After graduating with a degree in zoology in 1980, Mark took off for Kenya, thus beginning a 30 year career in conservation. Mark has worked for NGOs, governments, universities and private companies to develop his interest in the connections between protected areas and the communities who effect or are effected by them. Picking up an MSc and a PhD along the way, he's worked to promote innovations in the way conservation managers interact with local communities. In 2002, following ten years as advisor to the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Mark joined FFI’s Asia-Pacific programme, returning to the UK in 2011 to design and develop the Cultural Values & Conservation Programme, a further extension of his ongoing commitment to improving conservation delivery through meaningful engagement with communities and their values.
If you travel or live in warm climates you are sure to come across geckos. Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and other Animals’ that I read as a boy enthralled me with his descriptions of these wonderful creatures scudding across his bedroom ceilings, silently stalking moths and mosquitos. Geckos strengthened my interest in nature as a boy and have been keeping me company as an adult ever since.
During 30 years living in Africa and Asia, geckos have shared my homes and offices. In Uganda geckos lived in my tented camp, the moving canvas walls proving no difficulty to them. When I lived in the deserts of central Oman, yellow-bellied house geckos, which were heavier and noisier than the local species, had taken a ride on the pre-fabricated house and were happily established there.
Most recently, in Indonesia, I was privileged to have the company of tokay geckos that grow to over a foot long. A large and venerable tokay would pass sedately above my office window most days, often startling me with its harsh clicking call, while numerous youngsters would gather around the lights on our veranda at night. The tokay is named from its call, both in Indonesian (Tokek) and in Latin, Gekko gecko. Indeed geckos around the globe are named for the tokay’s call. Say ‘gecko gecko’ to yourself and you know what they sound like.
I was reminded of geckos during a recent meeting on the south coast of Kenya. It was a beautiful setting for FFI’s Africa team to thrash out their priorities for the future. The discussion was difficult as the grim realities of growing human populations, reducing food production, and increasing competition for land had to be faced.
The grim economic situation focused our discussions on economic arguments for conservation. Where they work, these are powerful; they are what politicians and policy makers want to hear. The uncomfortable truth, though, is that in many cases if not most, whether we are talking about Critically Endangered species, strictly protected areas or sustainable resource use management to promote biodiversity, they all compromise production.
Despite sound global, long-term resource-based economic arguments, in most situations conservation costs money, it does not make it. And where economic arguments don’t work, what else do we have to put forward?
Taking a breather outside, I spotted a small gecko with striking bands on its head. Soon after, I spotted its mate with a bright yellow head. They were dwarf yellow headed geckos. As I watched these exquisite creatures I found myself trying to construct arguments for conserving them that might be accepted by the team inside, or by a politician trying to guide his country.
Try as I might speculate on as-yet unknown medical properties, the commercial potential of adapting their electrostatic wall-walking techniques, or simply their value in the pet trade, I couldn’t find an argument that was more compelling than the value of their beauty, their quirky clicking cries, their keeping us company, and that they are the source of stories, myths and legends that enrich our lives. Even in the face of economic pressures, these intangible values are real. Unless we recognise them there are no arguments for conserving tokays, yellow headed geckos, or the tens of thousands of threatened animals, large and small, around the world.