Wild Life documents a nuanced understanding of the wild versus captive divide in species conservation. It also documents the emerging understanding that all forms of wild natureboth in situ (on-site) and ex situ (in captivity)may need to be managed in perpetuity. Providing a unique window into the high-stakes world of nature conservation, Irus Braverman describes the heroic efforts by conservationists to save wild life. Yet in the shadows of such dedication and persistence in saving the life of species, Wild Life also finds sacrifice and death. Such life and death stories outline the modern struggle to define what conservation should look like at a time when the long-established definitions of nature have collapsed.
Wild Life begins with the plight of a tiny endangered snail, and ends with the rehabilitation of an entire island. Interwoven between its pages are stories about golden lion tamarins in Brazil, black-footed ferrets in the American Plains, Sumatran rhinos in Indonesia, Tasmanian devils in Australia, and many more creatures both human and nonhuman. Braverman draws on interviews with more than one hundred and twenty conservation biologists, zoologists, zoo professionals, government officials, and wildlife managers to explore the various perspectives on in situ and ex situ conservation and the blurring of the lines between them.
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About the Author
Irus Braverman is Professor of Law and Adjunct Professor of Geography at the University of Buffalo, SUNY. She is the author of Planted Flags: Trees, Land, and Law in Israel/Palestine (2009), Zooland: The Institution of Captivity (2012), and coeditor of The Expanding Spaces of Law: A Timely Legal Geography (2014).
Read an Excerpt
The Institution of Nature
By Irus Braverman
STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2015 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
What is it that we want? Much of what conservation biology must do is confused by notions of animal "wildness," and "freedom," and even by the belief of a few that when a species' historical home is altered, that species is no longer worthy of interest.
—William Conway, President, WCS (1992–99), and Audubon Medal Winner, 1999
According to conservation biologist Kent Redford and his two colleagues, the version of ecology taught in the 1960s and 1970s presented a world in which ecosystems returned to a stable equilibrium after perturbation, or disturbance. In this view of the world, all conservationists had to do was remove outside stressors such as human influences, and success would be accomplished. "We have come to understand," these prominent conservation biologists counter, that "the natural world is not organized this way.... The world does not consist of species found only in the wild or only in zoos. They are instead found in a bewildering array of combinations of reliance on human action [or inaction] for conservation.... So why then does the conservation community in general, and the zoo community in particular, insist on dichotomizing conservation as either in situ or ex situ?"
Redford's question, posed to the conservation community in 2013, is central to this book. I ask accordingly: How did we arrive at this dichotomy in conservation? Who is involved in its construction and contestation? And what do they think about it? This chapter will sketch the history of the schism between in situ and ex situ in conservation and will describe its institutionalization. Traditionally, in situ has been synonymous with field conservation, while ex situ has been associated with zoos and captive breeding. I will recount responses from numerous conservationists about how the in situ–ex situ relationship has shaped their thinking and informed their everyday practices. To understand the meaning and importance of the terms "in situ" and "ex situ" in conservation, I will start by briefly discussing their use in other disciplinary contexts.
In Situ–Ex Situ: An Interdisciplinary Perspective
The terms "in situ" and "ex situ" are used in a wide variety of disciplinary contexts. In art, "in situ" refers to a work made specifically for a host site, or one that takes into account the site in which it is installed or exhibited, also referred to as "site-specific" art. In computer science, an in situ operation is one that occurs without interrupting the normal state of a system. For example, an in situ upgrade would allow an operating system, firmware, or application to be upgraded while the system is still running. Within public international law, "in situ " refers to a government with effective control over a certain territory, in contrast to an exiled government. And in architecture, "in situ" refers to construction that is carried out at a building site using raw materials, as opposed to prefabricated construction, whereby building components are made elsewhere and then transported to the building site for assembly.
Closest by far to nature conservation, in archaeology, "in situ" refers to an artifact that has not been removed from its original place of deposition. By contrast, an artifact that was not discovered in situ is considered out of context and therefore usually meaningless to archaeologists. For example, "in situ" often refers to ancient sculptures that were carved in place, such as the Sphinx or Petra, which are distinguished from statues that were carved and moved, such as the Colossi of Memnon. In situ in this case is the place where an item was first excavated. "If talking from an archaeological perspective, the country of origin is where the thing has been dug from, notwhere it came from," says George Abungu, a cultural heritage professional and the former director general of the National Museums of Kenya. "That discovery moment—that is the place of origin. So if it is in Kenya and you dig it there, it belongs to that particular place ... that is where it belongs."
The various definitions of "in situ "—although quite different from one another—all assert the importance of the place of origin. Similarly, the terms "in situ" and "ex situ" are used in conservation to establish a scientific place-based hierarchy. But the use of this terminology by conservationists is also unique in relation to other disciplines. The prevalence of nature in this discourse reifies the schism between the two poles, creating what is often an adversarial relationship: in situ versus ex situ.
