No Water For Elephants

Animal conservation is futile but keeping a snow leopard might be fun

Africa Animal Conservation Charity Conservation Elephants Snow Leopards

If you spend some daylight hours around UCL, someone purportedly trying to save Snow Leopards will have accosted you by now. If you’re almost exclusively nocturnal and only stagger around these parts in the small hours, read on anyway and all will become clear.

When someone approaches me on Warren Street to tell me about the plight of Snow Leopards, I usually tell him or her that I do not believe in animal conservation. Alternatively, if I am feeling particularly fiendish, the approach is quickly met with “Sorry, I’ve already got one” before I scurry away, gleefully wondering if they think I am an Apple fan or a nutter violating a plethora of animal protection laws.

But seriously, I think my position can be stated thus: I do not believe we should be making any effort to bolster the populations of any endangered animal. I am agnostic about whether we should even try keeping their numbers steady. I am rather enthusiastic about keeping one or two as pets.

Let’s examine the first considered belief, but be warned, the hypothetical I am about to paint for you is potentially very distressing. Imagine we increase the population of African Elephants with huge success but place them in an area the size of Hyde Park. The elephants will quickly destroy all of the trees. Then, even the most accommodating elephant will start quarrels and infighting will ravage the population. Elephant Hyde Park will almost certainly be the paradigmatic case of a failed state. A failed state par excellence.

I believe what I have described is only a slight exaggeration of what would happen in reality. I have not even begun to consider the Elephant State’s effects on other animals. The destruction of trees will destroy nests, driving birds away or into extinction, for example.

In my view, the only way to solve the problem is to cede more territory to Elephant Hyde Park so everyone gets to stretch their trunks a little bit. Such an approach might justify keeping elephant numbers at their current levels. We are now scrutinizing the second belief.

Declining animal populations is just Mother Nature’s way of saying we have too many animals. In my view, keeping populations stable would mean marking large swathes of land off-limits to humans. I struggle to imagine this happening even to protect our own race much less the future of an endangered animal. I am also skeptical about whether we can sustainably keep people from coming into conflict with animals through so-called “Community-based” approaches to conservation. Who am I to tell the farmer how to rear livestock and how much money is this effort costing me, by the way?

Admittedly, I am no expert and I am sure each animal is deserving of a more tailored conservation strategy than I can reasonably come up with in 15 minutes. However, I believe all conservation efforts will run up against the same problem eventually: that we humans are legion and we will take, pillage and destroy to satisfy our insatiable wants.

You might think this an overly bleak assessment. You might despise me because Snow Leopards are so cute. In which case, you should let me keep one in my flat so if it feels the same way at least the animal kingdom can make a rejoinder.