During a talk for the Genetics Graduate Student Association, a faculty member said when you are working on something that makes a profit, you never think about money, but when you’re working on something that doesn’t, money is all you think about.
Shifting gears from working in conservation as an undergrad and volunteer into entering graduate school and trying to make it into a career has made the difficulty of finding funding for conservation projects a prominent feature in my day to day life. I am currently in the process of trying to find a suitable lab for me to work in for my PhD. And for me, funding-wise, it’s a double wammy because I have been working on a previous project which currently doesn’t have its own funding. So, not only do I have to find a lab which is doing work I am interested in and has enough money to let me join but, because most labs don’t even have enough money to fund their own projects, let alone mine, if I want to do the CCF project while I’m here, I have to acquire my own funding for it. Now if this were the type of research the government and private organizations fund regularly, such as pharmaceuticals, cancer, etc., this wouldn’t be a huge issue. But because I am in the field of conservation, I keep hitting the “that project sounds very interesting/I would love to have you do a rotation in my lab but I don’t have any funding” roadblock. Now, here lies the real conundrum:
I agree with the motivation behind this statement. However, I don’t believe that there isn't a species that doesn't have a benefit. It may not be a direct benefit, but take any species out of an ecosystem and there’s going to be some kind of effect. Therefore, conservation of anything can be deemed beneficial when done so responsibly. But, back to the topic at hand, what do you need to be able to “restore and preserve as much habitat as possible”? Money. And, as much as I hate the fact that money is what makes the world go round, it would be irresponsible, and counterproductive, to ignore it.
One of the reasons I have so much respect for the Cheetah Conservation Fund is that they realized this conundrum and embraced it. They have many projects (i.e. Cheetah Country Beef and Bushblok) which have a benefit for both the ecology of Namibia and the economy of its people. What we as conservationist need to do is take a realistic approach linking immediate benefit for the people with long term benefit for the environment. Once we find that niche, finding funding becomes easier and we can build on our efforts of conservation, whatever it is we are trying to conserve.