Last night I watched Channel 4’s Dispatches programme entitled “Conservation’s Dirty Secrets”. It proposed to examine the way in which big conservation charities are run and questioning whether the conservation movement has got it wrong by focusing on charismatic ‘megafauna’ and by putting animals before people.
Personally I enjoyed the programme as there are often concerns about how and where donations are spent and the interrelations between charities and big corporations. The programme uncovered rather unsavoury links between conservation charities and big polluting oil companies and the charities gave poor responses to the reasons behind these links. However, this is journalism and many people felt that it bordered on sensationalism (comments via twitter).
To berate a charity for using cute, fluffy animals to get the money in is not, in my opinion, the travesty it was made out to be. If the charities in question are ploughing the donations into a range of conservation challenges across the world then I am happy for them to have a flagship species to help them raise awareness. In terms of educating people overall however this “disneyfication of conservation” is not ideal and a more holistic approach should be taken; more effort made to show why it is important to sustain a variety of ecosystems and species.
The programme also showed the very murky side of putting wildlife before people. Groups of indigenous people in Kenya were shown to be being evicted from their homes and aggressively pursued by armed government officials; resulting in rape and murder. All in the name of a new reserve for the African Wildlife Trust. This is not acceptable under any circumstances. Local people must be considered and involved in these projects for them to work. It is essential for them to engage with conservation, and for them to benefit. This is not a new concept – but it seems an elusive one to many.
Overall I think it raised some important points but it did not give the charities in question much right to reply. It is a reminder to people to check (as best they can) where their donations are going before they give their hard-earned cash and that applies to all charities not just conservation.
As a student of conservation and a member of conservation charities I will not be changing any of my donations as for me the money that is spent on the projects and the good work that is carried out far outweighs any concerns I have about where and how it is being spent. Currently I donate to local and national charities and am not involved with international organisations. This programme will not stop me from donating to, or working for a large, international charity but I will certainly think more carefully about it.
But don't take my word for it follow the link in the first paragraph and make your own mind up!