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Could wildlife hold the key to rebuilding countries post-war?

Many of the world’s most iconic animals are currently threatened with extinction; snow leopards are killed for their coats, rhinos are poached for their horns and gorillas fall victim to the bushmeat trade.

Protecting these species is a huge challenge for conservationists especially as over two thirds of biodiversity hotspots worldwide are the sites of armed conflict. Not only do these conflicts destroy forestry and ecosystems but traditionally many conservation projects have been hampered by rebel groups who use poaching as a means to gain money and create instability.

But what if conservation projects could actually help rebuild countries after conflict? That is the question being asked by Dr Richard Milburn, Research Associate at the Marjan Centre for the Study of War and the Non-Human Sphere, within the War Studies Department at King’s. Through his research and time spent working on conservation projects in the Congo, he suggests that giving conservation a commercial aspect may allow us to do just that.

‘The creation of revenue and jobs would place a clear value on the park for local communities. – Dr Richard Milburn, War Studies

He suggests that building ‘business bufferzones’ that grow produce in areas around national parks would help create employment and provide money that would stop the need for poaching and provide much needed income that helps to rebuild countries fractured by war.

Dr Milburn explains ‘The creation of revenue and jobs would place a clear value on the park for local communities.

‘People are then less likely to want to destroy or exploit these areas, which, in turn, protects the wildlife species within it.’

This concept has the potential to help in a wide range of countries that have been affected by conflict and are trying to rebuild and gain affluence. These include the Congo, which is home to gorillas, India and their tigers and rhino, Afghanistan and their snow leopard, and Zimbabwe and its rhino.

The products being harvested from the bufferzones, such as tea and cocoa beans, would then be sold to international customers who could shop ethically for everyday items while contributing to conservations causes and recovering economies.

‘Currently most people donate no more than 2% of their income to charity, but if we can tap in to the other 98% we could create a more regular flow of money into conservation. This could be done through food and drink gathered from the bufferzone or other areas such as entertainment.’

Dr Milburn has launched a social enterprise startup to explore the idea of breaking in to the entertainment market by creating a digital wildlife game, Conservation Crisis.  

The game, which can be downloaded via an app, requires players to play to save wildlife, making the best decisions along the way to save a species from extinction. A portion of the proceeds from downloads of the game and in app purchases then goes straight to conservation projects across Africa and around the globe.

Everything in the game is based on real-world conservation, offering players an insight into the challenges faced by those working on the frontline to protect wildlife. Players are given a limited budget each round and have to decide how to spend it: supporting local communities around their reserve to improve conservation; hiring vets to ward off disease; training rangers to protect wildlife from poaching militia; or building tourist lodges to generate more revenue for their reserve.

The game also highlights how and why corruption is such a problem for wildlife conservation. It requires players to decide whether to pay bribes to the poaching militia operating near a player’s reserve in order to more quickly complete their tasks; paying the bribe speeds up movement, but also causes negative knock-on effects for players.

The app has already won the King’s UnLtd Award for Social Enterprise and the team hope it will go on to achieve a lot more.

Dr Milburn says: ‘As well as getting people thinking about the issues involved in protecting these species, the game allows us to contribute money to charities working hard to protect wildlife in real life. We also hope that playing the game may inspire the conservationists of the future.’

You can download the game from www.tunzagames.com on your smart phone or tablet and a board game version of the game is set for release in 2019.