Art of Conservation, Inc. works in poor rural communities surrounding Parc National des Volcans (PNV) in Rwanda, teaching schoolchildren about the importance of maintaining a healthy environment for both people and animals and instilling them with an understanding and respect for themselves, their peers, and the natural world. AoC is led by Julie Ghrist and her team, Valerie Akuredusenge, Eric Mutabazi, Innocent Uwizeye and Fahad Ndangiza.
The idea is the brainchild of Julie Ghrist who puts all her time and effort into establishing a truly exceptional program which addresses the health and education of the communities surrounding the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda, home to approximaltey half of the 700+ Mountain Gorillas remaining in the world.
While the new African Forest exhibit will have its fair share of awe-inspiring animals, it will not be just about magnificent wildlife and beautiful habitats. It is also about people and the wonderful, rich cultures that we all can share. To be a conservationist is to actively preserve and protect something, especially through planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction or neglect. The concept of conservation in the context of zoos and aquariums can mean many things to many people: wildlife protection, habitat restoration, environmental protection, and more.
What we frequently do not discuss is the human component of wildlife conservation. What are we doing to enact the “careful preservation and protection of something” if that something is the people who have historically lived side-by-side with the wildlife we intend to protect? To that end, the Houston Zoo’s conservation efforts will focus on developing wildlife, habitat, and human community support programs in central Africa in 2010.
Right now, there are few places left on earth where humans do not co-exist with native wildlife. There are also few national parks and protected areas on earth where humans did not co-exist with wildlife before these park boundaries were put in place. And there are even fewer places where the decision to designate a protected area does not somehow intimately affect the human population living around its borders.
If the ability for native people to coexist with their habitat is taken away from them without offering a sustainable solution, then wildlife and habitat conservation efforts are bound to fail. The most successful wildlife conservation efforts are those in which indigenous communities are empowered in the management of local natural resources and supported through capacity building programs.
Model community initiatives lead to socioeconomic and conservation gains by establishing and strengthening alternative community initiatives for sustainable development which can be compatible with the long term conservation of local natural resources. Today, wildlife is much more valuable alive than dead.
Human-wildlife conflicts are worldwide; Tigers, Elephants and humans in South Asia, Jaguars and livestock in Latin America, Wolves and livestock in North America, and many, many others. As conflicts continue to increase with habitat loss and human population growth, we must consider a positive solution to both the issues facing wildlife and humans.