Perspective: Conservation Begins At Home

May 31, 2019

Over Christmas, I traveled to Botswana to visit family. Botswana, located in southern Africa, is a beautiful and diverse country with landscapes ranging from the Kalahari Desert to the lush Okavango Delta. Outside the bustling cities, you can find natural game preserves, perfect for a safari. If you’re lucky, you can see giraffe, elephants, wildebeest, wild dogs, hippos, leopards, and lions, all from a safe distance of course.

Botswana recently legalized elephant hunting. At first, I was shocked and a little bit outraged. No one sees an elephant without respecting the beauty of those majestic creatures.

And then my sister, who lives in Maun, Botswana reached out. She reminded me of the reality that she sees every day: poor farmers whose crops, cattle, and livelihoods are being destroyed by an elephant population that is out of control.

I realized I had jumped to a conclusion and fallen into a classic trap of assuming I knew better than the local people who had lived on that land for generations.

Conservation, especially on the African continent, can often be a sneaky cover for neocolonialism and white saviorism. We ignore the conservation knowledge of the local populations. We focus on animals like elephants and ignore the conservation of the birds, bugs, and plants that mean just as much or more to the ecosystem. We focus our outrage on “others” and ignore the very real conservation problems in our own backyard. We can do more by looking at our waste and destruction before shaming another country’s choices.

I’m Lynnea Erickson Laskowski and that’s my perspective.