The art of conservation

We constantly hear that everything has its price and, today, wildlife conservation is not exempt from this idea.

In the past, say 100 years ago (just after Fauna & Flora International was founded), the standard way to conserve animals was to declare an area a wildlife reserve, put up a fence, remove the problems (usually people) and allow the wildlife to get on with it. Whilst this concept did appear to work for the wildlife, the people who had ancestral links to the land didn’t usually benefit.

Despite this, I do still like the idea that wildlife can be preserved just because it should be.

But even back then, things weren’t as straightforward as they might have appeared. I am pretty sure that there was a vested interest in saving areas that were rich in wildlife because people also liked shooting wildlife (and the money that could be made from this).

The concept of sustainable wildlife harvesting (aka hunting) is something that I do personally agree with, as long as it’s done properly and the revenues go towards conservation (more on that some other time).

But although I am a great believer in assigning economic value to ecosystem services, I do feel that we should also conserve and protect wildlife for its intrinsic aesthetic or cultural values, not just its monetary worth.

Cultural collection

The appreciation of wildlife’s beauty is no better demonstrated than through art, especially in what today is called folk or tribal (or, more academically, ethnographic) art.

One of the perks of travelling so much around Asia is that one is frequently exposed to this art, and occasionally has the opportunity to buy it. As an avid collector I have amassed a range of things, which are all photographed and catalogued so as not to break the link with the cultures they come from and which will be given to a museum (should they want them) on my demise.

Here I share and describe a few of the things in my collection…

Buffalo horn carved to represent a tiger. Credit: Dr Stephen Browne.

Buffalo horn carved to represent a tiger catching a small pig or hare. The piece is a catapult, carved so that the back legs form the two attachment points for the elastic. Origin: Myanmar.

Learn more about local perceptions of tigers in Sumatra through Jeremy Holden’s blog, Following in the footsteps of tigers.

Handles from a hunter’s bow. Credit: Dr Stephen Browne.

These two items are handles from a hunter’s bow. When the bow breaks they are removed and lashed onto a new one. The top one is carved from buffalo horn, and depcits something like a red panda or civet. The lower one is carved from wood and takes the form of a crocodile. Both are from Myanmar.

To find out more about crocodiles and cultural values, take a look at Dr Mark Infield’s blog, The crocodile connection.

3 - Handle of a mandau & hornbill. Credit: Dr Stephen Browne.

The item on the right is the handle of a mandau (a type of knife) in the form of a hornbill from Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan). On the left is one of my favourite objects depicting either a hornbill or a ground bird (such as a pheasant or chicken) from Lombok, Indonesia.

Find out why the latest trend in traditional medicine is threatening the helmeted hornbill in Godwin Limberg’s blog, A bitter pill to swallow.

4 - Knife handle - wild boar. Credit: Dr Stephen Browne.

A knife handle, carved from wood in the shape of a pig/wild boar from Lombok (Indonesia), which would seem an unlikely subject for depiction amongst the Muslim Sasak people that carved it.

5 - Carved wooden chicken head. Credit: Dr Stephen Browne.

A carved wooden chicken head from Sumba (Indonesia) which, despite its phallic overtones, has nothing to do with fertility but is actually mounted on bamboo and placed in rice fields to scare away birds.

6 - Black wood cigarette holder. Credit: Dr Stephen Browne.

A carved black wood and horn cigarette holder in the form of a monkey.

7 - Smoking pipe - two monkeys. Credit: Dr Stephen Browne.

A smoking pipe of two monkeys facing each other. Their flattened heads show many years of use and the tapping out of burnt tobacco.

8 - Green peafowl - wooden lid. Credit: Dr Stephen Browne.

A wooden lid for a container carved in the shape of a green peafowl. Origin: Myanmar.

Find out how a chance encounter with a peacock reminded Jeremy Holden of mankind’s more spiritual need to protect the natural world in Eyes of wonder.

9 - Monkey - wooden lid. Credit: Dr Stephen Browne.

A wooden lid for a container carved in the shape of a monkey (although it looks like a baboon). This one is from Lombok, Indonesia.