John Kasaona, Juliana Machado Ferreira, and Kartick Satyanarayan are not among global environmental heroes who garner headlines. They toil quietly in Namibia, Brazil and India to save wildlife, but their innovative and daring ideas as well as their life experiences have been spread globally through TED.
Started in 1984 to introduce worthy ideas to a wider public through a Technology, Entertainment and Design speaking series, TED has expanded its scope to include global environmental issues and its roster of speakers have captured several prestigious annual TED prizes. Each year one winner receives $1 million and recent winners include ocean advocate Sylvia Earle and Ed Burtynsky, a photographer/artist/environmentalist.
The TED speaking series increasingly features environmentalists including Jane Goodall, but Tusker found the above trio to be especially compelling and worthy of championing.
Tusker Geografica’s series on poaching in Zambia’s Kafue National Park in the August/September 2011 issues explored the problems and solutions trying to protect wildlife in Africa, but John Kasaona tells of a different solution. Instead of hunting and punishing poachers, Kasaona has seen the positive impacts of patronizing poachers.
He grew up a Himba in remote northwest Namibia’s Kunene region, and his father taught him the family business – herding goats, sheep and cattle. In his TED talk, Kasaona described how Namibia’s wildlife was decimated by its war that lasted from 1966 to 1990. A drought in 1980 made wildlife so desperate that he describes a leopard going into a home snatching a sleeping child. A regional conservation group called Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation was formed in the 1980s by Garth Owen-Smith and came up with an unusual solution – hire the poachers.
Kasaona described the dialogue between the new group and village elders:
“What if we pay people that you trust to look after wildlife? Do you have anybody in your communities or people that know the bush very well and that know wildlife very well?”
The headman said: ‘Yes. Our poachers.’
‘Eh? The poachers?’
‘Yes. Our poachers.’
“And that was my father. My father has been a poacher for quite a long time. Instead of shooting poachers dead like they were doing elsewhere in Africa, IRDNC has helped men reclaim their abilities to manage their peoples and their rights to own and manage wildlife. And thus, as people started feeling ownership over wildlife, wildlife numbers started coming back, and that’s actually becoming a foundation for conservation in Namibia. With independence, the whole approach of community getting involved was embraced by our new government.”
It’s been 30 years since Kasaona’s dad worked with IRDNC to convince his fellow poachers to change their ways. The program has shown results. In 1995, there were just 20 lions in the entire northwest region of Namibia, today there are over 120. Kasaona is now co-director and was named Conservationist of the Year by the Cheetah Conservation Foundation in 2010.
Brazil’s Bird Woman
Juliana Machado Ferreira is young, tech savvy, has a PhD in Genetics and is passionate about Brad and his fellow passerines.
Brazil’s Illegal wildlife trade plucks 38 million animals and birds from Brazil’s forests and puts over $2 billion into poacher’s pockets. The wildlife ends up in pet markets in Rio and Sao Paulo and sometimes is seized by police. This is where Ferreira comes in.
“For us to understand what happens with them, we’re going to follow Brad. In the eyes of many people, after the animals are seized, they say, ‘Yay, justice has been served. The good guys arrived, took the cute, mistreated animals from the hands of the evil traffickers.’ But did they? Actually, no, and this is where many of our problems begin. Because we have to figure out what to do with all these animals.”
“The rescued birds are sent to government run triage facilities where conditions are often as bad as in the poacher camps,” Ferreira told her TED audience in Long Beach, Ca. “In 2002, these centers received 45,000 animals, of which 37,000 were birds. And the police estimate that we seize only five percent of what’s being trafficked. Some lucky ones – and among them, Brad – go to serious rehabilitation centers after that. And in these places they are cared for. They train there flying, they learn how to recognize the food they will find in nature, and they are able to socialize with others from the same species.”
The Brazilian Ornithological Society claims it is too risky to put these birds back into the wild because of possible harm to natural populations and want them euthanized. Ferreira fights that and has seen the poached birds quickly re-adapt to the wild.
“We believe there is an alternative. We think that if and when the animals meet certain criteria concerning their health, behavior, inferred origin and whatever we know about the natural populations, then technically responsible releases are possible – both for the well-being of the individual, and for the conservation of the species and their ecosystems, because we will be returning genes for these populations, which could be important for them in facing environmental challenges. And also we could be returning potential seed dispersers, predators, preys, etc.”
In her slide show presentation, Ferreira shows how quickly a male poached parrot readjusts to the wild. “My personal favorite is the little male there. Four hours after his release, he was together with a wild female. This is not new; people have been doing this around the world. But it’s still a big issue in Brazil. We believe we have performed responsible releases. We’ve registered released animals mating in nature and having chicks. So, these genes are indeed going back to the populations.”
Dancing without Bears
As a boy Kartick Satyanarayan’s hobby was rescuing pet snakes and taking them back to the wild. His passion today is rescuing India’s largest fauna and his success with sloth bears is among the most intensive global animal rescue stories of the last decade.
In 1995 he formed Wildlife SOS and with hidden cameras went into India’s downtrodden Muslim Kalandar community. Since the 13th century the Kalandar’s have been capturing sloth bears and turning them into dancing bears. Originally they paraded them before emperors but in the modern era, dancing bear street shows were the only means of support for the Kalandars. The practice was illegal but unenforced.
Satyanarayan’s solution was to give the Kalandar community help. By providing seed funding and education, he first gave Kalandar men new jobs as street vendors and rickshaw drivers. Next, he provided educational programs for their children and vocational training for Kalandar women.
“Over 550 bears were surrendered to Wildlife SOS’s rehabilitation centers, and by 2010 there were no sloth bears dancing on India’s streets,” Satyanaryan announced at his TED presentation.
“India will no longer have to witness this cruel barbaric practice which has been here for centuries. And the people can hold their heads up high. And the beautiful bears can of course live in the wild again. And there will be no more removing of these bears. And the children, both humans and bear cubs, can live peacefully.”
Tusker Geografica salutes Satyanarayan, Machada Ferreira and Kasaona and looks forward to hearing and profiling future TED speakers.