Gorillas, Not Grenades: Conservation as Diplomacy

November 23, 2011

In conflict and post-conflict areas, conservation can play a key role in diplomacy by increasing stability and providing economic opportunities.

In 2009, WCS helped the government of Afghanistan establish its first protected area, sparking a hopeful new chapter in its troubled national history. In spring 2011, WCS researchers in war-torn South Sudan conducted a series of wildlife surveys across the vast savannas, helping to establish a foundation for natural-resource management and land-use planning in this fledgling nation.

These efforts are just two examples of how biodiversity conservation can spur recovery in conflict and post-conflict areas. According to a team of conservationists hosted by WCS at an event in European Parliament on Tuesday, conservation can play a key role in diplomacy, increasing stability and providing sustainable economic opportunities.

The speakers included John Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President for Public Affairs; Habiba Sarabi, Governor of Bamyan Province, Afghanistan; Peter Zahler of WCS’s Asia Program; Paul Elkan of WCS’s South Sudan Program; and Deo Kujirakwinja, WCS Albertine Rift Coordinator, Democratic Republic of Congo.

“At first it might seem preposterous to worry about wildlife when bullets are flying,” said John Calvelli. “The fact is that conservation of natural resources—including wildlife—is the foundation of stable societies. Protecting and conserving these natural resources is the key to any nation-building process.”

WCS is the only international conservation NGO in Afghanistan and has worked there since 2006. In addition to helping create Band-e-Amir National Park and a list of protected species, WCS conservationists collaborating on drafting eight different environmental laws and regulations, and trained thousands of Afghans—from high-level ministerial staff to local community members—in sustainable natural resource management practices. Recent WCS wildlife surveys have turned up populations of snow leopards, Asiatic black bears, Marco Polo sheep, and rare bird species.

WCS is also the only international conservation organization working in South Sudan, the world's newest nation. Here, surveys conducted in partnership with the government have found that mammal migrations rivaling those of the Serengeti survived decades of war, and vast tracts of savannas and wetlands remain largely intact. South Sudan boasts some of the most spectacular and important wildlife populations in Africa and supports the annual migration of some 1.3 million white-eared kob, tiang antelope, and Mongalla gazelle.

Despite decades of unrest, WCS maintains a full-time presence in Democratic Republic of Congo and works in several important landscapes that are home to gorillas, elephants, okapi, and other spectacular wildlife. As the region begins to recover from years of conflict, pressures to exploit the country’s rich natural resources are increasing. WCS works with a variety of in-country partners to safeguard the region’s wildlife and wild places from unsustainable development.

WCS operates field conservation projects in 60 countries around the world and in all the world’s oceans. WCS today opened a policy office in Brussels to boost the organization’s policy impact in Europe, specifically among bodies such as the European Commission, the European Parliament, and within European bilateral aid and conservation agencies.

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