NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
13 Sep 2003
- 13.74067 100.52538
Decoded MS stereo
Show: Thailand Wildlife Trade
Log of DAT #13, Interview with Alan Rabinowitz
Recorded in MS
Engineer: Charles Thompson
Date: September 13, 2003
In order of appearance:
CJC=Carolyn Jensen Chadwick
MS: Here's the thing I was most impressed and scared about when I heard your lecture the other day when you were talking about the close and uneasy balance ppl with wildlife, and how killing off the wildlife is more than just wacking a couple birds or taking some birds home for you, when you take those birds out of the forest it has consequences for the forest. And that's what I want you to tell me again. I mean crudely put, you go to the market and you see the little birds in the cages and you go, who the f cares?
AR: Ok, there are 2 sides to that Q, but the balance the ecological balance is a really important one that most ppl don't to seem to get, not at its core, they understand -- even the participants at this course ¿when you talk about eco balance, that nature's in balance with human beings, they go yeah, yeah, yeah. They understand that at its surface level. What they don't understand b/c then they'll go on to say almost always, BUT we have higher priorities such as poverty alleviation such as human health issues such as all these other things so clearly what they are not understanding is that what they consider a low priority is in fact feeding directly into the things they're considering high priorities. The eco balance of wildlife and the forest feeds directly directly in and we could show so many examples but feeds directly into human health issues, feeds directly into poverty alleviation issues. We could go to ancient examples like malaria and we could go right to recent examples like west Nile virus, like SARS, like all kinds of things which have been in the wildlife community for who knows how long. They are not new things which have just popped up, they are new things which have popped up within the human comms and which have become human health issues b/c the balance has been upset in the forest. Wildlife often acts as reservoirs of diseases in such a way that it keeps it away from human kind. It balances it. it keeps everything in control and that when we go in and we either wipe out a forest or we create an empty forest which is having the sheen of a pretty forest but all the wildlife is gone, we're completely throwing out of wack that eco balance. Which then in turn has direct consequences to things like agri bc of pest species, insect pests, rodent pests and all kinds of other things which were controlled by the wildlife and it has direct consequences with human health issues such as diseases that were kept in check by these wildlife pops which are no longer kept in check.
MS: You're making a direct link here btwn things like west Nile virus (WNV) things like SARS and the depletion of the forest.
AR: Absolutely, the link is very, very clear. I mean, it's not always so clear ...it's very easy to understand the link and it's even easier to see it. you can't always point to yes see we chopped down this forest and brought this species of monkeys to the ground and therefore AIDS came out into the comm. that direct, direct link is a tough one to make bc stepping back the evidence is gone by the time you try to make that link. But whenever we investigate further as to why all of a sudden things are occurring like a pestulance, like a disease, we clearly go back to natural issues to these things having been in nature already but having been kept in control by healthy forests and healthy wildlife pops.
MS: so the answer to the Q why should I care about those 2 birds in a cage in the weekend market in Bangkok is
AR: the reason ppl should be caring about each individual species, even if it looks like one little funny songbird in a cage in a market place is bc each individual species has its particular eco role in the entire web in the forest. Taking one piece of the puzzle out makes an incomplete puzzle. It's never a complete picture, and that incomplete picture ensures an imbalance. Now, new balances get established, ppl don't just start dropping over dead and the trees don't just start falling, but things change, in order to fill that niche which is now empty from that bird species being gone from the forest, in order to recreate the balance of that eco web, new things happen. Now sometimes the things that happen are good, sometimes the things that happen are bad. But almost always when we examine closely when the things happen bc of rad changes due to human activities be it hunting or chopping down a forest, then the changes which occur to try to keep the system in balance are almost inevitably bad.
WHO: you may not care about the 2 little birds, but you will care when you or one of your family gets sick with a SARS-like virus.
AR: absolutely, and there is a link and that's not a new concept, I'm not saying anything new. The ppl studying SARS know that link, the ppl who study HIV know that link, the link is there existing. There's the other side as well. When you see those songbirds all in cages in the marketplace and you go into the forest and don't hear that same song from birds in the forest, ppl should be asking themselves is this the kind of world I want to live in? or I want to leave for my children also. Do I want to leave empty forests where they can go recreate and have no birds singing? And have none of this beauty that we know exists and we try to cage it and buy it and pocket it but we're not leaving it for future generations, do we want that? That's one side, but that's a ...when I try to argue that side, ppl often poo-poo it and say, I understand that, but money money food food, we need these things first. Well it's tied into those things also, so you can make a case for both sides.
