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112 IRCF REPTILES & AMPHIBIANS • VOL 17, NO 2 • JUN 2010 IRCF REPTILES & AMPHIBIANS • VOL 17, NO 2 • JUN 2010 113
Management of habitats for target species, such as the Yellow Anaconda (Eunectes notaeus) in Argentina, can be beneficial to many other species, such as these Neotropical
Cormorants (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) at Banyado la Estrella.
Is Wildlife Management Business or
Conservation — A Question of Ideology
Jesus A. Rivas
Department of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Somerset Community College, Somerset, Kentucky 42501
Photographs by the author (except where noted).
Macroeconomics and Conservation Approaches
published an article in 2007 about anaconda conservation and how it
can be affected by macroeconomics (Rivas 2007a). I identified poverty as
the ultimate threat to conservation in Latin America and how conservation
efforts were bound to meet with little success as long as poverty remains the
rule in rural areas. I also identified neoliberal policies1 as one of the main
causes of poverty and highlighted how well intended conservation efforts,
based on neoliberal measures, fail to solve the poverty problems of rural
regions — and thus also fail in their conservation goals. Instead, they work
as a “painkiller,” creating the illusion of a solution, providing at best tempo-
rary relief, but in fact distracting from seeking real solutions.
What is True Conservation?
At the core of any disagreement regarding conservation programs in Latin
America is the notion, widely held among many conservation biologists,
that any plan for wildlife management, including ecotourism, is by defini-
tion a conservation plan. This notion has been promoted for the last few
decades in order to capitalize on people’s increasing environmental aware-
ness (e.g., Mansfied 2009). However, considerable evidence suggests that
wildlife management is not de facto conservation. Consider a bird-watching
operation located in an area inhabited by a very shy and rare species. Bird
watchers flock to the site during the nesting season to see this rare spe-
cies, which can produce an economic surge in the local economy. Although
such an example might be considered an effective conservation plan, if this
rare bird is so shy that the steady parade of tourists compromises nesting
success, this population could literally be “watched into extinction.” A true
conservation program must have conservation as its primary goal and not
just as a byproduct. If only a byproduct, the system can easily stray into a
regular business regulated solely by the bottom line — and one that might
not even be sustainable.
Wildlife harvesting programs fall into one of three categories: (1)
Businesses that exploit an environmental commodity until it is depleted.
(2) Businesses that use an environmental resource in a sustainable manner
but without providing enough economic incentives to the stewards of the
land. (3) Programs that use a resource sustainably but also provide substan-
tive economic incentives for local citizens who then have good reasons to
protect the environment from other uses that might not be sustainable.
When the bulk of the economic incentive benefits the local communities,
they will have both reasons and resources to prevent external enterprises
from threatening the environment. I would argue that the first example
is not conservation at all and that only the third is true conservation. The
second example can — and should — take credit for being sustainable, but
just because it does not destroy the environment is not enough to construe
it as a conservation program. As a matter of ideology, the goal of a conservation
program must be conservation. Economic gain can be a byproduct or a means
to do conservation but it must not be the goal. Also, the main beneficiaries
of a true conservation program must be the local communities. They are
tightly linked to the land and will more likely try to protect an ecosystem
that supports them — if they have the resources. External businesses can
easily move their operation elsewhere and are not truly committed to the
maintenance of the system.
Management of Anacondas in Formosa, Argentina
In my 2007 article (Rivas 2007a), I never intended to provide a compre-
hensive review of the Argentinean Yellow Anaconda management program
and I do not intend to do so now. My concern then and now is that man-
agement programs that allocate most of the profit to an economic elite
provide only superficial relief to the problems of the local people, do not
protect the system against external influences, and do not constitute true
conservation. In fact, they have the potential for distracting us from seeking
Micucci and Waller (2007), and Waller and Micucci (2008) high-
lighted a number of positive elements in the Formosa program. In addi-
tion, the program has doubtlessly increased the economic status of the local
population. From interviews with local people, I learned that the anaconda
harvest could increase their yearly income by as much as 50%. I also learned
from law enforcement officials that the rate of cattle robbery and common
crimes had dropped to historic levels since the program began, which they
attributed to the local people having legal means of earning an income.
