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The Harsh Reality of Conservation


Lots of people start out in conservation because, unsurprisingly, they like animals. Yet the more time you spend in conservation, the more you recognize that doing what is best for the natural world, often results in difficult decisions and tough actions.

I think it’s very important to come to terms with this early on. Often, it’s human interventions that have unbalanced an ecosystem in the first place, so I support efforts to put things right.

It might be something as simple as clearing invasive plant species – to which few people raise a significant objection (less people care about plants!). Perhaps it is culling populations of animals that have lost their natural predators, such as deer in the highlands.

Or perhaps, as in the video below, it is teaching captive bred predators how to hunt.

It’s a harsh reality, and no doubt many will find it uncomfortable. But it is this – it is nature – or we let a species like the Black-footed Ferret slide to extinction.

Saving the Black-footed Ferret

What do you think? Does it still make you want to work in conservation? Has to be better than a career as a prairie dog!

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  1. Jo

    Really inspiring stuff James. I contacted you a while ago in regards to working on a project with rescued captive elephants and it’s turned out to be a really great project. I’m doing my own mini project on the invasive speciesof plant in the forest. I’ve also been in contact with a project in Vietnam who would like me to put together a database of key business men in the illegal rhino horn trade. Anyway my point is, I’m a rookie in this field and am learning some harsh realities about conservation, and also pondering utilitarian views! Thanks for the original advice that you gave me when I contacted you previously, and I’m going to keep tabs on your blog.

    • James_Borrell

      Great to hear Jo – I remember! Glad it’s working out well for you and keep up the great work. Feel free to post some pictures of your fieldwork over on my facebook page.

  2. Emma

    Hi James, I found this video really interesting and agree there are tough choices to make within conservation. I am curious to know how this initiative has impacted wild Prairie populations considering many are classified as endangered, and are also suffering from the Sylvatic plague along with ferret populations. Although it is not ‘natural’, do you know if conditioning ferrets to hunt an alternative food source is a viable alternative and has been considered?

  3. Anitra Paris
    Anitra Paris11-09-2015

    I personally know that I wouldn’t be able to participate in work like this, would be too difficult for me. I understand that it must be done and it makes complete sense from a practical standpoint. If pre-conditioning ferrets leads to a more successful recovery for the species while being more efficient with the resources of conservation programs, which can often be sparse, the work is necessary.

    This reminds me of another aspect of wildlife conservation work that shocked me: I have worked with a wildlife society in the past, many of the other societies at events would display banners saying, “If you have ever been touched by wildlife, thank a hunter.”. This phrase never made much sense to me. My friend sent me this podcast: . The podcast touches on how a lot of hunting funds conservation programs. In no way do I personally support hunting but it was an interesting listen.

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