And although I adore the idea of raising money under superior motives, I believe translating this selfless and noble philosophy into practice, especially when the real money starts flowing, contradicts our very nature and generally leads to mal practice. But my recent visit to the Cat Survival Trust based in Welwyn, Hertfordshire, just a pebbles throw from London, led me to question my generalised attitude towards charities.
I caught the 9am train from Kings Cross on a grey and drizzling morning in June, in the hope that Cat Survival Trust might give me a job. As the landscape began shaking off the tainted grubby streets of London, I embraced the change of scenery and fell into a daze gazing out at the gentle rolling hills of Hertfordshire, dotted with livestock. I began asking myself, ‘how on earth could a meagre charity based in this rural and rainy corner of England possibly help save a snow leopard in Nepal or a cheetah in Tanzania’.
Upon my arrival at sleepy little Welwyn station, I was collected by Dr Terry Moore, genius and Honorary Director of the trust. I felt privileged to be guided around Cat Survival Trust’s more than humble farm accompanied by the enlightened commentary of Dr Moore. I felt myself opening up to his attitudes and ideas as he launched grenades into my wall of cynicism. I even got to cradle one of the Trust’s recently born and highly endangered snow leopard cubs.
But what struck me the most and which is the reason for this entry, is the shear simplicity and visible effectiveness of Dr Moore’s method to save the big cats – a method which seems even too obvious for most major environmental charities.
Cat Survival Trust buys land. More specifically, it buys up acres of habitat in which big cats move before other companies such as loggers or farmers can get their hands, or in this case chainsaws on it. The Cat Survival Trust uses the land for research purposes like studying the effects of climate change on the cats and their habitat, but the land and its inhabitants remains otherwise undisturbed.
In 1991, Dr Moore purchased 10,000 acres of land in Misiones, North east Argentina within which the number of big cats has multiplied from just 40 in 1991 to more than 70 today. They raised the 300,000 pounds in a matter of months and it came from just more than 2,400 individual.
The Trust is aspiring to purchase another 30,000 acres in various countries in the near future. What I find inspiring here is how such a humble charity, which such limited resources and in the middle of know where can move so much.
Campaigns such as these which involve the purchase of virgin land are active "carbon credit project" which will conserve carbon sinks, unlike the many schemes currently in existence which have huge overheads and/or are just an excuse to raise more general government taxation.
Safeguarding land not only improves the chances of survival for big cats, it also protects all other species of both flora and fauna within the food chain, many of which may be endangered – so two birds with one stone.
Buying up habitat is the most simple and effective solution to most environmental problems and its straight forward successes do make me wonder why other environmental NGOs, who have millions in their bank accounts, have not followed suit.
If all the major players – WWF, Greenpeace, Friend of the Earth, etc - invested just a percentage of their income in land purchase, just imagine how much rainforest could be spared and the future of its inhabitants secured.
The role of the millionaire NGOs is of course important because they have the capacity to reach huge audiences who might otherwise remain unfazed. However, rather than focusing on finding solutions to the problems about which they preach, they continually spread hopelessness by launching marathons of depressing campaigns which either guilt people into donations or causes them to turn away.
I don’t know about you but I am sick and tired of feeling helpless in the shadow of our earth’s destruction? I am sick of hearing that the situation is generally hopeless but things could change if I donate a 10er.
I don’t want my donations to pay for some spoilt researcher’s 4star accommodation in Thailand or for extravagant office buildings in Geneva . Much of the money raised seems to be swallowed by these NGO’s expensive ‘overheads’ which no visible betterment to the problem.
It is true administration costs need to be covered and research must be carried out, but most successful NGOs have gone overboard in their expenses and the people who run them have bowed to the pressure of making money for personal gain. The worst part is that we know there are better solutions out there and the habitat which is most at risk (in Brazil, India, Argentina, etc) is usually dirt cheap!
I know that I want my donations to DO something I can see! I want to know that I have directly made the difference and it’s possible. Cat Survival Trust has pioneered the solution – launching campaigns to raise money which will go directly towards land purchase and help secure vast expanses of habitat. Donations will simultaneously protect the predators at the top of the food chain, as well as any other monkey, newt, or orchid, living there, not to mention the carbon sinks. It is an all inclusive deal – so what is everyone waiting for?