A World of Answers - brought to you by University of Pretoria

'It doesn't matter where you are, you are embedded in nature.

Why do animals become extinct and why it's important to have a conversation about why this is a critical issue well before that happens?

Aubrey Masango explores the vital importance of understanding our integral relationship with nature with entomology and zoology professor, Robin Crewe, and the director of mammal research, Prof André Ganswindt, both at the University of Pretoria.

Listen to the insightful podcast below and read further about the informative interviews.

Ganswindt disagrees that nature conservation and retaining biodiversity is elitist. He says rather than talking about 'us and nature' rather see humans as part of nature.

If we are part of something that is might be under threat, then we have to look after it.

Prof André Ganswindt, Mammal Research Institute Director - University of Pretoria

The more integrated our relationship with nature the easier it is to understand the importance of preserving it.

We tend to think of nature as things that are found in nature reserves, rather than the things that are around us in the city or the things that are present on our farms.

Professor Robin Crewe, Entomology and Zoology Departments - University of Pretoria

Nature is really a continuum. It doesn't matter where you are, you are embedded in nature.

Professor Robin Crewe, Entomology and Zoology Departments - University of Pretoria

Crewe insists we all need to understand this continuum and how we form part of it wherever we live.

It is not just about the nature reserves, he says.

Ganswindt says the discussion often revolves around the importance of preserving biodiversity, with the argument being made that by reducing that, we are challenging nature.

He disagrees with the further argument that we are thereby destroying the planet.

What we are doing, is we are trying our best to rather make that planet more challenging for us to live in.

Prof André Ganswindt, Mammal Research Institute Director - University of Pretoria

Crewe says most people have a 'humancentric' view of how we interact with the world but we need to understand the dynamics of what is happening in the world outside us.

In earlier times, he says, people lived much closer to nature.

With modern agriculture, we have buffered ourselves from that, but the reality is still there.

Professor Robin Crewe, Entomology and Zoology Departments - University of Pretoria

We need to protect our natural resources, he says.

He adds that humans may well become extinct.

But if we want to survive, we have got to understand how what we are doing is impacting on that larger world...and what we should be doing to minimise that impact and make sure that the world remains sustainable.

Professor Robin Crewe, Entomology and Zoology Departments - University of Pretoria

The professors discuss the importance of distinguishing exotic versus indigenous species.

Professor Ganswindt says having a global rather than a narrow approach is important.

It becomes quite challenging for me to say that we have a locally threatened species, whereas, on the global scale, that species is doing quite well.

Prof André Ganswindt, Mammal Research Institute Director - University of Pretoria

He says it is more important to assist species that are threatened at a global level.

Honey bees are regarded as crucial to the planet's future survival, argues Crewe.

Humans have had a relationship with honey bees for their entire evolutionary history.

Professor Robin Crewe, Entomology and Zoology Departments - University of Pretoria

They play a role from one of cultural importance to being a food supply source, through to the crucial pollination of flowers.

If you take them out, then those plant communities start changing because the reproduction of the plants is affected.

Professor Robin Crewe, Entomology and Zoology Departments - University of Pretoria

What about rhino? Are they important to save?

The Rhino is a charismatic species, part of the Big Five, and involved illegal trade, and that is why there is a big focus on it.

Professor Robin Crewe, Entomology and Zoology Departments - University of Pretoria

But to save the rhinos, he says one has to conserve the entire habitat in which they live and this conversation needs to happen more widely.

In the case of the honey bees, it is pure self-interest, in the case of the rhinos, it is about preserving something we have got and not lose them permanently.

Professor Robin Crewe, Entomology and Zoology Departments - University of Pretoria

Is it not time for the rhino to disappear? what value does it have?

To define value is a very complex question.

Prof André Ganswindt, Mammal Research Institute Director - University of Pretoria

For some, experiencing a creature such as a rhino is value enough, while others need a link to be made to its use as a food source, suggests Ganswindt. There are also important spiritual and religious connections to certain species, he adds.

We often draw those arguments out of our own perspective and world view, he concludes.


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