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Forbes Africa: Environmentalism 2.0 – Why We Need Progressive Conservation

The pandemic has wrought a huge gap in conservation funding across Africa. A British philanthropist is taking up the challenge.

The pandemic has had severe repercussions on the resources available to environmental conservation efforts across the globe, though the problem is particularly acute in Africa. In March, the BBC reported that conservation efforts have been reduced in a quarter of protected areas in Asia but in over half of protected areas in Africa.

Funding gaps have overwhelmingly arisen from declining tourism, which has had a drastic impact on African conservation efforts. The collapse of the international tourism industry in South Africa has effectively shut down conservation activities and caused a full-blown “conservation crisis” in the country.

The dearth in funding also stems from the closures of zoological and safari parks across the continent, traditionally substantive donors to conservation initiatives. The problem is compounded by the fact that Africa is also hit by closures across the globe.

“We want to understand the relationship between animals and the climate, and fund projects which can protect both simultaneously.” Nick Maughan, Founder of the Nick Maughan Foundation

The UK’s The Independent newspaper reported that losses of upwards of £200 million for UK zoos, aquariums and safari parks have forced cuts to budgets that would otherwise have been allocated to African projects.

To add insult to injury, those usually dependent on eco-tourism have been forced into illegal poaching, hurting populations of already threatened species. According to Charles Mayhew, the co-founder and CEO of the Tusk Trust – a UK non-profit advancing wildlife conservation in Africa – the economic decline across the continent has created a “significant upsurge” in poaching for people “simply trying to put food on the table”.

Some conservationists are aiming to take up the challenge. One is Nick Maughan, whose foundation (the Nick Maughan Foundation, or ‘NMF’) works to promote progressive conservation efforts across Africa and is one of Tusk’s major donors.

Progressive conservation focuses on the interdependence of disparate parts of the environmental ecosystem and emphasises the potential of technology to protect nature in more sustainable ways, helping to make conservation efforts less reliant on the ebbs and flows of traditional funding cycles. This includes practices such as high-tech carbon sequestration schemes or the monitoring of endangered species populations by remote satellite to help the crackdown on illegal poaching.

Conservation technology has been championed by some of the world’s leading conservation organisations. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) suggests that camera traps, satellites and drones can help maximise the effectiveness of conservation efforts, ecological research and citizen science. With more traditional conservation efforts hampered by the pandemic, the next decade is likely to see more progressive solutions take centre stage.

Maughan highlights that the protection of endangered species, though of course an end in itself, also has benefits for the environment, such that species protection and the fight against climate change can be seen as two sides of the same coin.

“Elephant populations in Africa are important to the protection of trees and foliage. At the Nick Maughan Foundation, we want to understand the relationship between animals and the climate and fund projects which can protect both simultaneously.”

Research published by Science magazine suggests that one elephant per square kilometre could increase the amount of plant mass in the forest by up to 60 tons per hectare, or “enough to suck up more than 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide across Africa”. For Maughan, the approach must be holistic. ‘Environment’ is just one of NMF’s three pillars, the others being ‘education’ and ‘community’. NMF has committed over £1m to Tusk supporting its wildlife conservation, community development and education efforts across Africa and much more to other conservation initiatives.

Progressive conservation means cultivating the next generation of environmental leaders through inspiration as well as education. Through its sponsorship of Tusk’s annual Wildlife Ranger Award, NMF seeks to recognise the heroes of today as a means of inspiring the leaders of tomorrow. Last year’s winner was Amos Gwema, a wildlife intelligence officer working with local communities throughout Zimbabwe to map and dismantle poaching networks.

NMF has big ambitions to help overcome funding gaps across the continent, and is understood to be in the process of identifying a range of further organisations with whom to collaborate for the most long-term impact.


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