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Developing Story
Saving Rhino

Transforming the ecosystem: The new deal

Author: Frank Odenthal

You know you're living in troubled times when the only hope for a better future lies in the hands of future generations. At the same time we know that we can't postpone this urgent matter as mass extinction is already in full flow. These are the times when young people take their fate into their own hands to overthrow old systems that have proven to be outdated and useless, harmful or even destructive. As we can see now around the world, a new generation is demanding action against the climate crisis and mass extinction. These are times when revolutions begin. When the established are the problem, there is little hope they can also be the solution. It’s up to the next generation to show that they can do better than their predecessors.

This applies to the major environmental challenges of our time: climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the next (sixth) mass extinction. The solution—at a glance—seems obvious: we must radically change the way we treat our environment, our planet and our ecosystem. The questions are: how do we want to achieve that transformation, and who can achieve it?

A new mindset is needed

Unfortunately, forthcoming generations will not only inherit our environmental problems, they will also need to fix them. The generation that is able to change how we as a species deal with our ecosystem, will also be able to minimise the damage already done to it.

A new mindset is needed. The next generation has to use different strategies, different approaches and different ways of thinking. It must be an empowered generation. At protecting endangered species, colonial-style strategies are proven to be unsuccessful as they continue to marginalise indigenous populations. These local communities can no longer be marginalised; their young people especially not. They want to participate and they must be involved. This is especially true for rural communities in close proximity to protected areas and national parks. The connections—spiritual, moral, even the economical—between humans, animals and plants must be restored.

The core of empowerment must be education. Only those who are aware of their rights can demand them. And only those who act with self-confidence can shield themselves from competing and even sometimes destructive forces. Only then can problems such as pollution, habitat loss and biodiversity be addressed by grassroots movements in the affected regions themselves.

Overcoming colonial-style conservationism

Education also protects minority viewpoints. This is true both in industrialised as well as non-industrialised countries. Those who want to overcome colonial-style conservation should start with education and empowerment. For example, in a multi-ethnic state in Africa, such as South Africa, where black and white people co-exist with some difficulty, education enables competing groups and various interests to be taken into account to reach a healthy compromise, where all viewpoints are heard and treated with equal seriousness. (For an in-depth analysis of what it means to get communities involved with wildlife protection, please read chapter 11 “Ensuring the participation of communities” and see what direct actions are being taken in chapter 12.)

How to get support for a shift towards sustainability

An educated and empowered society will soon find out that in our modern times spiritual and economical value will go hand-in-hand. And only such a society will understand and accept the link between conservation efforts in their neighbourhood and the global loss of biodiversity. Such a society is likely to support a shift in the use of their ecosystem towards sustainability.


Such a shift must also include tourism. Again, new concepts are necessary; Concepts that overcome the colonial-style approach of "gated communities" in tourism and its “exclusive” character towards indigenous groups. This is especially true for hunting tourism. Meanwhile, even die-hard big game hunters, such as Carl van der Riet, whose family looks back on a long tradition of big game hunters, realise that trophy hunting will not be sustainable, simply because stocks are constantly shrinking in the wild.

"I've realised that the time for classic trophy hunting is over."

Carl van der Riet

Van der Riet runs a lodge on the Middle Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, which used to be visited by hunting tourists, but like many other lodges in the region, has transformed away from trophy hunting to photo safari and sustainable tourism. The transformation is accompanied and supported by Ralph Koczwara and his organisation Hemmersbach Rhino Force, whose progress we are covering with this FairPlanet developing story. 

The fight against poachers on the one hand—to which the direct action organisation of the Nuremberg entrepreneur Koczwara has committed itself—and trophy hunting for tourists from rich industrialised countries on the other, would be difficult to communicate to rural local communities. The latter needs to be involved in that respect, too.

What a “new deal” with our ecosystem in the countries of southern Africa could look like is subject to the following three articles of our FairPlanet Developing Story.