This paper argues that the conservation sector in South Africa is fossilized – unsustainable, outmoded and resistant to change – in two integrated ways. First, it is completely dependent on and steeped in fossil fuels and mineral extraction. The historical development of the South African economy's reliance on fossil and mineral resources provides the basis for this dependency but has since tentacularized into the very fabric of conservation and associated wildlife economies in the country. This unsustainable basis of the sector places a major stain on the ways in which South Africa's biodiversity is ‘saved’ for posterity. Second and relatedly, the social and labour relations that make up conservation in South Africa are fossilized in particularly racialized and gendered ways. This is socially unsustainable, as most of these relations are unjust and exploitative. Building on theories of fossil energy and labour relations that emphasise their everyday character, we argue that confronting the fossilized state of conservation in South Africa is necessary in and of itself, and a prerequisite for a broader societal transformation to sustainability. We conclude that the effective chances for this to happen are low, especially given the massive conservation attention on combatting rhino poaching in the last decade. This seems to have reinforced rather than alleviated the status quo.
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