Who can best steward Africa's last ecosystems and awe-inspiring wildlife for generations to come?
Such a question can only be answered by those who share their lands with predators and other powerful wildlife. It is these creatures and the soils upon which they tread whose ultimate fate is in the hands of the African people.
While Africa's autonomy should never exclude foreign assistance, it would do well to remember that those most severely impacted by human-wildlife conflict must be the ones who lead, making the most pivotal environmental decisions while benefiting from any plans to preserve, indeed restore, Africa's amazing habitats and species biodiversity.
As it is with Africa's wildlife, so too should it be in other parts of the world, particularly those places home to what author David Quammen refers to as alpha predators. In a review of his book Monster of God, Kathryn Schulz writes that, "as Quammen notes, the hardships of living with alpha predators are borne largely by the world’s poorest and most disenfranchised people, while it is the wealthy who enjoy the lion’s share (so to speak) of the spiritual and aesthetic benefits of such animals. Not coincidentally, it is also the wealthy who most ardently advocate preservation."
Therein lies what is arguably the greatest gap between those calling for greater protections of these great beasts of myth and legend and those who live in very real fear of what they are capable of. To bridge that gap will take far more than mere virtue signaling on nature's behalf. It will involve painstaking research, sacrifice, and a willingness to see the world through the eyes of both the creatures whose numbers are dwindling and the people who have the potential to either destroy or save them.
For conservation to work in Africa, conservation biologists must first pay heed to the voices of the African people―wildlife's best and only true hope for survival.