20061231

 

From the perspective of a private donor

Excerpt from California Studies in Food and Culture No. 6., University of California Press website:

"...A few years ago, I was invited to visit the home of a Swiss compatriot, an elderly lady by the name of Martha ("Poppi) Thomas living the life of the privileged in upstate New York. I knew that she was a trustee and a serious financial supporter of the Bronx Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Society, and after lunch I showed her a copy of the Slaughter of the Apes brochure that included some of my photos and a little explanatory text...Her reaction was more than shock. Her conservation world had just crumbled. Since she felt very strongly about the environment and animal welfare, she had been making major donations to conservation organizations essentially as her way of getting a good night's sleep. After leafing through the pamphlet together, we left the luncheon table and all the other guests before dessert. Her chauffeur drove us a few miles to the home of Howdy Phipps, who was then the big boss of WCS. We motored through a beautiful estate right up to the main entrance of a mansion. Poppi informed the servants that we wanted to see Mr. Phipps immediately. She was informed that Mr. and Mrs. Phipps had retired for their Sunday afternoon rest. She made it clear that she did not care. We waited in the hall until the awakened couple descended the wide staircase. We all went to the living room but never got to sit down. Poppi shoved the pamphlet under Mr. Phipps's nose, wanting an immediate response, wanting to know if indeed this sort of thing was still going on in Africa. Of course, I felt like sinking away into the parquet floor...As the CEO of WCS, Howdy Phipps would have a good idea what was going on in the field, and certainly his Africa experts at the Bronx office and the people in the field in Africa would have been able to tell him that things were not under control—but that is not the message on which money is raised from supporters like Poppi. Poppi, of course, received the WCS annual report with the largely green world map in the center, but she would not have been privy to what I had begun to see as the organization's policy of not publicizing the bushmeat problem in order to maintain "good relations with the African government[s] and indigenous people so that the Society's conservation projects will be permitted to continue." In this case, WCS maintained these "good relations," but on the back of the very wildlife it was meant to protect...What I found surprising was that somebody like Poppi, a very alert and compassionate lady, believed in all the beautiful "world in order" images and documentaries that the Discovery and National Geographic channels were feeding the American and world public almost 24 hours a day. She also believed the WCS annual report, with its smiles and promises and that largely green world map. She was genuinely convinced that her donations and those of her friends were buying the gorillas and chimps of Africa a safe world...This gave me the first inkling of the power of selling "feel-good conservation"—on the back of small and ultimately ineffectual "Band-Aid projects"—and the extent to which the conservation establishment had come to depend on it. Individual donors and, I am sure, even the big institutional ones badly want to believe that their money pays for a better world. In the case of WCS, where the top seven executives earned a total of more than U.S. $2.6 million in the year 2000, keeping the cash flow going has to be priority number one..."





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