In Situ versus Ex Situ in Nature Conservation
The terms "in situ" and "ex situ" are foundational to contemporary discourses of conservation. Before it was taken up by conservation biology in the 1980s, ex situ conservation was associated with the agricultural history of domestication and migration, and with the development of seed banks in particular. The term "in situ" appears in many texts as a reference to a plant's original habitat. Its earliest use in the context of conservation appears to have been made during a 1967 Technical Conference on the Exploration, Utilization and Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources.
In the 1980s, the terms "in situ" and "ex situ" gained traction as standins for "natural" and "captive." This was especially true in zoo circles, where the legitimacy of holding animals in captivity has been increasingly contested by animal rights and welfare advocacy, and hence the very use of the term" captivity" has become problematic. Instead, "ex situ" was meant to highlight the scientific properties of such initiatives. In the words of Evan Blumer, conservation biologist and former director of The Wilds, a captive breeding center for zoos: "The terminology began with this binary of captive versus wild, and then got broadened and softened by bringing the Latin into it with in situ and ex situ." Today, ex situ conservation is performed by an array of organizations that hold wild plants, animals, or genetic material, including seed banks, arboreta, botanical gardens, aquariums, and zoos.
Institutionalizing the Divide: Regulatory Regimes
A range of administrative processes and regulatory regimes institutionalize thein situ–ex situ schism and, along with it, the split between wild and captive management and that between nature and society. Legal texts both rely upon and reinforce the understanding of in situ and ex situ conservation as the foundational spatial division in nature conservation, and have regulated it in a variety of ways. In particular, the in situ–ex situ divide figures in one of the most important legal texts in conservation to date, the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international treaty signed by 193 countries.
The CBD defines "in-situ conservation" as "the conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats and the maintenance and recovery of viable populations of species in their natural surroundings." The term "ex-situ conservation" is defined in the same text as "the conservation of components of biological diversity outside their natural habitats." Whereas in situ is conservation's ultimate goal, ex situ is dependent upon it, and limited in that it must be executed "predominantly for the purpose of complementing in-situ measures." CBD's Article 9 establishes along these lines that "each Contracting Party shall, as far as possible and as appropriate, and predominantly for the purpose of complementing in-situ measures: ... (d) Regulate and manage collection of biological resources from natural habitats for ex-situ conservation purposes so as not to threaten ecosystems and in-situ populations of species, except where special temporary ex-situ measures are required." Such legal definitions invoke the terms "natural surroundings" and "natural habitats" as if they were self-explanatory, constructing a place-based hierarchy. According to John Fa and his colleagues, "since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in situ conservation has been designated, expressly, as the legal and institutional priority. [The Convention for Biological Diversity] and other global instruments and funding strategies ... relegate ex situ approaches to a subordinated supply role."
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)—the leading international conservation network in the world—similarly establishes the in situ–ex situ divide as a central pillar of conservation. According to the IUCN definitions, "Ex situ collections include whole plant or animal collections, zoological parks and botanic gardens, wildlife research facilities, and germplasm collections of wild and domesticated taxa." The following IUCN statement illustrates the centrality of in situ to the organization's mission:
IUCN affirms that a goal of conservation is the maintenance of existing genetic diversity and viable populations of all taxa in the wild in order to maintain biological interactions, ecological processes and function.... The threats to biodiversity in situ continue to expand, and taxa have to survive in increasingly human-modified environments.... The reality of the current situation is that it will not be possible to ensure the survival of an increasing number of threatened taxa without effectively using a diverse range of complementary conservation approaches and techniques including, for some taxa, increasing the role and practical use of ex situ techniques.
Texts produced by zoo organizations also show a prioritization of in over ex situ conservation and the justification of ex situ only as a supportive measure to in situ. For example, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA)—a global organization with more than three hundred members, including zoos, aquariums, wildlife associations, and corporate partners—defines conservation as "the securing of long-term populations of species in natural ecosystems and habitats wherever possible."
The in situ–ex situ paradigm also appears in other regulatory contexts. For example, according to the policies of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species—widely viewed as the most comprehensive and objective global standard for evaluating the threat status of plant and animal species—a species that is Extinct in the Wild is defined as "non-conserved," even if it still exists in captivity. In the words of an IUCN member: "Real conservation is [defined as] self-sustaining populations in nature. If a species in total is only in captivity [we] call that 'not conserved.'" Regulatory norms thus prioritize the conservation of species depending on their location either "in" or "out" of nature.
Institutionalizing the Divide: Networks and Funding
Conservation's regulatory regimes provide both a reason for and an expression of the bifurcated relationship between in situ and ex situ in conservation. Another reason for and expression of this bifurcated relationship has been the often-rocky dynamics between accredited zoos and the IUCN. Although members of the zoo community helped to found IUCN in 1948, it was not long before the two communities experienced a breakdown in trust. Christoph Schwitzer works both at Bristol Zoo Gardens and with IUCN's primate specialist group. He tells me that "the IUCN is made up of volunteers, thousands of them. And it's only as good as its people, really." More often than not, he explains, field biologists distrust zoos, and as a result, the IUCN has veered toward non-cooperation with zoo institutions.
