Saturday, 20 March 2010

Crime and punishment...

Hi All.

After a slight (!) delay, there is much to catch up on and much to do. I'm back in China, preparing for snow leopard fieldwork on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in Sichuan. It seems these are the only times I get a moment to update this blog, so I will try to put out a few items of hopeful interest in the next couple of days.

For starters, thanks to all those who have been sending me cuttings about recent prosecutions in Xinjiang, against two farmers who were accused of killing a snow leopard. Details from the BBC and the Chinese news agency, Xinhua (sorry - this is the English link).

Not surprisingly, feelings have been mixed. These are farmers from a very poor community, trying to protect their family interests and stop a snow leopard taking their livestock. Hard line conservationists will view any illegal killing of endangered wildlife as a serious and punishable crime. Legislation in China, and other countries, to protect endangered species enshrine this principle, but less than hard-liners hope that court systems will allow for some sensitivity. These are not new issues and there is a vast history of case lore from around the world (see People and Wildlife). We need sensitivity, because the people living and working with snow leopards and other dangerous or damaging wildlife hold the solution to their protection. In an ever increasingly crowded world, we cannot separate people from these animals, so we must find ways to ensure that vulnerable communities are not disadvantaged by the goals of conservation. These goals must include people as a fundamental part of the ecosystems we seek to protect and people must accept that we rely on the the services that these ecosystems provide. Top predators have always been persecuted and many parts of the world from where they have been eradicated (at great expense) are now seeking to reintroduce them (at more great expense). It seems that the roles that these animals play, for example in regulating herbivores and their nasty diseases, are too valuable to lose.

Back to Xinjiang (always a good idea). The somewhat harsh sentences given to these farmers may do nothing to develop trust and understanding. And it is impossible to rule out that there may be other, undisclosed, forces at work. There is also the unhappy back-drop of illegal trade in the body parts of snow leopards and the authorities in Xinjiang will seek every opportunity to demonstrate to the world their intolerance to such practises.

For our part we are working with the communities in Taxkurgan to understand their needs and wants, and we are discussing options to develop community-based insurance schemes to fairly compensate for livestock losses to wildlife. As it is, snow leopards are not the problem. It's wolves...! I'm not going to get into the whole psychological predisposition against wolves... well, not yet.

Remember, trust and understanding are as rare as snow leopards and we possibly need to work even harder to get them back.

Take care,