MS: and money money food food ...the food food thing doesn't really apply that much when we're talking about wildlife trade, it's more money money, there's very little subsistence hunting poaching that's going on in SE Asia at this point.
AR: that's right, the big money is in the wildlife trade, the food link is more bc when things are truly knocked out of balance, due to the wildlife trade you often get increases in pest species at the very least in the agri lands on the perimeter of these forested areas, increase in rodent species, increase in insect pests, that kind of thing. that's a direct link bc those often wreak havoc on agri lands and crop outputs, yes what you're saying is very true, the reason ppl are really after the wildlife directly these days is bc it's become big money
MS: and it's big money all over SE Asia and it's big money for ppl all over the world, the ppl who buy these things, the ppl who trade them, they're not just here, they're all over, and that's part of the problem cause part of the problem is demand. You can do all the enforcement you want but if someone out there still wants a tiger skin or if someone still wants a tiger penis so they can put it in their medicine and get a better erection, it doesn't matter how good your enforcement is, someone's always going to get around it.
AR: Absolutely, that's the way I was explaining it in the course, that that's the prob even with fake products, you're creating the fake products bc some ppl feel that the answer to or at least part of the answer to saving wildlife is letting the ppl buy fake prods or sub prods that feeds into demand for the real products as well bc it keeps on reinforcing re-enforcing that there is a need to have a bear claw for power by wearing it around your neck be it real or fake bc that means if you can't afford a real one, you buy a fake one, but if you get enough money then you want a real one. So if you promote the fake prods you're still promoting the whole mentality of what's driving the wildlife trade, and that's what shouldn't be promoted. You do not need to be wearing a bear claw or to be eating bear gall in order to gain what you want to gain, not to say there's not some substance behind that Chinese medicinal trade, behind trad medicine. As I said in the course there is a lot of substance behind what Chinese claim to be byprods of these wildlife parts, but they don't have to be eating those things, they could be eating other things.
MS:one of the reasons this prob is so prevalent, so prevalent, widespread today ironically is the fact that these SE Asian nations are becoming more affluent, as they become more aff, you get this whole wave of consumerism which feeds the idea of keeping up with the joneses in terms of having something exotic to show off to your friends. I mean consumerism is driving this wildlife trade in part, is it not?
AR: Yes it is but it's not a Q of affluence bc the trade has existed and exists heavily in poor societies or in poor segments of society and exists in the aff segments. Aff ppl wanting a tiger tooth or wanting a bear claw, that's not what's driving the trade. The trade is the real value of the medicinal parts be it tiger bone prods or bear gall bladders or otter pelts or otter penises that kind of thing. On the one hand some ppl say that you find more use of these trad prods in the poorer societies bc they can't afford Wern med and Wern drugs, thus they have to turn trad meds. So actually you can make a case for lack of money driving the trade as well bc as ppl gain money gain edu many of them rise above it, so to speak, they realize, they can sympathize with the plight of wildlife, they can sub what they might have taken as a child to something else bc now they can afford it. so there's two sides to the issue.
MS:where do you come down? On that issue? Do you believe that? You can argue that point as well, but do you think they're both valid points?
AR: yes, bc the trade it's only become an aff game as many of these species have become more and more rare. But the use of animal parts for trad medicine did not start off to be an aff person's game. it started off among trad societies with very little money and that drove many of these animals towards the state they are now. the fact that there's this incredible use for tiger bone, or tiger parts or rhino horn or rhino parts or other parts of all kind of other mammals and reptiles and fish and everything else is based on 5000 years of Chinese medicine. That has not taken place nor has it skyrocketed I think with aff. Bc I see it, I go to the most remote places where the ppl don't have money where they often trade and barter in goods, and they're trading and bartering in animal parts. With certain species, there's seems to be a misconception which ppl hold over for everything, the fact that the last tigers are being driven to extinction and the last rhinos are being driven to extinction bc certain parts of these animals like the bones of tigers and the horns of rhinos have become so expensive and such a valued part so that these animals are being driven to extinction by ppl who can afford to buy it, that by itself is not the issue of what's happening with all the other species out there. Why are ppl killing sivets(?) and otters and birds and snakes and all kinds of other things which are not part of that super expensive trade bc it feeds into this concept that wildlife is valuable but it's not always valued in terms of money alone but it is viewed as valuable to human health and to other issues.
