International efforts to improve human health and wellbeing are now recognizing that such efforts will not succeed if the quality of the human environment is ignored. Improving environmental quality is an integral component of ‘planetary CPR’ —environmental conservation, preservation, and restoration.
The importance of improving the health and welfare of domestic animals as an integral component of both ‘planetary CPR’ and improving human health and wellbeing, is now also gaining recognition. For too long, animal welfare and protection have taken a low priority on the philanthropic, international aid, development and humanitarian agenda. This overview of the essential connections between people, animals and nature presents the case for a more integrative approach to wildlife conservation, human wellbeing, and domestic animal protection and health.
The old definition of health as the absence of disease has been broadened by the World Health Organization to include social, economic and environmental considerations. This broader definition may be adequate for urban people, especially those of the industrial West. But for the majority of the world’s rural communities and indigenous (tribal) peoples, it is insufficient. It is inadequate for the formulation of appropriate policies and implementation of effective aid and development programs, because the health and welfare of the domestic animals living with these people and the protection of wildlife, conservation and restoration of natural habitat (‘biodiversity’ and ‘ecosystems’) are integral to human wellbeing, on many levels. These include public health, family nutrition, economic security, community sustainability, cultural identity, traditional and spiritual values. Biodiversity and cultural diversity are interlinked, codependent and co-evolved in all ecosystems that include the human species.
The brilliance of the United Nations Man and the Biosphere initiative, which has now identified over 400 Global Biosphere Reserves around the world, is in the recognition of this vital linkage between culture and Nature, and between the integrity of cultural and biological diversity. Such integrity does not imply a preservationist paradigm that seeks to freeze the human and wild and domestic animal and plant co-communities in some kind of static limbo in time and space. Such would be virtual realities, akin to theme parks, requiring constant and costly external correctives. The Biosphere II project, the experimental, hi-tech but closed human, plant and animal biotic community in the Arizona desert, failed to be a self-regenerative biosystem because of unforeseen consequences that led to a decreasing supply of oxygen. A sustainable, low-input, regenerative biosphere system is one that is open, fluid, and biodynamic, rather than closed, controlled, and ‘biostatic.’
Sustainable human biosystems are the antithesis of the agricultural, agriforestry and aquatic monocultures of the industrial age. Self-sustaining systems incorporate and enhance biodiversity through locally and bioregionally appropriate polycultures of various domestic plants and animals (i.e. mixed farming, forestry and aquaculture systems); and through the sustainable management and exploitation of natural resources, including wild animals from bees to buffalo, who are treated humanely because they are respected as integral to the wellbeing of both the human community and the entire biotic community.
The factors that are endangering both indigenous peoples and wildlife—i.e. biocultural diversity-in many of these UN-designated Global Biosphere Reserves often have a synergistic effect, as I discovered and documented in one of these Reserves in S. India. The Honey Kurumba tribals in this Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in Tamil Nadu traditionally adopt sustainable use and management practices of forest resources, including the wax and honey of wild bees, that are now endangered, along with the Kurumbas and other tribal peoples. The Toda tribal pastoralists in this same Reserve, for example, face illegal land encroachment of the traditional grazing lands and the near extinction of their unique Toda white buffalo that are integral to their cultural identity and religion, from a lack of adequate veterinary services. (See Addendum.)
I worked with my wife Deanna Krantz in India for several years where her project advocated and activated several integrated programs based on an expanded World health Organization (WHO-UN) vision of health and human wellbeing. This expanded vision linked the health and wellbeing of domestic animals, upon whom the indigenous peoples are dependent, economically, culturally, and spiritually, with the health and conservation of wildlife.
The protection of wildlife, and conservation and restoration of natural habitat, are linked with the traditional and innovative sustainable farming methods and other community-based, environmentally friendly activities, including social forestry and soil and water conservation practices of indigenous peoples.
This holistic, integrated paradigm means that Healthcare = Peoplecare + Animalcare + Earthcare. A healthy domestic animal population – achieved through free community veterinary services, humane education, training in animal husbandry, and enforcement of animal anti-cruelty laws–means improved income for livestock keepers; and control of zoonotic diseases (like rabies and foot and mouth disease) that unhealthy domestic animal populations harbor and variously spread to people and wildlife.
We put into practice a working model project whose replication in other Global Biosphere Reserves would do much to ensure the continued protection and restoration of biocultural diversity because of its grass-roots, rather than top-down, approach of working with the people for the people. Animal welfare is to human welfare, as nature conservation and biodiversity are to human culture and diversity. Hence, the value of an interdisciplinary approach where improvement in the human condition is linked with improving environmental quality, wildlife and habitat conservation, preservation, and restoration, and with domestic animal health, productivity, and welfare through improved veterinary care and humane husbandry education.
More recent, post-colonial efforts to protect wildlife and habitat have involved indigenous peoples in such roles as working as wildlife eco-safari trackers, conservation monitors, and anti-poaching teams; in reducing the adverse impacts of their domestic animals through improved grazing, land management practices, and animal health and productivity; and by adopting economically viable, sustainable agricultural practices and cooperative, socially just marketing networks. Similar kinds of illegal and legal activities, from poaching and diverting streams to grazing too many animals and poisoning and snaring predators, as we documented in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (see Addendum) are likely to be encountered in other Global Biosphere Reserves. Hence, the need for close collaboration with reliable local NGOs, government officials, village leaders and tribal elders who understand the need for reform, collaborative oversight and effective management, coupled with appropriate animal protection and conservation law enactment and consistent enforcement, and the implementation of economically viable, environmentally friendly, and socially just ways to meet the needs of the people.
International organizations like Wildlife Conservation International, and Heifer Project International are adopting the bottom-up rather than top-down approach, working with local NGOs and government authorities at the grass roots, putting compassion into action, and facilitating mutually enhancing symbioses between people, animals, and Nature. The critical state of the world’s ecosystems and precarious future of most indigenous communities present a global triage situation for those governmental and nongovernmental organizations dedicated to human aid and development, and saving the last of the wild. The UN Global Biosphere Reserve initiative identifies those places and peoples that, given the finite nature of financial and other external inputs and resources, have the best chance of being conserved, protected, and restored.
There are several documented, and many word-of mouth accounts of chemically immobilized and otherwise restrained endangered species like the Asian elephant and African wild dog being severely injured, killed or dying soon after capture and/or release. In some instances there was an association with the animals being injected with un-tested and un-approved modified live virus vaccines. In other instances the injured or killed animal was a pregnant or nursing mother.
Experienced veterinary supervision is called for especially when research biologists are loose in the field using drugs and vaccines on their animal subjects and applying various methods of capture and restraint which may cause serious injury, capture myopathy and even death.
Wildlife continue to be harassed, stressed, and subjected to these in-field risks so that tissue and blood samples can be taken (though DNA evidence can be obtained from feces and rubbing/marking areas), radio collars and even cameras fitted, and microchips implanted. The generation of more scientific data from such field research may help advance careers and engender more funding, and give some substance to wildlife management schemes. But when the animals in question are put at risk, and there are no in-place regulations and effective law enforcement to protect and restore their existing habitats, and to extend same in order to help minimize accelerating loss of genetic biodiversity, then these wildlife researchers should cease and desist.
Such activities alone have nothing to do with wildlife conservation and at best give the false impression that something is being done, the foreign presence alone being a deterrent to poaching etc etc. Yet in reality from a bioethical perspective, the risks to the animals far exceed the immediate and foreseeable benefits. So I appeal to all appropriate institutions and organizations, governmental and non-governmental, for-profit and not-for profit, to encourage alternative, non-invasive wildlife research, and to cease funding and permitting any form of wildlife capture except for well justified emergency veterinary and conservation-translocation reasons.