Dr John Sale, a JRI director, spoke in January on biodiversity at the joint JRI and Redcliffe College Conference ‘Towards Creation’s Recovery’, referring particularly to Africa and South East Asia where he is a conservation consultant.
John illustrated the amazing interactions all across nature which enable different species to flourish. In the Savannah, for example, there is a ‘grazing succession’, in which Zebra graze the long grass, the wildebeest the next layer down, and Thompson’s Gazelle arrive after that to graze the bottom grass layer, which without the previous two grazing campaigns they could never have reached. We too are dependent on other species fulfilling their roles, and being free and supported to do so.
John Sale, who has regularly advised governments on animal conservation, illustrated many of the complexities of looking after surviving mammals in a modern world. It is not sufficient, in some cases, simply to declare an area a national park and leave the animals to get on with it. In Kenya, in a reserve the size of Wales, six thousand elephants starved, because that number was actually too large for the vegetation to support. South Africa had deliberately culled populations, allowing recovery and increase. Burma uses elephants in forest work, where they have advantages over vehicles in being able to walk narrow paths without destroying swathes of forest along the way. Here then are two surprising ways of preserving elephant: by culling and working them: but as Dr Sale emphasised, working with animals always requires great wisdom.