Earlier last month, riots broke out in Loliondo, Tanzania, as authorities began shooting local Maasai people in an attempt to evict them from their ancestral lands to make way for a trophy hunting and safari game reserve. The violence and suffering, sadly, were done in the name of “conservation” and followed a line of thinking that is all too common in mainstream environmental circles, whether they be conservation, agriculture, or re-wilding.
As the thinking goes, humans are separate from nature and inherently damaging to it. In an effort to preserve biodiversity and habitat, then, humans must be removed.
As more and more land is to be “set aside” for conservation, and more indigenous people are evicted from their lands, being seen as a nuisance rather than a critical component of a healthy ecosystem, I am reminded of something Allan Savory showed our team back in May as we walked through one of Zimbabwe’s national parks.
Allan had been coming to this park his whole life. As a child, the river banks were sloped and covered in vegetation. The river was far less wide than today, and its banks weren’t a graveyard of recently downed trees. The last time he took a group there (pre-COVID), the downed tree to the right of us had been alive and standing.
As local people (and their hunting) are pushed out of these lands in an attempt to preserve and conserve it, the behavior of the wildlife changes. Without that delicate balance of predator and prey, wildlife continually returns to the exact locations over and over—this, in turn, is causing a downward spiral of land degradation.
In Holistic Management, we are taught that humans are not separate from nature but rather an integrated and critical component of a larger “whole.” Just as grass depends on the sun, ruminants on grass, and predators on prey, pastoralist communities play a critical role in stewarding vast swaths of global rangeland.
In Holistic Management, we are taught that humans are not separate from nature but rather an integrated and critical component of a larger “whole.”
From national parks to game reserves, humans are a critical component that can’t just walk away and “let nature do its thing.” Our presence and activity contribute towards the interconnected communities within those borders. In the case of the Maasai people, they’re as integral to the health of the ecoregion as the seasonal rains.
When we disassociate from the fundamental truths of nature-based systems, becoming blind to the fractal nature of action and consequence, we unknowingly set the stage for dehumanization, genocide, and justified global extractive commerce.
Attempting to displace or eradicate a people under the guise of conservation is as reductionist as it gets, valuing place over people and disregarding their co-evolved symbiotic relationships. To manage holistically is to embrace the interconnectedness of life and to make decisions that honor those wholes within wholes – the communities of people, wildlife, and vegetation that cannot be divorced from one another. Only when this is done will be able to prevent the atrocities such as what is happening to the Maasai in Tanzania.
We must, and can, do better.