Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Druridge Bay open cast proposal and exactly who owns the elephants

In the United Kingdom we are fond of elephants. They are the staple stars of natural history TV, their close knit family lives, endearing babies and charming eye lashes creating a ready empathy as we watch their triumphs and challenges. Their struggles in the face of drought and lions, or, worse, our industrial poaching for ivory only endear them further. Elephants seem to have a sense of their own mortality and existence, which are very rare properties in the animal world. It comes as a surprise to many people in the UK that elephant big game hunting is nonetheless legal in much of southern Africa, and that some conservationists positively support this sport. The logic is grimly simple. If hunters pay a lot of money to shoot an elephant and then a substantial chunk of that cash goes to the local people on whose land the pachyderm was shot then the local people will put up with living next to these large, fast, greedy, clever leviathans. We are fond of elephants in the UK.... but we don’t have them in our back yard.

The problem is with approach to conservation is exactly whose land an elephant is on (or, technically, was) when it was shot. Trophy hunts linked to conservation have often run into problems once people realise the potential pay out. The idea works best where it is wholly clear whose land it is and who counts as local. Which is also part of the dramatic tension at Druridge Bay as Banks are about to submit their planning application. Who is a supporter and who against, and how local do you have to be to count?
Or, as Ronald and Douglas Smith put it when describing objectors to the mine proposal in an interview for Look North:
“It’s the people as moved up from Newcastle”,
“Haven’t got a clue what they’re on about”
These are good points, familiar to many a conservation debate. Town vs countryside, locals vs outsiders, bunny huggers vs despoilers of the countryside.
The Smith brothers’ opinions matter a great deal. South east Northumberland is an area rather cut off and left behind by economic powerhouses further south. Jobs are needed, there is a proud mining heritage, the economy needs a boost. So will the objectors be immediately check mated? No. The trouble with the outsiders/local argument is it all depends where you draw those lines. Which is exactly where the problems start with who owns a valuable elephant.
Funny how the challenges of wildlife in Drurdige Bay or southern Africa can be so similar.

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