“To take advantage of new ways”

Simon Anstey is the Director of our Africa Programme. He is guiding the work of our projects in a future of ever-increasing challenges.

Dr Anstey, you manage a conservation programme with currently ten projects in five countries, the largest within FZS. What do you regard as the main challenge across all of these?

Simon Anstey, Frankfurt Zoological Society Africa Director. Photo: Patrick Eickemeier/FZS
Well, I'm new and still working through, but I think there is one common challenge that would unite most of our initiatives. There are these relatively small areas in Africa which are still running as semi-natural systems. And they are faced with growing human populations and rising expectations in a sense of development. So, one of the great challenges is to find ways how these critical protected areas can contribute in terms of their intrinsic value to both conservation but also to the economic and social development that people are seeking.

What’s the biggest challenge to you as a person?

It is challenging to bring my background in protected area work together with my experience in community-based natural resource management. This is right at the crux of the main challenge to all our projects: how on one hand can we protect these jewels, these really important areas, but balance that with the aspirations and the needs for development of rural citizens in Africa? I know that most of the people here do have a very strong conservation ethic, almost inherently, because of their histories and their cultures. Still, we need to broaden the support from local rural communities but also the decision-making bodies on the government level. Without that, it'd be extremely difficult to maintain protected areas as islands in a sea of other kinds of challenges.

How are you personally qualified to do that?

Firstly, most of my life has been in Africa. And secondly, I have worked in institutions and in roles which have combined wildlife management and securing the rights and the benefits for communities. Rights and benefits that make wildlife and natural resource management a competitive land use.

What do you like about the Frankfurt approach to conservation? And what do you want to change?

Frankfurt Zoological Society has always been doing very practical work in Africa. It's got great resources in terms of the people who work for it. I think as a site-based organization it's also fairly unusual. There is already a process of evolution which is very welcome to me. Many of the projects are actively engaging with the communities in their areas. And there is another critical development: Currently, much in conservation depends on donor aid money. But this source is at best stable and yet the needs are ever-increasing. We need to be innovative in looking for ways that long-term investments can help us to continue our work.
Simon Anstey, FZS Africa Director "I think there's an enormous amount to learn from studying wilderness areas." Simon Anstey, FZS Africa Director

Do you want to go to new locations in Africa?

I think for this year certainly it is important to consolidate where we are. Many of our projects are facing great opportunities for strengthening. We've got different management models appearing in different parts of the Africa Programme, very positive ways of going forward, testing out ways of co-management with the governments or with other stakeholders. But there is a very interesting opportunity for a new project in northern Zambia and there are other areas in Southern Africa which could be very interesting to explore and see what kind of support they might best need.

One change is under way: The FZS Africa Regional Office is moving.

I think the change from Seronera in the Serengeti National Park to the city of Arusha, while it's almost a break with the past, is a huge opportunity to take advantage of new ways that we can work in Africa and new partnerships. Being based in Serengeti has been very powerful and symbolic for FZS. And our Serengeti Conservation Project will remain here. But we want the Africa Regional Office to be more efficient, more effective in its support to conservation in Africa.

You’ve mentioned population growth as an overarching challenge. Africa’s population is about 1.2 billion today and expected to double by the middle of the century. How can a conservation organization deal with this?

It's a much wider issue for almost all African countries. It has implications for many different aspects like the ability to provide schooling, health services and more. For FZS, there's no direct way that we will address this. But in a number of our projects we are working in partnership with organizations that have particular expertise in this area. We need to learn what have been the experiences on other continents. What are the implications of rapid urbanization and what does this mean for the competitiveness of using these areas of rural Africa with economies based on the sustainable use of natural resources?

FZS focuses on ‘wilderness’ areas. What does this term mean to you?

It's quite an aesthetic concept in many ways and the word meaning varies between different cultures. I think wildernesses are very important to people. They stand for the ability to get away from pressures and stresses that urban life has created. There is a definite need for these large systems where we can look at processes carrying on that are not largely dominated by humans. But I've rarely come across a wilderness in Africa that doesn't have people in it. I think there's an enormous amount to learn from studying these areas, about how we can live in balance with nature whether we call them wildernesses or large socio-ecological systems.