MS: but then you have trophy trade which has got nothing to do with medicine, is simply having a skin on the wall.
AR: that definitely hurts some key species, but the trade as a whole is not being driven by the trophy trade b/c most species are not trophies.
MS: So that's the most visible that we see and that's the sexiest in many ways, but that's not the reality, it's just a little part of the reality.
AR: That's right, and most ppl don't even want rhinos, the last rhinos are being driven to extinction for their for their horns which is a market driven by a very elite wealthy few, but most ppl don't want rhino horn. It's kind of an anomaly in the whole medicinal market trade.
MS:We went to Tajilak up on the border, and as you said, you walk across the bridge, you take a right turn, you go down into the market, it's a little harder to find than it was a few months ago, but it's all there and it's sitting right out there on ppl's tables for anyone to see, anyone to come up and buy
AR: and it's all technically illegal as well, that's the most ironic part
WHO: and there's nobody there who cares.
AR: (laughs) that's right. There's nobody there that cares. So what are you asking me? What do you do?
WHO: (laughs) what do you do, we were there, I was talking to these guys about getting stuff across the border and I was playing the stupid tourist, and I was saying what if I want to buy 5 or 6, you know will I have trouble getting them a-x, and they were saying wait on the other side and we'll bring it a-x for you in an hour and they would. And that's the problem, is it not?
AR: that is the problem. I don't care about them caring bc you'll always have a large segment of the pop caring only about money no matter what it takes to get that money. I care about the enforcer. If the country feels strongly enough and realizes that there's a big enough prob to make it illegal and then doesn't enforce it, that gap needs to be bridged. Making ...bc believe it or not these countries at the highest levels, at least the govts I've spoken to, they do care. Thai doesn't want to lose all its tigers, Burma doesn't want to lose all its tigers, even though both of those countries have essentially lost all of their rhinos, but they truly don't want to. Now how far, the Q is how far, will they go towards not losing all of those animals? That's always an issue but the fact that there's a true feeling that they should do something and want to do something as long as it doesn't cost them too much, cost to them in terms of votes as politicians, cost to the country in terms of money, as long as it's not too great a cost, they would like to do something. So our job is to try to show them how that cost is really worth it to them, and if they don't at least bridge that gap partially, they are going to lose all their tigers. If a government truly doesn't care, there's nothing you can do, but amazingly enough I've never encountered a govt who I feel truly doesn't care that they lose their biggest and most magnificent species from the country. They truly do care about that at some level. ...20:23 How do you get at this? There's lots of ways to try, it's gotta be attacked from many different sides. I attack it from is I can't be bothered, I've got to ignore places like Tajilak knowing that they occur and hope that other segments or other groups will start trying to take care of it, but I look at the worst case scenario that Tajilak or places like that are always going to be there. We're not going to stop that trade as long as that value is so high even if we send in ppl to shut it down or try to shut it down, it's going to go underground. What I try to do is look at some of the last great places left for these species and for these wildlife comms and if the govt lets me do it and if they're truly committed to it, otherwise I won't waste my time, save these last places, and I mean truly save them, not just on paper, but after they're saved on paper, then work with the govt on training staff, in doing enforcement in these last gems so that the tiger, so that seed pops still exist in these last critical core areas for the entire wildlife comm., for tigers, elephants, for all these other species that are going extinct and being wiped out elsewhere.
MS: I'm oversimplifying this and it's bc I don't know as much about this as you do, but if the govt cares, then how can you have a situation like the border there where neither the Myanmar officials posted at the customs shed nor the Thai officials at their customs shed even glance at anyone who's going through?