While all these are desirable traits in a management program, they do not
1 In essence, neoliberal policies seeks to transfer much of the control of the econ-
omy from public to the private sector under the belief that it will produce a more
efficient government and improve the economic health of the nation.
For more than two decades, the Venezuelan Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus)
program generated a continuous profit and was often cited as an example of sustain-
able management in a free-market economy. However, the system collapsed as a
consequence of over-hunting, and tanners moved their operations to other sites.
114 IRCF REPTILES & AMPHIBIANS • VOL 17, NO 2 • JUN 2010 IRCF REPTILES & AMPHIBIANS • VOL 17, NO 2 • JUN 2010 115WILDLIFE MANAGEMENTRIVAS
differ from any other business moving into an area and they might fail to
protect the ecosystem against non-sustainable uses — because the incentive
offered by the anaconda program, as described in Micucci et al. (2006), is
not enough to empower the local people, nor does it provide them with the
means to oppose a corporate takeover in search of greater profits.
Wildlife management programs around the world are not asked to
meet these high standards to qualify as conservation. I would also argue
that this is the reason conservation programs more often than not show
poor results. This and my earlier 2007 papers are intended to raise aware-
ness about economics and politics among conservation biologists, to design
management programs that not only use resources in a sustainable manner
with conservation as a byproduct, but to design them with conservation as
the principal goal and to include in them means of providing local commu-
nities with the resources to withstand pressures from external sources that
promote non-sustainable uses in favor of short-term profits2.
We should not use the term “conservation” for programs with goals
that are not primarily conservation-oriented. For example, catching fish to
supply high-end restaurants is called fishing, not fish conservation. Fishing
operations around the world are first and foremost commercial businesses —
and fishing operations have on many occasions over-fished their stocks (e.g.,
Hutchings and Myers 1994, Larkin 1977, Myers et al. 1997). Furthermore,
even sustainable fishing operations do not try to disguise their business as
conservation programs. The anaconda management program in Formosa
may well be a legitimate, sustainable business that helps the local economy
(like any business) and relieves pressure on the natural environment by
providing jobs (as businesses often do) — but, if conservation is merely a
byproduct, such a program should not be presented as conservation.
Globalization or No Globalization? That is the Question
Conservation efforts based on globalization and the free market are risky
because they are not time-tested models and fall within a narrow context
of economic principles. We cannot trust our precious diversity to such
untested economic models. Free-market economies have largely failed
in the one task they purportedly are designed to do well: Production of
wealth. The United States is one of very few countries (basically the G83)
that have benefited from a free market system — but that is not the case for
the majority of the countries that have tried it. Furthermore, the countries
that have succeeded under free-market economies are countries that have
destroyed most of their pristine natural habitats, as a free market relies on
constant economic growth. Using globalization and free-market measures
for conservation policies is a response to ideological agendas, and it is not
data-driven or supported by facts (e.g., Mansfield 2009).
I do not intend to turn this commentary into a debate on economics
or politics, but when we apply a conservation strategy that is tightly linked
to an economic ideology we are supporting that ideology, whether we real-
ize it or not. Insisting on free-market measures for conservation despite
their repeated failures to protect biodiversity is not only ineffective but
shows adherence — conscious or not — to ideological positions that are
intrinsically at odds with conservation principles.
As I argued in my 2007 articles, temporary measures can and should be
developed to address and relieve short-term problems. To differentiate
them from real solutions, I labeled them “Tylenol Conservation,” as they
work like a painkiller, ameliorating symptoms of a disease they are not
intended to cure. A management program that relieves local poverty while
we search for real solutions is a welcome tool as part of a conservation
program, but it is it not conservation by itself — and it should not replace
the search for a real solution anymore than a painkiller should replace the
search for a real cure.
