It's no secret that traditional conservation methods, while noble, have been failing miserably. Since the first forest and wildlife conservation programs were embraced internationally some 40-50 years ago, half of the world's forests have been razed, and biodiversity has plummeted around the globe, to the point where many scientists are already terming this era that of the 6th great extinction. Alan Rabinowitz, CEO of Panthera and one of the world's foremost conservationists, is keenly aware of this. Which is why his talk at Poptech 2010 was all about throwing out traditional methods and installing the largest working model for wildlife conservation in the world: A massive system of interlinked corridors for wildlife to coexist with human populations.Rabinowitz's talk focused on the decades of failures that he's experienced over the years through his work with wildlife conservation. You may remember Rabinowitz from recent news of his work in creating the world's largest tiger preserve in Burma. He noted how a lifelong commitment to big cats lead him to get launch some of the world's biggest wildlife preserves -- but it wasn't nearly good enough. As he was receiving accolades from the press and conservation community, big cats and biodiversity were worse off than ever.
The biggest problem, Rabinowitz says, is with the traditional conservation model -- seeking big (and not so big) tracts of land to cordon off and keep wildlife protected in reserves and preserves. These just don't work on a scale anywhere near what's necessary. Large populations of wildlife live outside those preserves, obviously -- and tying a rope around an area, marking it a preserve, and ending the effort there isn't cutting it in the large scale.
Or, as Rabinowitz says, the reason conservation efforts are failing is that we're intent on creating these "bambi-like" nature preserves that aspire to our now arbitrary idea of natural perfection. This concept simply isn't realistic in the 21st century world -- people, and their impact, are everywhere. So, the solution that Rabinowitz proposes is something he calls a Corridor Initiative: a network of interconnected corridors that span entire regions, even continents. He's already undertaken making this initiative a reality in Central and South America, creating a system of jaguar corridor preserves (pictured above) that spans from Meixico to Argentina. It's the largest working model for wildlife conservation in the world.
The idea is to work with governments, local populations, and conservationists to create a habitat for animals like big cats to successfully coexist with burgeoning human populations. This model allows for wildlife preservation across a much wider swath of land than would otherwise be possible. It's certainly a good idea, though keeping industry and poaching in check throughout the network will pose a significant challenge.
Another such corridor effort is underway to protect tigers across India, China, and Southeast Asia. This innovative approach may very well be the future of conservation, if programs like the Jaguar Corridor Initiative prove successful.