AR: Cause there's levels of caring; that's the problem. The same could be said, what govt wouldn't say it cares about cancer or HIV? You get any govt -- Look at Africa. They say that they desperately care, but they all could be doing a helluva lot more than they're doing for their own ppl. It's always relative. There are issues which govts truly don't care about and when you reach that level there's almost no hope. At least in that particular place, and I won't even try to work with a govt that doesn't care and they have nothing to gain by saying that they do care when they don't at least to me, maybe to the world they do, but not to me when I'm talking to them in private. They do care as they care about health and other issues and they're not doing nearly what they should there. They care look at Thai, they care about prostitution, they care about child slavery, both of those are illegal and I can take you right now to places and show you where both of those are occurring, not bc the govt truly doesn't care but there's only so much they will do at any one particular time. What you have look at, or what I have to look at bc you haven't seen Tajilak years ago, is not so much what the situation is right now but is it exactly as bad as it was right now as it was when I first came on the Asia scene about 20 yrs ago? and that's kind of a tough one to answer too bc things are worse in terms of numbers of certain species out there but things are much better in terms of numbers of ppl out there trying to enforce numbers of ppl who seem to care, the kind of training we had that you attended believe it or not that was the first of its training ever, and for ppl like border police, actual forestry police, all of these diff segments of the societies from these cultures coming tog and they didn't have to attend this training some of them might have had to, but they basically were asked if they wanted to attend this training I wouldn't have seen that 20 yrs ago, and I wouldn't even have seen the govts agreeing to send reps to this kind of training 20 yrs ago.
MS: but did they agree to send these ppl b/c they do believe they have a prob? Did they send these ppl bc they know it looks good?
25:02 But who does it look good to? At the level that I work at esply you could make that argu maybe at these world congresses even at the world parks congress or at the Asian eco summits, there you could make a case that they're doing this b/c they need to show that face to the world. at the level we're working at, like this training course at the intl law enforcement agency, I don't even know if it made the newspaper and I don't know it might have and if it did it sure was a little piece buried in the paper bc I didn't see it, they're not looking good to anyone, it's nothing of any issue. Yeah, I get told all the time that the govt's using me and Myanmar to look good that I give them a sheen of respectability by being in there, yet my response is how can I be giving them a sheen when they've never once put me or my work forward in any kind of an intl scene? Intl press? I'm the one who puts it forward on the intl scene, they have not. They're letting me do it bc they believe it's the right thing. Now that's not to say that if I want to protect an area that's got valuable commercial tique that they're going to let me do it, but that's reality, and I have to deal with that too, the balance btwn economics or corruption or whatever else you've got in any country vs the true desire by all govts no matter how small it may be or how large it may be to save their forests and wildlife.
MS: How large do you think the corruption issue is here in SE Asia? In general and in Thai in partic. You're talking about a govt cares, at a govt level but at the same time there's gotta be ppl making money for looking the other way here.
AR: it's large but I don't think it's large in the same sense as what you get with things like drugs or illegal weapons I don't think it's at that level bc as much money as there is in wildlife, it's a diff kind it's more of a dispersed kind of money and pay off. I think that the corruption that we're talking about is the kind that you saw at Tajilak. The ability to take across a few skins or to pay somebody to look the other way or to pay somebody to take it thru a rout e they know they can take it through or talk a guard out of arresting them, it's that kind of level. To be honest with you I've seen that level of corruption in every country I've ever worked including the US. So I don't view that as anything. ...I do see it more here, but I see it more here bc there's more wildlife here, there's more opp here for it in this field.
MS: and it doesn't really matter what level is that it's operating at , as long as it's going on. With the volume that you're talking about it doesn't matter what level of govt official you're dealing with, it's still getting thru so it's still a huge prob. But is it at the top or the bottom?
AR: that's right. If I were to take a guess and I'm not speaking from direct knowledge here, I would not guess that there's a lot of money and corruption involved in terms of the wildlife 3 trade persay at the highest levels. I think the worst prob at the highest levels dealing with wildlife is just basically a lack of caring. Very much like our current admin in the US ¿ yeah, it's a nice thing, but I'll only do it as much as I have to appease a certain segment of the pop who makes noise now and then but it's not really getting me nearly as much votes as these other issues. When does it become important, when does it become important in the US, when do you see even the most lib pres or admin care about it? when enough of a segment of the amer ppl make it an issue so that votes are involved. And that's no diff here.