Many of the conservation solutions we seek in today’s world are des-
tined to fail because they rely on the same neoliberal framework responsible
for the poverty that is largely responsible for the failure of conservation
programs, and they provide only temporary and superficial relief. This is
why I seek to redefine what we do in conservation by promoting a greater
awareness of the political and economic framework in which we function.
Not doing so can render us unwitting tools of economic and political ide-
ologies that compromise the success of conservation efforts.
Hoogesteijn, R. and C.A. Chapman. 1997. Large ranches as conservation tools in
the Venezuelan llanos. Oryx 31:274–284.
Hutchings, J.A. and R.A. Myers. 1994. What can be learned from the collapse of
a renewable resource? Atlantic Cod, Gadus morhua, of Newfoundland and
Labrador. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 51:2126–2146.
Larkin, P.A. 1977. An epitaph for the concept of maximum sustained yield.
Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 106:1–11.
Micucci, P.A. and T. Waller. 2007. The management of Yellow Anacondas
(Eunectes notaeus) in Argentina: From historical misuse to resource apprecia-
tion. Iguana 14:161–172.
Micucci, P.A., T. Waller, and E. Alvarenga. 2006. Programa Curiyú, pp. 77–92.
In: M.L. Bolkovic and D. Ramadori (eds.), Manejo de Fauna Silvestre en la
Argentina. Programas de Uso Sustentable. Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Mansfield, B. 2008. Global environmental politics, pp. 235–346. In: K. Cox, M.
Low and J. Robinson (eds.), Handbook of Political Geography. Sage, London.
Mansfield, B. 2009. Sustainability, pp. 37–49. In: N. Castree, D. Demeritt, D.
Liverman, and B. Rhoads (eds.), A Companion to Environmental Geography.
Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford.
Myers, R.A., J.A. Hutchings, and N.J. Barrowman. 1997. Why do fish stocks col-
lapse? The example of cod in Atlantic Canada. Ecological Applications 7:91–106.
Rivas, J.A. 2007a. Conservation of anacondas: How Tylenol conservation and macro-
economics threaten the survival of the world’s largest snake. Iguana 14:74–85.
Rivas, J.A. 2007b. What is wrong with pain killers, NPR, the Democratic Party,
and conservation biologists. The Axis of Logic (http://axisoflogic.com/artman/
Waller, T. and P. A. Micucci. 2008. Anaconda conservation: A reply to Rivas.
2 Imagine that a corporation wanted to drain large portions of the swamp from
which anacondas are being harvested to, for example, plant oil palms for the pro-
duction of agro-fuels. This operation will destroy the habitat, but would also offer
permanent employment with comparable or superior income to what the locals
make from wildlife harvesting. Will the locals be willing to oppose this operation
to protect the habitat? Will they have the resources to oppose the corporation? I
contend that it is only conservation if the answer to these questions is yes.
I started to study Green Anacondas (Eunectes murinus) in Venezuela in 1992 in
order to explore the possibilities for sustainable use. Due to the collapse of the cai-
man program in the mid-1990s, the Venezuelan government halted other harvest-
ing programs. Consequently, no attempt to harvest anacondas ever materialized in
Venezuela. Conservation biologists often believe that their approach to conservation
is pure conservation, strictly scientific, or somehow devoid of politics or ideology.
However, management programs based on a free-market economy rely on constant
growth, which is intrinsically at odds with conservation principles. Scientists who
fail to realize this are at risk of becoming unwitting tools of economic agendas that
they do not understand or with which they might not even agree.
Large, non-aquatic animals have been unable to flourish in most Capybara
(Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) habitats (Hoogesteijn et al. 1997). In fact, Capybara
are, for the most part, the lone large herbivore in most of their natural habitats. As
such, the normal large prey predator has not evolved, and capybara can be farmed
in an almost completely natural setting. Consequently, many conservationists have
strongly pushed for governmentally subsidized Capybara farming.
3 A forum for the world’s major industrialized democracies (Canada, France,
Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, United States) to discuss issues
of mutual or global concern.
Not one to question its luck, this Great Egret (Ardea alba) readily exploits the human-mediated introduction of Green Iguanas (Iguana iguana) onto Grand