Is Commercial Conservation South African Wildlifes Hope For The Future?

26th November 2012

“Birds of Eden” is such an appropriate name. Lee (the manager) leads us through the special doors and we step into paradise. My camera is immediately pointed at a spectacular Golden Pheasant working hard at impressing “his lady”. Before I can take that all in I see a green and red parrot and the prettiest cream colored Dove I’d ever seen.

I spend the next hour in absolute awe as Lee guides Russ and I along the walk ways and bridges from one habitat to the next. Small birds, large birds, ground birds and water birds. Some endemic to South Africa and others from all over the world. Each bird is accounted for. Each bird has a story. Many rescued from pet shops or brought in by people who no longer could care for them. It really is a glimpse into what Eden must have been like!

On busy December season days 1,000 people visit Birds of Eden. Bus loades of school children, photographers, birders from around the world, and curious tourists from South Africa and abroad step into this fascinating world of free-flying birds.

Immediately next door is Monkeyland. After chatting with Tony the mastermind behind both sanctuaries we move into the world of the primates as we join a walking safari. Have you ever heard a female Lemur call? It sounds like a chorus of a couple of cats, a dog and a monkey! This beautiful creature has a double tongue!

Here in Monkeyland land troups of various primate species coexist on 27 hectares of indigenous forest. Walking with monkeys! A troop swings through the wet trees overhead showering down rain drops. We stop to watch a Lemur enjoy apple pieces at a feeding station. All the while we’re learning why some tails curl in and other don’t have tails at all (those are the apes) from our knowledgeable guide.

Monkeyland and Birds of Eden like the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center up north are self sustaining conservation projects. Unlike the others we visited who rely on donations and grants for funding these three market themselves well and bring in money via tourism.

In the conservation realm there is great controversy around this. The purests see making money with wildlife as exploitation, while those like the three thriving projects we visited argue they reach far more people and will more readily survive long term.

In my finite wisdom I believe both have their place. The huge drawing card for commercial conservation is the sustainability and the masses of people enjoying a wildlife experience. This creates awareness in a big way.

Conventional conservation is essential to protect not only the wildlife, but the wild places needed for their survival in their natural environment. In an ideal world that means preserving harmonious ecosystems with no human interference.

My hat off to Tony and people like him who use their business savvy to do good for wildlife.

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