Conservation Biology

Monday, March 05, 2007


Awareness and concern about environmental degradation have grown around the world over the last few decades; these concerns are shared by people of different nations, cultures, religions and social classes [1]. Poverty is defined as a condition of being poor [2]. Degradation is change from a higher state to a lower state [3]. Environmental degradation is a process induced by human behaviour and activities that damage the natural environment [4].

Poverty is considered as a great influence of environmental degradation. In many regions of the world, regional overgrazing has resulted in destruction of grazing lands, forest and soil. Air and water have been degraded [5]. The carrying capacity of the natural environment has been reduced. As the people become poorer, they destroy the resources faster [5]. They tend to overuse the natural resources because they don’t have anything to eat or any means of getting money except through the natural resources, they start to depend more on natural resources.

Poor people harvest natural resources for their survival or in order to meet their basic needs such as firewood, agricultural productions (such as maize), and water and wild plants for their medicine. All people regardless of being poor or rich depend on natural resources; the concern with poor people is that they are utilizing the resources directly. The rich people do depend on these resource but they do not go to the forest directly and harvest the resources.

Due to the lack of sufficient income people start to use and overuse every resource available to them when their survival is at stake. As desperate hunger leads to desperate strategies for survival, many trees are harvested for fire wood, timber and art craft. Most of the poor people use this fire wood as their source of income by selling them, and art craft products are also used for income generation. The roots of the trees are dug out for medicinal purpose. This leaves the soil exposed as the grasses are also grazed by animals and also collected for roofing the houses. When it rains the entire top and good soil are eroded which makes it difficult for that soil to produce better agricultural products.

Poor people often lack sufficient income and education to afford higher quality life where they can use electricity and also buy electric appliances to ease their domestic life. Instead of cutting trees for fire wood they can use electric stoves for cooking. They can also use electric heaters to warm themselves during winter month. Electricity can also slow down the firewood business as most people will no longer be relying on firewood as it takes time to prepare the fire using wood than just switching on the electricity. The use of electricity will make their lives simpler because it will save time, they won’t go to the field to fetch wood. The chances of been bitten by a snake or get injured are high when they are in field.
They have no quality drinking water as they pollute the rivers by washing inside them and by also using a river as a dumping site for the bins. The lack of education also prohibits them from practicing environmentally sustainable agriculture; protect natural resources against degradation or rehabilitate degraded resources like rivers [6]

In the poorest regions it is estimated that one in five children will not live to see the fifth birthday due to environment-related diseases [7]. Statistics show that almost four million children are dying each year because of acute respiratory infection linked to indoor and out-door air pollution [7]. Other environment-related diseases killing the children are diarrhoea caused by lack of clean water and sanitation and also cholera, malaria and asthma [7].

The better solution which can rescue both the environment and poor people is through the government by increasing the rate of job creation for poor people. If they have jobs they can afford higher quality life which includes affording electricity, they can also afford nice roofing materials instead of using grasses and they can have somewhere to wake up to instead of harvesting the natural resources everyday. Many of poor people are very skilled in a way that a government can build a huge art and craft and timber structures where these people can be employed and still practice their art but in a professional way where the harvesting of plants can be done sustainably.
The government can export these products to other countries where a lot of money can be generated.
Some can also work in guarding the natural environment from culprits. Others can be employed only for harvesting the natural resources for different purposes like medicinal, art and craft, timber, fire wood etc under the supervision of ecologists. This can help in keeping the poor people busy, they will be earning a stable and reliable salary which will keep them away from the natural resources, and after all it will be difficult to access the resources as a close eye will always be kept on them.

They also need to be educated and shown how important the environment is to both people and animals, though education can not always be a solution to all the people, few people can see natural resources in a different way just because of being educated. Though it can take a while to totally eradicate poverty, poor people can still use natural resources in a sustainable way which will still benefit them as well as the environment.


1. Walsh, T. 2005. Causes of Poverty. [Internet]. 2006 Jan 10, 09:21 UTC [cited 2007 Feb 26]. Available from:

2. Anon. 2007. Definition of Poverty [Online]. 2007 Feb 23, 11:08 UTC [cited 2007 Mar 02]. Available from:

3. Anon. 2007. Definitions of Degradation [Online]. 2007 Feb 27, 11:08 UTC [cited 2007 Mar 02]. Available from:

4. Anon. 2007. Definitions of Environmental Degradation [Online]. 2007 Feb 27, 11:14 UTC [cited 2007 Mar 02]. Available from:

5. Mennonite, 1990. Poverty and Environmental Degradation. [Internet]. 2007 Jan 10, 13:55 UTC [cited 2007 Feb 23]. Available from:

6. Andersen, P.P. and Rajul, P. C. 1995. Poverty, food Secutity, and the Environment. [Internet]. 2007 Jan 12, 11:13 UTC [cited 2007 Feb 28]. Available from:

7. Wikipedia contributors. Ten Threats [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2007 Jan 10, 15:17 UTC [cited 2007 Mar 1]. Available from:

Dianah Nangammbi
Cilla CSIR
P.O Box 395
Tel: +27 12 841 2133
Cell: +27 73 121 3589

Conservation Biology Assignments

The Conservation Biology Course assignments will consist of:

Video Reviews:

The following video material will be made available for review (not to

  • Monsters we Meet (three videos)

  • The Real Eve and Man's Jorney

  • Attenborough's State of the pLanet

  • Diamond Guns, Germs and Steel

  • Practical Work (Kruger Field Trip) (30%)

    Research proposals based on the Conservation Biology field trip to the Wits Rural Facility and the Kruger National Park have already been completed. These count 30% towards your final course mark.

    Weblog Contributions(20%)

    Contributions to the Conservation Biology weblog must include two articles consisting of not less than 500 words, and four contributions to other
    contributions (i.e. useful and substantial comments). Articles must have a strong conservation focus, and deal with the role of humans in effecting ecological change. The comments are to address issues raised in the article in question, indicating an issue
    overlooked or where there is an alternative explanation - comments are to be substantive in
    concept rather than in the amount of words.

    Further contributions to the weblog (more articles, comments, etc.) are welcome, and may be considered for purposes of extra credit.

    Exam Quizzes (20%)

    Exam quizzes will be based on the NISL Conservation Biology chapters. The quizzes will be made available upon completion of the other assignments.

    Science Presentation (30%)

    Review a research topic (at least three papers will be provided) and
    the review is prepared as a Power Point - similar to the Invasion

    The research topics available are as follows:
    1. Armageddon vs Extinction

    2. Clovis Society and the North American Overkill

    3. GMO - Safe for Society, Safe for the Environment?

    4. mt-DNA - An African Origin for humans and how the world was invaded

    5. Y-chromosome- An African Origin for humans and how the world was invaded

    6. Neolithical Revolution - the first big impacts of humans on Ecosystems

    7. New Zealand - The big impact that humans had on an Island Ecosystem

    8. Romans - an ancient civilization's ecological footprint
    9. Developing Ecological Networks for Conserving Europe's Biodiversity

    10. Ecological Corridors and their use for Conservation Planning

    A time table will be provided next week, as will a full list of suggested readings for the science presentations and copies of the video material to be reviewed. In the meantime, feel free to contact me via email for any further information.