MS: so are things getting better or are things getting worse? You can argu the trade isn't as big as it used to be maybe bc there aren't as many animals out there as there used to be
AR: the trade is bad, I don't think it's slowing down, there aren't as many animals of certain species out there as they used to be, but the trade is so bad it's simply switching over to other species, I've seen this in places where I've worked for the last 2 decades, when they run out of all the turtles in an area, then they switch over to the crocs or to the snakes or to something else of partic value in the trade. It's this race against time which we're always dealing with in conservation, in wildlife protection. I think things have gotten a lot better in this part of the world in terms of staffing, in terms of ppls' knowledge of why things are really important, and it not just being a game, that they should be engaging in, really thinking/seeing quality of life deteriorating in so many ways that they realize that that's an issue, losing their forest and wildlife is an issue, it's no longer, none of these countries are any longer in a position where they just say, well we have so much of it left that it doesn't really matter. They're all starting to wake up to the fact that there's a finite amount out there and as much as they need and want progress and helping their ppl, they do not want to leave empty forests or no forests out there for future gens, they do realize that.
AR: BUT on the other hand, they're not caring enough to where they're enforcing their own laws enough or making the proper laws in their own countries to be enforced by even the ppl who do care in a country so that the trade is skyrocketing out of control in many instances and for many species and I think it's going to get a lot worse b4 it's gets better.
MS: it took a long time for them to outlaw strip mining in the states. You're describing wild life strip mining here.
AR: That's right it's wildlife strip mining, and once it's gone, it's gone. So the Sumatran rhino is not coming back. I think there are still some Sumatran rhino out there in the wild, but I think that's one species, I've thought this for a long time, and I see no evidence now to the contrary having followed it for over a decade that's going towards extinction and nobody's capable or trying hard to do very much about it. when that species gone, it's gonna be gone. I think the tiger's got a tremendous uphill battle. We're putting millions of dollars into tiger conserv, the conserv comm. Actually that's a drop in the bucket compared to the other forces out there harvesting tigers and tiger bone is much more valuable than the money that's going into trying to save it for the future. We're losing that battle also I think that's going to be a tough one to save tigers for the future. We're losing the battle on many fronts. What I'm optimistic about when I have my bouts of optimism is the fact that at the same time we're getting these incredible new protected areas, we are saving beautiful gems these beautiful chunks of forest as few as they may be and they are getting fewer and fewer, we are getting to a point where we're able much easier to convince these govts to save these as their last gems for the future, now the task in the future is going to be keeping the hordes out from these last areas as they truly become the last areas.
MS: right, or you have to many ppl coming to the zoo which is actually the protected area which is all that's left.
AR: that's right, but what you can hope for ...the US is not a good model for conserv. It's in fact a very very poor model ...you've got poaching in US protected areas and parks as well, but you've also reached an economic point to where you have well=paid guards doing a job that's fairly respected in their own minds and able to control poaching to a very large extent, in many of the protected areas if not most in the US, that situation is what I'm hoping for as the economics picks up in the Asia region. Bc right now you don't have that whatsoever. It's very hard to get ppl to protect the forest when that job itself is considered a very low-class job and it's a low-paying job. It'd be better to be the poacher than to be the protector. Not only Do you get very little compensation for it, but you're putting your life in danger as well and that of your family.
MS: If there were no China, and no demand in Ch, how much of the pressure on the wildlife in this part of the world, how much would that pressure be eased?
AR: It would be eased hugely. Wildlife would be hunted for other things, but not by any means to the extent that it's being wiped out now. A good ex bc I'm also working on the conserv of jags and jags are threatened too but not nearly like the big cats here. The jags are the Latin amer equiv of the tigers here. And we have a real shot at that mainly bc of the issues there, trophy hunting, livestock conflicts so jags are being killed, but they're all relatively controllable vs. these large scale areas of habitat. Jags are not valued, the reason we're able to save if jags ever became valued by the Chinese trade, then I'd really worry about jags, they would start plummeting. But they're not, there's not the forces that it's not china only as a country it's not china per say it's the trade in trad medicine that's basically Chinese trad med and while china prob is the strongest vacuum cleaner sucking the wildlife out of Asia, it's the trad med sources which you're finding coming out of Singapore out of hk out of Japan, Korea, out of many other places, it's the force is the trade in animal parts for the trad med trade. Now china is the biggest prob frankly.
