By Maria Fotopoulos
August 21, 2017
Wildlife and the conservation community suffered a tremendous loss last week when Wayne Lotter was murdered in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. A well-known conservationist committed to ending elephant and giraffe poaching, Lotter was co-founder of the PAMS Foundation, which works for sustainable conservation solutions with local partners and communities.
The elephant population in Tanzania has been particularly devastated by poaching, losing more than 66,000 members in the last decade according to PAMS. This is against the backdrop of a larger elephant genocide that has left more than 150,000 dead or mutilated in the last five years – all for their ivory. The largest land mammal on Earth, elephants were once common in Africa, numbering perhaps as many as 20 million on the continent at the beginning of the 19th century. Paul Allen’s Great Elephant Census found 352,000 elephants in the whole of Africa now.
Lotter’s efforts, including to educate about the extreme loss of elephant and giraffe life from massive poaching, were making an impact – 32,000 elephants and 7,000 giraffe protected. Lauded by the environmental community, but seen as a threat by wildlife traffickers, The Guardian reported that Lotter had received many death threats because of his work since he started PAMS in Tanzania in 2009.
An investigation has been launched into the shooting death of Lotter, but many are speculating it was a targeted killing due to his work. Sean Willmore, president of the International Rangers Foundation (IRF), said, “It’s the most likely [motive], but we’ll wait to see what the police come out with. Those who are close to the game probably think there’s a strong correlation that it was due to his anti-poaching efforts.”
World-renowned animal advocate Dr. Jane Goodall, who called Lotter a personal hero, wrote after the news of his death, “Wayne passionately believed in the importance of involving local communities in the protection of wildlife, and through his work with PAMS he helped train hundreds of village game scouts in many parts of the country. As a result he gained the support of many of the local people, but inevitably faced strong opposition from dealers and many high level government officials. He also worked to develop an intelligence-based approach to anti-poaching that undoubtedly helped to reduce the shocking level of elephant slaughter in Tanzania.”
As I wrote recently for World Ranger Day, those holding the Thin Green Line in a war against wildlife have taken on what is today some of the most dangerous work in the world. More than 1,000 park rangers and guards worldwide have been killed. IRF says 80 percent of these murders were at the hands of organized poachers and militia groups. Environmental activists and conservationists also have been murdered.
Since Lotter’s murder, reports and posts from conservationists have shared a resolve to carry on the essential work of Lotter. For us on the sidelines, those of us reading about this from afar, we need to do more to help those on the frontlines. What’s at stake is the loss of species, and the implications of losing species are significant and far-reaching.
Beyond the balance of ecosystems, on the most basic level, how can we live in a world where we allowed the complete destruction of the elephant, the giraffe, the rhino, the tiger, the lion? What value does Man bring to the planet if he can only destroy?
If I had a genie and a few wishes right now, I’d asked for a ten-fold outpouring of conservation resources. They would be for more sustainability solutions, to better engage local communities where elephants and other wildlife are taking tremendous losses, and to educate and help those communities become the major stakeholders in protecting their unique wildlife.
As well, resources would go towards educating the end-consumers of ivory products regarding the impacts of their purchases, to ending trophy hunting, killing the ivory trade, and killing the trafficking of wildlife. Further, resources would go towards increasing wildlife habitat and educating about the impacts of too much human population growth, while advocating for stabilizing and reducing that growth through educating people to choose smaller families – or even choosing not to reproduce. The latter because wildlife threats go well beyond poaching. Increasing human populations and the need for more space for agriculture, industry, roads, housing and other infrastructure all lead to the destruction of wildlife habitat.
Admittedly, all very idealistic, but possible. It is one way to honor the memory of Lotter and the many other wildlife warriors committed to protecting the wild world who have lost their lives in the line of duty or who are out there every day fighting the good fight.
Condolences to Lotter’s family, friends and colleagues, and to the world which has lost a much-need voice for the protection of wildlife besieged.
Maria Fotopoulos writes about the connection between overpopulation and biodiversity loss, and is a Senior Writing Fellow with CAPS. Find her at @BetheChangeforAnimals and @TurboDog50.