Please Fasten Your Safety Belts

It will not have escaped anyone’s attention that North Africa is going through significant turmoil at the moment. Turbulence that often dramatically upsets society and which also impacts heavily on our ability to carry out our conservation mission.

I was recently asked whether we would be abandoning projects as a result of the unrest. “No way” I said “we will in fact be redoubling efforts to stay in touch with the new realities emerging”. It is in the crucible of conflict that vital lessons may be learned. Take Tunisia, for example. During the early days of unrest there, several national parks were ransacked and livestock introduced to their verdant interiors. The premise that their role and value as national assets, guaranteed for all Tunisians by the state, was clearly not a universally shared concept. The protected areas were seen as belonging to the old regime, underlining the need to find ways of creating parks and reserves with stronger public support, as well as fostering the idea that they are there for the benefit of all. I would be the first to recognize this is far easier said than done but one thing I am sure of is that without active engagement and a high degree of loyalty through thick and thin, lasting solutions will never be found. For sure, we are not taking any silly risks and are carefully monitoring situations before sending staff into the field but we do intend to keep on working as best we can. Our ability to do this resides both in the way we have gone about developing and implementing our projects and in the steadfast and generous support from our donors and partners. Our program and projects underline and illustrate the many reasons why we should not withdraw but on the contrary, redouble our efforts. Work underway on the world’s biggest bird, the North African ostrich, the vultures and bustards of the Sahel, the dama gazelles of Chad and the addax of Niger all bring hope and encouragement.

Just as in flight, that little yellow fasten seatbelts sign will surely enough go off one day and when it does we will be well placed to pursue our mission with vigour.

John Newby
June 2011