MS: they're the biggest part of the prob, but they don't seem to be responding much in terms of being part of the solution either, right, decreasing demand
AR: they're defying us to be part of the solution of anything. China views itself in its own framework. If we ever plan to engage china in any meaningful way, we've got to realize that china as do many other cultures in the world do not view the world as Americans or as Wern nations view the world , they truly have a diff perception of life history and the future, and we cannot engage them by trying to view the world just thru our eyes and engage them on that level, by trying to make them see the world as we see the world bc they don't. they view it as different.
MS: so how do you engage them, how do you convince them?
AR:the only thing we could come up with which I think is a way to do it and it's working in a very small sense whether it's going to be fast enough I don't know ...the Chinese are a very intelligent ppl. It's a very intell society it's history dates back, well the history of Chinese medicine predates any med any other place in the world. We engage the Chinese trad doctors, who are actually they're university trained, there are unis in china training in trad med. These trad docs they have a very broadened view of the world, at least many of them I've met, they do not want to see tigers extinct. They, like any other doc, they don't say well you need tiger bone or you need tiger penis and that's the only thing you could use, nothing else. They have a very good understanding of true Chinese trad med which is not oriented around single parts of sg animals, it's a comprehensive med knowledge, just like our Wern med knowledge, in fact even more so, so they we're engaging them, when they agree with us, which most seem to do, that there should not be any more use of rhino horn for med, or tiger bone bc there are just too few animals left and that it does no good to their own trade to wipe these animals to extinction, bc then that med if ever needed again, is no longer even there in existence. So they fully agree that they should be convincing ppl to use alts, those alts are often, may be other animal part which aren't endangered, but that's not bad, that's a first step. They're not going to all of sudden say to ppl, don't take rhino horn, take Tylenol bc that's not their training; Chinese med is very different from all of that but they might say, well you don't need tiger bone, how about if we try dog bone or cow bone. They don't even say that, they just sub the parts in the meds they give and they're the ones we're working with so that the change is not coming form the W or from partic individs trying to tell the Chinese, you shouldn't be doing this bc you should save tigers, stop using this trad med. It's working with trad docs who in fact they know much more than we do but we can teach them about what's happening on the wildlife scene. And when I say we I don't even mean me, WCS for instance has PhD Chinese zoologists living and working in china from china who are working with the Chinese docs, so it's Chinese zoologists, Chinese conservation wildlife ppl working with the Chinese trad docs.
WHO: it's their prob, let them solve it, provide info when asked. ...you're saying it's a Chinese prob, that reqs a Chinese solution, but if they want to ask you for help, for info, you'll give it to them, but it's not yours to fix, it's for them to fix.
AR: that's right, but we don't sit back and say well it's for them to fix so let's just wait sit back and see if they fix it. we try to start the process towards fixing it and try to feed into the process but staying in the background. It's us who actually have sought out these Chinese zoologists, if they had to be hired, they're not making enough money working for a Chinese instit to be able to give up a career or take some other career and try to proselytize about wildlife conserv. so WCS so my org org might seek out these ppl who feel the same way we do or would like to be doing this we then hire them so they can make a real living at this kind of thing, and they then feed into the system. it's really not sitting back and saying well it's their own prob let them fix it in their own way. I look at it saying this is a really serious global prob. I think if we leave it to them, they're not going to fix it bc they don't care, they just see the world as it doesn't matter once that species gone, we'll look towards something else. There'll always be other ways we will fix things, so we are feeding the process but not directly, it doesn't work directly.
MS: You described yourself as having bouts of optimism, implied in that statement is that in this race that you describe, that you've been describing for us, you're not sure who's winning.
