise how important it is and that it costs money – a lot of money. Saving a species is no small endeavour. If organisations pooled funds they would go further.
The second big challenge is that there is much rhetoric from governments, but this isn’t followed by intent or funding. Punishments for flouting conservation laws aren’t treated with enough gravity. Often there just isn’t the moral certitude to follow things through; animals have the right to exist but they are always seen as lesser beings, and this goes back to them not having a voice of their own. There isn’t enough value placed on animal lives. For example, the Government of South Africa allow the legal export of lion bones to China for the medicinal trade. [NOTE: From 2008-14, the bones of more than 4,900 African lions, from both wild and captive sources, were traded from South Africa to Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and China. An attempt to end this last year failed, with the compromise that South Africa is able to continue with its captive-lion bone trade. Source: Environmental Investigation Agency]. Fundamentally there needs to be more action behind words.
Can we as members of the public do anything that genuinely helps preserve the natural world?
It’s easy to say donate money, but in reality it is how we live our lives. Ecotourism for example has become a money-making word. You’ll find 30 jeeps surrounding one tiger; that isn’t ecotourism. People who travel should do so with really good organisations. Research and see if they give back to the landscapes they are exploiting. Make conserving the natural world an everyday choice. Buy products and research which companies are anthropic. Business reacts to consumers and will do the right thing if it is forced to. Be more cognizant about your everyday life.