Two ears, one mouth

Sinegugu Zukulu, CI’s program manager for the Umzimvubu River catchment. (© Trond Larsen)

Editor’s note: Conservation International is publishing stories from a new feature series, “South Africa side by side with nature.” In the series, we explore two South African landscapes where doing right by nature and doing right by people are the same. Here is a look at part four of that series.

Sinegugu Zukulu, CI’s program manager for the Umzimvubu River catchment, was born in the southernmost extent of the landscape he now works to improve — an expanse of rolling grasslands overlooking the Indian Ocean known as Pondoland. Having grown up as a neighbor of Matatiele, Zukulu appreciates the complexities of working with rural communities.

“People find it very difficult to work with rural areas because it is very dynamic,” he said. “You have got to have a particular set of skills to be able to work successfully.”

So what is his secret?

“Number one, being able to listen to the people. Being able to be open to learning something new from the rural people. Respect for the indigenous knowledge systems. Being able to remind yourself that you don’t know it all. Rural people will teach you, because they know this place better.

“You must be humble. Because if you are not humble, rural people are very quick to pick that up, and they will make your life very difficult and you will not achieve anything.

“When you are able to listen, when you have two ears and one mouth, that means you listen more than you tell them what to do. But if you come there with three mouths and one ear, then your work will not go very far.”

In South Africa’s Eastern Cape conservationists are connecting with local communities through culture, science and shared values.

Read part four: “Two ears, one mouth”

Jamey Anderson is a senior writer at Conservation International.

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Indigenous leaders: What we wish Westerners knew

© Aaron Joel Santos/Aurora Photos

A Samburu warrior in traditional dress, Kenya. Indigenous peoples are key partners for conservation efforts around the world. (© Aaron Joel Santos/Aurora Photos)

Editor’s note: Indigenous peoples make up approximately 5 percent of the world’s population (370 million people). Though they act as stewards of nearly a quarter of Earth’s land and the vast majority of its wildlife, they still face critical challenges — including legal rights to their lands and natural resources.

On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples — and the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — Human Nature is revisiting an interview with members of Conservation International’s (CI) Indigenous Advisory Group. These leaders sat down with Minnie Degawan, the director of CI’s Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program, to discuss the challenges and successes of indigenous peoples around the world.

Minnie Degawan: What do you want Westerners to know about indigenous peoples?

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In the news: Government report finds climate change impacting U.S.

A man stand on top of a seawall built to forestall the effects of stronger storms in Kiribati. Communities around the world are already feeling the effects of a changing climate. This includes the United States, according to a new report from U.S. government scientists. (© Ciril Jazbec)

Editor’s note: This post was updated on August 10, 2017 to reflect a correction issued by the New York Times. It reads: “An article on Tuesday about a sweeping federal climate change report referred incorrectly to the availability of the report. While it was not widely publicized, the report was uploaded by the nonprofit Internet Archive in January; it was not first made public by The New York Times.”

A U.S. government study finds that climate change is already affecting many aspects of American life and that record-setting temperatures are likely to become the new norm.

A copy of the draft report, first reported by The New York Times, details the consequences of a dramatic rise in temperature observed in the United States since 1980, including impacts to agriculture, water supplies, infrastructure and human health.

The report’s findings are among the most comprehensive yet compiled.

The future of the government report, which is at odds with the official stance on climate change from the Trump Administration, is unclear. But it is just the latest gathering of scientific evidence of the effects that a changing climate is already having.

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‘Time to fix things now’

South African conservationist Sissie Matela, seen here in Hawai‘i where she recently received an award for her environmental work. (© Conservation International/photo by Robin Moore)

Editor’s note: Conservation International is publishing stories from a new feature series, “South Africa side by side with nature.” In the series, we explore two South African landscapes where doing right by nature and doing right by people are the same. Here is a look at part three of that series.

Faced with convincing a skeptical community to change the way they graze their cattle, local advocate Sissie Matela developed a simple ploy: Open the corrals, she would tell the farmers, and see where the animals go.

“They would open the corral, and the animals literally would just run out and go very far away from home,” recalls Matela. The land was so degraded that the animals would not stop to graze for miles. The simple experiment was evidence for Matela’s proposition that things needed to change. It is the sort of personal diplomacy that characterizes the work she has done for 15 years, changing minds one at a time.

In the farming town of Matatiele in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Matela and a group of conservationists is protecting Africa’s most biodiverse grassland and bringing prosperity through livestock auctions.

Read part three: “Time to fix things now”

Jamey Anderson is a senior writer at Conservation International.

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A tug of war in the night

A leopard cub (Panthera pardus) with a fresh kill in Kruger National Park. (© Trond Larsen)

Editor’s note: For the next two weeks, Conservation International will publish stories from a new feature series, “South Africa side by side with nature.” In the series, we explore two South African landscapes where doing right by nature and doing right by people are the same. Here is a look at part two of that series.

Magic Mabunda was trekking home through the wildlife reserve that abuts his village when he suddenly felt a tug from behind. Having just hunted an antelope, Mabunda had the animal draped over his shoulders as he made his way through the dark bush. Turning around, he came face to face with a menacing figure: a leopard looking to steal his kill.

In Mabunda’s telling, he won the ensuing tug of war, sending the would-be thief back into the night.

Years later, poaching in and around South Africa’s Kruger National Park bears little resemblance to Mabunda’s days of hunting bush meat. Fueled by soaring prices for rhino horn and ivory, poachers now brandish advanced weapons and employ sophisticated tactics. The influx of cash from poaching makes assisting the illicit activity highly attractive for the poor communities that border the park.