AR: Oh, I'm sure who's winning and it's not us (laugh). I am sure who's winning; we're not winning. And they are bouts of optimism amid a sea of depression so to speak, or maybe bouts of opt alternating with bouts of cynicism. Bc it's hard to work in this field, no matter how much you are doing good things, you are constantly engulfed in the bad around you, and you can't help see it unless you just blind yourself to it. you can't help seeing the carcasses and the dead animals and the trade and everything else going on. When I look in market places, when you go to a place like Tajilak, you see five tiger skins. I know what the home range is of tigers, I know how large an area you have just wiped out of tigers by getting 5 tiger skins, it's a huge area, and an area that won't easily come back if it would come back at all bc of the tigers' repro potential. It's a very depressing thing seeing what might not look like that large a number to ppl of these lrg wide-ranging territorial species, and know just how much of a how much devastation that has been wreaked on the enviro by bringing this bunch of tiger skins or clouded leopard skins to the marketplace, so I often get depressed by what's going on around me b/c it's so overwhelming, but the little battles which are won which are sometimes not so little. Significant battles such as right now I'm very close and I'm sure it's going to happen in setting up the world's largest tiger reserve in Myanmar, a place called Hukong Valley. It will be about 6000 square, 5500 square miles, which I think we figured out is about the size of Connecticut which will be a tiger reserve. Now that's just the beginning of the battle of course in terms of really protecting it for the future, but that's still a major step forward to get that area locked up in a country like Myanmar as a tiger reserve and get staff appropriated for that area and everything else like that. That's a major win in my mind when I know if we hadn't pushed for that, I know without any doubt looking at what's happened in the rest of Myanmar and the rest of this region, if we hadn't found this area in time and just pulled out all strings and just worked in this area to try to preserve it that within 5 yrs time at the most it would be wiped out of tigers, it wouldn't even have tigers in there and be wiped out of prey, and that still might happen, but it's going to be a much much tougher fight for the for the other side.
MS:and by actually working in Myanmar and working with what everyone calls a dirty regime, do you really care about those labels, if you get to save tigers, isn't that the point ...?
AR: oh, absolutely. This is ...ppl who might put those labels on ...how can you be working in a country like that, look at what they're doing to the local ppl, for 1 thing I have other feelings about that, but the issue is not even about that; conserv is for the local ppl, I am helping all these ppl sitting out on the sidelines telling me what I should or shouldn't be doing or taking the high road of not engaging so that they can in some strange way maybe help the local ppl yrs down the line, I'm actually there in the country helping these local ppl by setting up by not only setting up the protected areas we're setting up edu progs and comm. devel schemes for all these ppl living both in and on the perimeter of these forest areas. I am working with the local ppl. I am helping these same ppl that the sideliners tell me I should be worrying about, and they're just staying outside talking about that. I have no time for ppl who just criticize from the outside.
MS: Tigers have no politics.
AR: Animals have no boundaries and no politics. And regimes come and go, politics come and go, that's very transient. What we're trying to do has no time line on it. when I set up a tiger reserve or some other protected area, I try to set it up in such a way that it truly is set up and is sustainable indefinitely. Now no one can guarantee anything indefinitely but that's the framework that I'm working with at least in my mind, is forever.
MS: Fair enough. ...
CJC: Could you just ask him about the sig of the society's (Siety's?) meeting being held in Thai next yr and what impetus there will be for the countries in this region to change their ways or improve them partic Thai?
