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ESI Interviews

Interviews with Pierre Fidenci, Founder and President of Endangered Species International.

May 2009

J.C: Can you tell us about Endangered Species International (ESI)?

P.F: ESI is still a relatively young organization in contrast to Greenpeace for example. ESI was born in part because of the need to create new organizations that represent the fundamentals of environmentalism and conservation. Saving biodiversity by looking at all factors including economic ones. We look for and implement unconventional solutions to protect and defend vanishing biodiversity. We know the ground and the people better than anybody else. If you take large groups, they are governed by people who have lost contact with the ground reality, leading to failure or poor results.

J.C: Are you disappointed about other environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs)?

P.F: Let’s face it; a great number of NGOs are doing fabulous work like the Center for Biological Diversity. Other NGOs like World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy for example have too much close ties to corporations. They tend to shy away from criticizing their corporate benefactors. Some NGOs are characterized by bad communications, lack of transparency, cultural insensitivity and broken promises. Sadly, others are corrupted, lacking experience, misusing funds, and setting up political environment against another. They forgot that saving biodiversity and endangered species is a common and symbiotic effort; there is not one group who can do it all even at a regional scale! Of course, when somebody gives money to a special group, it is very likely that he does not know how effective the donation will be used and working on the ground. You have to be inside the system to really know what is going on.

J.C: Do you think that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Conservation International (CI) should be supported financially as they are now?

P.F: I think it is not a good idea that few organizations have the monopoly of conservation. New ideas and solutions will come from many other organizations and support should be more widespread to allow better results. Also, independence, transparency, and integrity are not often the strength of those large NGOs. We need to balance the resources to other groups who have proven records on the ground.

J.C: I know that you have a special interest in amphibians; can you tell us about their status?

P.F: I have loved amphibians since I have been very young. They play an important role in the ecosystems like eating mosquitoes, they are beautiful, and they could provide the cure for major human diseases! Overall, amphibians are declining everywhere and we have lost already more than 100 species! That’s enormous and scary. We also are starting to understand that it is not only frogs that are declining but also salamanders worldwide including in the Neotropics.

J.C: What about the other plant and animal species?

P.F: Our current knowledge tells us that we have lost about 1,000 species in our recent times. However, scientists know that is an underestimate of the reality since we have evaluated a tiny number of all species on earth. Further, we tend to overlook at certain groups like mammals that are easy to evaluate and likeable but there are thousands of other life forms, like bacteria, that are probably going extinct at the moment we are talking. Coral reefs are in great danger as well. 70 per cent of the world’s coral reefs may well be destroyed over the next 20-40 years, unless we stop illegal fishing, pollution, sewage, erosion and unsuitable tourism. Staghorn (Acroporid) corals face the highest risk of extinction, with 52 percent of species listed as threatened.

J.C: ESI is active in Congo, can you tell us more about gorillas?

P.F: We have identified an area in Congo where gorillas are heavily hunted for bushmeat and their populations are in great danger. Gorilla meat is sold pre-cut for about $6 per 'hand-sized' piece. Our goal is to stop illegal hunting of gorillas including other endangered species, to protect biodiversity, and to foster local economic alternatives. We have a very strong support from local communities and we have made great progress so far. Some of the hunters are willing to stop killing gorillas as long as they can have a work. Conservation awareness and some cultural changes are also needed to protect gorillas and their habitats.

J.C: You often mention the oceans as priority conservation areas?

P.F: The oceans are the forgotten ecosystems of this century. Less than one percent is protected worldwide in contrast to ten percent of land. During the late 20th century, there was a great increase in global awareness, but it never really translated into worldwide marine conservation. The oceans continue to be vastly polluted and abused. From plastic bags to pesticides, most of the waste we produce eventually reaches the oceans.

J.C: In one of your speeches you said that cutting down the amount we consume is good for the planet, can you elaborate on that?

P.F: Yes, there is no doubt about that, we need to shift our way of life to more basic needs rather than false needs that have been driven by marketing and advertising. Innovation and research must be encouraged and pursued, but our current system is going nowhere. Creating national parks and recycling will not be enough to save the biodiversity and ourselves. We need to shift the way we have been living for the last 100 years. There is no question that we cannot live as a whole planet like in the United States, Europe, Japan, and South Korea. We, people from the richer nations need to show and start the change now to make sure that our species can live much longer in a fair world with respect for living creatures around us.

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