Magic Mabunda, a former poacher of bush meat and current small-business owner near Kruger National Park. (© Trond Larsen)

But over the years, Mabunda too has changed his ways. With training from a nonprofit partnership in his village, he developed business skills to complement the hustle and determination he honed during his bush-trekking days. Now the owner of a small business that restores land for South African National Parks, Mabunda has become a leader in his village, creating jobs that serve as a much needed alternative to poaching.

Looking toward the future, Mabunda’s optimism springs from the land around him. “There is gold here lying around,” he said, gesturing to the bush.

“Everything is gold.”

Read part two: “Turning grass into gold”

Jamey Anderson is a senior writer at Conservation International.

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Globally, public sees climate change as a top security threat

A view of the island of Fernandina in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. © Will Turner/Conservation International

In countries on the front lines of climate change, public opinion appears to be catching up to reality.

Citizens in 13 countries ranked climate change the No. 1 threat to national security, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. The 13 countries — out of 38 surveyed — were mostly in Africa and Latin America, where many populations are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly rising average temperatures and extreme weather events.

The findings came as little surprise to at least one expert.

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Update: What we’re learning about the world’s largest fish

Whale shark and snorkeler

A snorkeler swims with a whale shark in Cendrawasih Bay in the Bird’s Head Seascape, eastern Indonesia. Conservation International scientists have been satellite tracking the movements of Cendrawasih’s whale sharks since June 2015. (© Conservation International/photo by Mark Erdmann)

Editor’s note: Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape is home to a large population of whale sharks, the world’s largest fish and, until recently, largely a mystery to science. In 2015, Conservation International (CI) scientists made headlines by launching the world’s first successful fin-mounted satellite tagging program for whale sharks. By directly attaching a satellite tag to the creatures’ dorsal fins, researchers have been able to receive near-real-time updates on the position of the sharks.

Here, CI’s vice president for Asia-Pacific marine programs, Mark Erdmann, reflects on the most interesting satellite tracks the team has recorded in the past two years.

It has been just over two years since we successfully deployed five fin-mounted satellite tags on whale sharks in in the Bird’s Head Seascape in West Papua, Indonesia. Since that initial expedition, we’ve managed to deploy the custom-made satellite tags on 27 whale sharks in West Papua’s Cendrawasih and Triton bays.

Perhaps the most surprising finding has been just how differently each of these sharks behaves. While we expected to see some “generalized tracks” of migrations of the sharks out of the Bird’s Head region, in reality every shark has largely acted independently. Some have remained close to home, while one traveled more than  5,100 kilometers (3,169 miles) from West Papua and each satellite track has revealed unique behaviors. Continue reading

An accidental ranger finds his calling

A cheetah rests in Kruger National Park, South Africa. (© Trond Larsen)

Editor’s note: For the next two weeks, Conservation International will publish stories from a new feature series, “South Africa side by side with nature.” In the series, we explore two South African landscapes where doing right by nature and doing right by people are the same. On World Ranger Day, here is a glimpse at part one of that series.

Mike Grover never intended to be an anti-poaching ranger. Taking a job at a private game reserve near Kruger National Park in South Africa, the young scientist assumed that his days would be filled with wildlife surveys and report writing. The only firearm he had ever needed was a large-gauge rifle, the standard for protection against dangerous animals in the field. He never expected he would have to defend himself against poachers as well.

“The poaching epidemic came as a wave,” Grover remembers. “I started hating what I was doing because I was running around with a rifle and a flak jacket to chase after poachers, which was not really something I wanted to do.” Uneasy with his new anti-poaching duties, Grover wondered if there wasn’t a better way to conserve wildlife.

Mike Grover is Conservation South Africa’s landscape manager for the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere (© Trond Larsen)

“When you work on your day to day life on the inside and you’ve seen the carcasses, you really get into the idea that anyone outside of the fence is there to cause harm. But when you have to engage with the people outside, you suddenly recognize that they are just like you. They are parents just trying to keep their family alive.”

Grover began talking to community members about poaching and what could be done to stop the onslaught. The answer was simple: Value what we have, and we will value what you have.

The realization drove Grover to get to know the communities surrounding the wildlife reserve — and led him in search of a solution that would benefit both people and wildlife.

Read part one: Fenced out of nature.”

Jamey Anderson is a senior writer for Conservation International.

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In the news: Degraded land spurs conflict in Kenya

Herders lead their livestock to water in the dry Kenyan savanna. A recent increase in conflict between herders and landowners points to a growing challenge for conservation and development in Kenya. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

A growing demand for land, coupled with climate change and unsustainable farming practices, is driving conflict in northern Kenya’s rangelands, according to Jeffrey Gettleman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the New York Times’ outgoing East Africa bureau chief. In a new report, Gettleman explores the sometimes deadly struggles between landowners and herders near some of Kenya’s largest wildlife reserves.

“Kenya has a land problem,” he writes. “Population swells, climate change, soil degradation, erosion, poaching, global food prices and even the benefits of affluence are exerting incredible pressure on African land.” Gettleman writes that the situation could represent “one of the gravest challenges Africa faces.”

Earlier this week in an interview broadcast on Facebook Live, Conservation International (CI) CEO M. Sanjayan asked Gettleman about his insights for conservation in East Africa.

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New capital of the U.S. ivory trade: Washington, D.C.?

Ivory crush

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee assembles confiscated ivory tusks on a tower for display before crushing. (© Ivy Allen/USFWS)

The seat of power in the United States appears to be the new hub of the country’s ivory trade, according to a report released Wednesday.

Washington, D.C., had three times more ivory items for sale than 10 years earlier, the report found, and more than any of the six major U.S. cities and six U.S. states surveyed.

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