Time to get serious: My first day at the WWF office in Toliara, my work place for the next 3 months. Quite a world apart from IUCN headquarters in Switzerland, the last office I worked at. There are maybe 10 or 15 people here in total. They get to work by (motor-)bike, pousse-pousse or foot. At 10, it is time for the breakfast break, during which cooked taro, a sweet, starchy crop, is served.
During the hours of explanation that Xavier, my boss, gives me on the project of aerial surveillance of protected areas, I get a feeling that my passion for conservation will be put to good use here. Once a year, WWF overflies several national parks and other protected areas in the region with a small airplane, taking photographs of the whole protected area along transects. These photos are then used to detect infringements of slash-and-burn deforestation, allowing to monitor developments over the years and to detect the areas that are under most pressure. Then, patrols are conducted to these areas to find and arrest the people who burned down the forest. It’s not an easy choice to stand on the side of nature – the people are poor and usually uneducated, and burn the forest in the belief that they don’t have a choice.
But the destruction of natural resources only leads to the aggravation of poverty in the bigger pictures – the burned areas can be cultivated areas can used for maximum 3 years, after that the soil is exploited and washed away. People move on, burning down forest elsewhere, and eventually there will be none left. What to do then? On top of that, the rain washes the soil into the rivers, which transport it to the sea, where it chokes coral reefs, threatening the livelihoods of coastal people who live on fishing. Explaining these contexts is a crucial part of the work WWF is doing.