Funding sources, too, both rely on and reinforce the in situ–ex situ divide. In a 2013 WAZA Magazine issue dedicated in its entirety to the integration of species conservation across the in situ–ex situ divide, zoo expert John Fa and his colleagues point out that the largest source of international biodiversity funding—the Global Environmental Facility, which is a funding mechanism of the CBD—has no focal area for ex situ activities. Research scientist Pierre Comizzoli at the Smithsonian Institution similarly reflects that "organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, or Conservation International, or The Nature Conservancy, are never going to give me one dollar for the research I'm doing here in the lab because, first of all, they have other priority projects, and [also]—they don't necessarily recognize the importance of this."
Alex Travis is an associate professor of reproductive biology and faculty director of the environment at Cornell University. Travis strongly believes that the separate funding sources for in situ and ex situ conservation perpetuate this problematic divide. Speaking as a research scientist at a conservation-oriented lab, he notes that "funding was one of the big causes of the divide in the first place." Many field conservationists are wary of losing their money for what they perceive to be the high costs of assistive reproductive technologies in captive management, he explains. "There is this idea that if you just took that money and used it for habitat preservation—working with communities, anti- poaching patrols, whatever the in situ project of choice was going to be—you could get so much more bang for the buck because you'd be saving many species in that habitat." For this reason, Travis continues, "the funding agencies that would support those different types of work kind of split."
To receive funding for conservation projects, conservation organizations must typically demonstrate that they are doing in situ work. As a result, conservation labs have a harder time obtaining funding from conservation sources and are impelled to seek funding from other sources, such as theNational Institutes of Health. In many cases, financial necessities result in the reorientation of the labs' research projects into ones that contribute to human health. Travis also explains that many conservationists believe that in situ and ex situ institutions compete for the same funding, which feeds into the alienation between the respective communities. Travis vehemently disagrees. "The world is not one pot," he tells me. Different sources of funding do not necessarily compete, and so the threat felt by many within the in situ community toward the ex situ world is unfounded, in his opinion.
Finally, according to Travis the in situ–ex situ divide in funding makes initiatives that integrate the two quite difficult to execute. "I think a lot of us see the obvious connections between in situ and ex situ conservation," he says. "But there are very few funding mechanisms that do both." It should be the role of academics to bridge the underlying professional and disciplinary divides, Travis believes.
Field versus Zoo: Notes from the Trenches
The hierarchical relationship between in situ and ex situ conservation is not only the result of regulatory regimes or of administrative, organizational, and funding processes, but is also the way many conservationists have come to define and experience their work, as I have discovered in many of the interviews conducted for this project. Such a preferential treatment of situ is therefore far from being semantic or academic; instead, it manifests in the everyday relationships between conservation professionals, organizations, and projects around the world.
The in situ–ex situ schism is particularly apparent in the tense professional relationship between conservationists who work in the "field," and those who work in captive settings, mostly zoos but also laboratories. Despite the disagreements between these two groups, they do typically share a belief both in the importance of the in situ–ex situ divide and in the priority of in situ over ex situ conservation. Whereas a few of my interviewees—who, again, are not typical conservationists in that most of them work in both worlds—have insisted that the tensions between field and zoo conservationists are merely memories from a distant past, the vast majority commented on the ongoing and at times devastating implications of these tensions. Christoph Schwitzer says, for example, "We still work in two parallel worlds. On the one hand, you have the IUCN that is comprised of all the field people, many of which are skeptical of the value of ex situ conservation and of zoos in general. And on the other hand, you have the zoo community. Both communities have their own conservation planning meetings and processes, but there's no link." Schwitzer continues: "The ex situ zoo community and the in situ conservation community have two completely separate processes of species conservation planning [that] are being carried out totally separately. There is no cross-pollination by default." Kathy Traylor-Holzer of the IUCN explains, similarly, that "generally speaking, both in the United States and around the world, the wildlife authorities do their own thing and use their own science and their own planning for wild populations, and zoos ... do their own planning toward sustaining their species. And a lot of it has always gone on separately."
Excerpted from Wild Life by Irus Braverman. Copyright © 2015 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Natural Life 1
Puerto Rican Crested Toad 21
Chapter 1 Bifurcated Life 31
Northern White and Swnatran Rhinos 51
Chapter 2 Captive Life 59
Golden Lion Tamarin 87
Chapter 3 Continuous Life 95
Black-footed Ferret 119
Chapter 4 Dynamic Life 125
Puerto Rican Parrot 145
Chapter 5 Regulatory Life 153
Red Wolf 177
Chapter 6 Integrated Life 185
Tasmanian Devil 213
Conclusion: Wild Life 221