AR: The fact that the society's (the SIETY'S?) meeting is going to be held in Thai next year I think is a good thing. On the one hand I can be entirely cynical about it having known Thai for as many yrs as I have, and said, it's window dressing, it's them trying to put a nice sheen on something they haven't really bought into in as sig a way as they should. But the fact is Thai didn't have to agree to host the meeting in the first place. These intl meetings when hosted in partic countries forces the country's hand in many ways. You were talking earlier about, how do you know a country's not doing something just for the appearance of it? well, often countries do do things just for the appearance of it. but even that's a step forward, if they do it anyway, if they institute certain laws or maybe do something that they know they should have but now they're going to do, but they just haven't, but now they've held it in reserve but now they're going to do it bc it will give them something to present at this intl meeting where the focus will be on them, that's a good thing. It doesn't matter why they do it, it just matters that it was done. Of course it does matter later why it was done if it's going to be enforced in any reasonable way, but that's another issue. The 1st step is always getting the laws in place. If you don't have the laws in place then it's a much tougher job harassing a govt to even do something. When a law's in place, it looks very bad on govts why they're not enforcing the law. When It's just shoved right out to them. Thai of all the countries in Asia should be taking a really leading role, and I've thought this for the entire time I've known Thai I've worked here which dates back about 20 yrs and Thai has always been more economically stable, more prog than its neighbors for various reasons, it's advanced further than its neighbors, and it's never stepped up to the plate as it should have in taking a leadership role in the region in many ways but specially in conserv. Many of the poorer countries around Thai like Viet, camb, and even myan in some ways have better laws on the books about wildlife conserv and wildlife trade than Thai does and that shouldn't be and I'm actually hoping that Thai does step up more to the plate with agreeing to host the intl (sciety's??) meeting next year. I think that they would not have done that unless they have in their back pocket a whole bunch of things that they want to present as forward movements that they're going to enact at this meeting. More can be done all the time everywhere, in every country in the world, wildlife conserv, the importance of wildlife, in the role of the planet is not taken seriously enough by any govt in the world, bar none, but that's no reason why we've ...you could get pessimistic about it, it's very easy to get pess, it's much tougher to remain optimistic and keep on pushing forward. And if we're going to save anything for the future, then you need to keep the optimism foremost in your mind, as long as there's still wildlife out there to save, then you have to keep on pushing forward cause as soon as you sit back and give up and say there's no point it's going to all go down the drain anyway, then to me you're part of the prob instead of being part of the solution. ...54:54 It often seems hopeless, you should have seen the Indonesia talk by Rob Lee, I didn't even know those numbers coming out of Indonesia and now it's worse than ever bc, it's getting worse in this region bc of this whole concept of decentralization, that's becoming a real scary thing to me, and it's being pushed a lot by the Wern world who doesn't have it which is decentralization giving power to local comms so that everybody has a say and really it's not about what's good in the larger scheme, it's about what individual comms want and in indon a place like indon might have to go that way bc it's really a complex country, it's really like 100s of diff countries, but that makes it almost an imposs thing bc then the individual ppl get to say what they want about what's around them, then I think wildlife stands no chance.
MS: Malaysia seems to have 3 sets types of laws (AR laughs). That ¿s an example of what you're talking about, right?
AR: It sure is. And the wildlife situation is pitiful in M, they'll claim otherwise, but I've unless it's made tremen comeback which I haven't heard it has, I've done surveys in some of their best protected areas, esplly in their best one, Tamanagara, yrs ago for clouded leopards, and they would claim to you that it's really well-protected and filled with wildlife, but my survey showed it was very quickly approaching an empty forest.
MS: and that's a graphic illustration of what happens when you do decentralize power?
AR: I agree, of course, but the other side of that, the proponents of decentralization will say well you haven't been doing a great job with nationalization either. You know when you nationalize, and it comes down from the top and this big central govt just mandates that you can't kill animals someplace in the middle of nowhere, that's not really worked well either. There's a point there as well. I think it's somewhere in between, but the point is having whatever you do, it's always going to be complicated but the concept that you're going to save wildlife by putting it in the hands of local ppl bc they will take care of their own wildlife, we know that's not true, that is not a true statement. ppl do not take care of their own backyard, not if there's money to be made in their backyard. They will take care of their backyard if that's in their best interests is to take care of their backyard. If you have in your backyard, like in the US, if someone tells you there's a buried treasure in your bkyrd but it happens to be under this big, big oak tree that you've got in your back yard, you can either keep that oak tree or cut that damn thing down and get this $100,000 buried in a strong box I don't know too many ppl that wouldn't go after that, that's what these ppl are doing in their backyard. I don't blame them, I'm not saying that they're bad ppl ...it's just human nature. It's just going after resources. And if we're going to save things, there have got to be both laws and enforcement. Now you don't want to antagonize the ppl, you don't want any set of laws or any kind of system where you're setting yourself up to be against the ppl who live there bc that doesn't work either then you're constantly forever having to stand at the boundary with a gun keeping ppl out that's not sustainable either, but it may be a necessary first step in the process of then working with these ppl, helping their livelihoods, showing them this whole thing is going to be a step which will benefit them which will be better for them bc of other things that you bring in as a result.
59:36 Room ambi until 1:00:36
END OF INTERVIEW