© Anna Moores
It’s easy to sit in our lounge watching a David Attenborough documentary and ‘tut’ about environmental destruction. To criticise the loggers and hunters and ask: ‘Don’t they realise what they’re doing to the planet?’ without realising we – by default – are implicated in the process. Just by sitting at home it’s possible to contribute to unfair business practices, habitat destruction and wildlife decline. Amazonian rainforest is destroyed to raise cattle for burgers and provide biofuel for our cars; hardwood trees are logged in Indonesia to supply food and quality kitchen cabinets; and vast tracts of land in Africa are given over to growing coffee to produce beans for our morning lattes, instead of producing food for local people.
However, therein lies our power. A business can only sell what individuals will buy. The most socially conscious action we could take would be to stop buying exotic foods flown in from the Third World, to stop buying products made from tropical hardwoods, and to look in horror at people buying gas-guzzling cars. This would reduce carbon emissions, discourage corporate land-grabbing, and enable local people to control their lands again.
Of course, not all problems arise as a result of the West’s excessive resource consumption. Third-World countries inflict damage on themselves too. For example, 90% of Madagascar’s rainforests have been cut by locals for saleable charcoal or cleared to make way for rice production. This is understandable given the fact that 70% of the island’s 19 million inhabitants live on less than a dollar a day, but nevertheless it’s critical they find the delicate balance between social development and environmental protection so that the remaining 10% of forest is preserved.
So, what about volunteer organisations? A quick web search reveals a plethora of conservation volunteer outfits, each of which claim to be eco-friendly and ethically motivated, but often they are weaving a green smokescreen around their actual tour-operator status. This is not to say that they are bad companies, but the questions to ask are: ‘How good are they?’ and ‘How much of the cash you pay actually contributes towards conservation as opposed to UK overheads, publicity or shareholders?’ Companies rarely explain these things, and their standards and criteria are usually unspecified. Some are excellent, some are average and some fall below the ideal, so make sure you do your research before booking a trip.
To start planning a wildlife and conservation volunteering trip and for a detailed breakdown of the various companies out there, take a look at our dedicated guide: