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Good fences make good neighbors

Hasita Bhammar's picture
© Center for Conservation and Research, Sri Lanka
© Center for Conservation and Research, Sri Lanka

The members of the community in the Bulugolla village in Sri Lanka breathed a sigh of relief. It was the month of October and the rice harvest had gone well. The rains had been plentiful and their meddlesome neighbors (seen in picture above) were abiding by their boundaries. This has not always been the case.

As the head of the village explained, “We depend upon a rice harvest to earn our livelihood. While we culturally and traditionally have lived in harmony with elephants, we cannot survive without our paddy farms and so we have to keep the elephants out”.

Human wildlife conflict is currently one of the greatest conservation challenges. As human populations grow, wildlife habitat shrink and humans and wildlife come in contact with each other as they compete for resources. In addition, wildlife such as elephants cannot be limited to the boundaries of protected areas as many protected areas can only support a certain number of elephants. In Sri Lanka, most elephant live outside protected areas amidst paddy fields, community villages, highway railways and other development infrastructure that is intended to support the growing human population. Conflict is inevitable but failure to reduce it will result in extinction of wildlife species.   

Discovering two new cave-dwelling species before lunch

Tony Whitten's picture

I'm in the north of Guangxi in southern China feeling privileged to be working in such a dramatic karst limestone landscape and part of another great project team. The conical and vertical towers of limestone jut out of the flat agricultural land, sometimes in single sentinels and sometimes in great families of jagged, pointed peaks, no two alike. At Mulun National Nature Reserve which abuts the Maolan World Heritage Site in Guizhou, there is nothing but these towers, and this is one of the sites getting detailed attention within our Integrated Forestry and Conservation Development Project. One sub-component of the project is directed at cave biodiversity. In that regard, we recently made some remarkable discoveries at Mulun.

As I have mentioned in an earlier blog post, cave biodiversity gets appallingly little attention relative to its significance. It is surely the most unknown of the terrestrial ecosystems, and it makes me drool to be close to places for which so little biological information is available.

How cute do you have to be to be safe?

Tony Whitten's picture
A woman walks by an Ebola awareness sign in Freetown, Liberia. © Tanya Bindra/UNICEF
A woman walks by an Ebola awareness sign in Freetown, Liberia. ​© Tanya Bindra/UNICEF


As the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa shows, the importance of reducing inequality could not be more clear. The battle against the virus is a fight on many fronts — human lives and health foremost among them.

But the fight against Ebola is also a fight against inequality. The knowledge and infrastructure to treat the sick and contain the virus exists in high- and middle-income counties. However, over many years, we have failed to make these things accessible to low-income people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. So now thousands of people in these countries are dying because, in the lottery of birth, they were born in the wrong place.

If we do not stop Ebola now, the infection will continue to spread to other countries and even continents, as we have seen with the first Ebola case in the United States this past week. This pandemic shows the deadly cost of unequal access to basic services and the consequences of our failure to fix this problem.
The virus is spreading out of control in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. As a consequence, our ability to boost shared prosperity in West Africa — and potentially the entire continent — may be quickly disappearing.