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When science hijacks conservation funding

A scientist’s job is to create new knowledge. Thus it is not surprising that scientists are most interested in their own research. Scientists use many methods to raise funds to support their research agendas and build their reputations. Scientists collect information, publish their results, and seek out new opportunities. Because science is a tool that can be used for conservation, scientists often seek donations from conservation organizations to support their research projects.

Conservation requires mitigating threats to species. Conservationists use all the information available, including scientific information provided by scientists, to mitigate threats. The information provided by scientists is often used by conservationists. The problem arises when science hijacks conservation funding.

One insidious problem being inflicted on conservation is the diversion of conservation funding into the hands of scientists who use the plight of threatened species to support their research projects that do not have any conservation impact.

The phrases “little is known about this species,” “what we discover can be used for conservation purposes,” or “what we discover will directly influence management actions” are frequently used in proposals soliciting funding. These vaguely worded phrases often translate to “we hope that maybe someone someday makes use of this information for conservation purposes.” The word conservation appears in the abstract of the solicitation and that is the last time it appears.

Hornbill in Thailand

In summary, there is a diversion of conservation funding going into science projects that have little conservation impact because there is no way to mitigate threats to the species that was used to secure the funding. This diversion of precious conservation funding must stop. When the name of a threatened species is used to raise funds for a science project, it is incumbent on donor agencies to ask themselves how the new knowledge will actually mitigate threats to the threatened species. This usually means that someone working in situ to mitigate threats can put this knowledge to good use. In many cases, there is no such in situ effort.

There is no question that good conservation depends, at least in part, on good science. The production of new knowledge is a good thing. But let’s make sure the new knowledge gained by scientists and paid for by conservation funding can be implemented to mitigate threats to the very species that was used to secure the funding.

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