The Commonwealth: A Common Culture?

By Richard Maltby; Peter Quartermaine | Go to book overview

6: JOHN M. MACKENZIE
Conservation in the Commonwealth: Origins and
Controversies

Conservation has become one of the linguistic icons of the twentieth century. Like most icons it is shiny, untouchable, reverence-inducing, but still gathers dirt. Governments pay lip service, but sin as soon as they turn away. Individuals pollute and destroy while professing belief. This is not just because erring is human. Sometimes it is because, in both historic and contemporary contexts, conservation is more complex than the unalloyed good it is so often made out to be. Like so many areas of human activity it has invariably had class and racial overtones. One person’s conservation can be another person’s dispossession.

This is particularly true of the Commonwealth. World conservation has its roots in an imperial past. It was often nurtured in dubious circumstances and has left a legacy of bitterness in many places. Although UN and related agencies like the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), UNESCO, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and World Heritage have given world conservation movements considerable international cachet the problems of balance between the needs of people and the human obligation to nature are as great as ever. This essay seeks to examine the historical background to conservation in a number of Commonwealth countries, especially with regard to the relationship between humans and animals. In doing so I hope to uncover some of these complexities as well as reveal some of the similarities and differences within the Commonwealth experience.1

This is a particularly interesting time to undertake such a study because formal conservation in the British Commonwealth is almost exactly one hundred years old. The first conservation legislation on a national scale in India was the Indian Forest Act of 1878, followed by the Elephant Preservation Act of 1879. The first resolutions regarding the preservation of game in the Transvaal (later part of the Commonwealth) were put to the Volksraad in 1884 and 1889, while the first effective piece of game legislation in the Cape was enacted in 1886

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