No Comments

This continues my series on crocodile conservation- previous Part III is here.

The take-home lessons from the crocodile management programme for conservation, are pretty much that’s okay to try new stuff out. Being too timid creates its own costs. Second, a lot of research on sustainable-use is overly pessimistic. That pessimism derives from assumptions about the fixed nature of the growth function, and the homogeneity of the wildlife product.

What made the crocodile story was also that the advocates the scheme, got it wrong. This was a programme that was going to use crocodile leather to get people to conserve wild crocodiles.

What actually emerged was a industry built around several value-points. Nobody predicted that a meat industry would also emerge- or that crocodile-tourism would emerge as a new industry. The explanation for this lies in what is sometimes called dispersed knowledge. Lots of people know lots of different things. They could have no connection at all to conservation, but say, know something about marketing. Or have an inkling about how to sell a new product. Or they might have private information about where crocodiles are. Aborigines knew about the female-dominance effect on nest sites- long before the Western scientists did. That is another piece of information that feeds into the success of the sustainable use programme.

All this information is dispersed over these people, and policy makers can’t get to it. Most of this information wouldn’t even considered relevant without a change in policy. Some of the information could be incomprehensible. Aboriginal knowledge about crocodiles isn’t packaged together as a neat biological model. It has the form of myth and beliefs.

So, whether by accident or design, the sustainable use programme set in place a chain of events, when suddenly of this dispersed knowledge became relevant. It was employed by people to find solutions (and people are still seeking solutions to the challenges and opportunities). Crocodiles developed multiple values, and people started to see them as iconic (rather than a pest).

There is another take-home lesson for conservation here. It’s that you are never going to find all the relevant facts before you begin. And the important thing isn’t necessarily the information people have, it’s their motivation to employ it. This comes back almost full circle to my first post. Conservation is a discovery process. Think of it that way, test the boundaries and try new ideas out. Conservation is not a prescriptive process. You’re not going to be able to find out everything you need to know- and plan to a fine level of detail- the solution to all the problems.