By Tatiana LeGrand, Humanitas Global
March 3rd is World Wildlife Day. Established three years ago, this year the highlight is on our involvement clearly demonstrated in theme “The future of wildlife is in our hands”. It is indeed about a collective effort. It isn’t only governments, enforcement officers, and park rangers that need to scale up efforts to protect wildlife. It also demands citizen’s involvement. So, let’s celebrate and raise awareness about the importance of the world’s wildlife!
Wildlife’s countless values
Being able to watch wildlife in its natural habitat is one of those invaluable experiences that shape our perception of nature. We don’t know and probably will never be fully aware of the role that wild species play in providing important ecosystem services. Recognizing the dimensions of value wildlife and natural environments represent, natural parks, biosphere reserves and other protected areas have been created to safeguard them. But we still live in a world where human actions infringe upon and continue to threaten wildlife and their environments. Consider this evidence of human impact on wildlife: according to the Living Planet report by the World Wildlife Fund, population sizes of vertebrate species – mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish—have declined by 52 percent over the last 40 years! New research evidence shows that East and West Africa could lose up to 50% their lions by 2035.
A multitude of human-induced challenges
As alarming as it might sound, endangering or causing the extinction of wildlife species can provide a paycheck. Think illegally imported ivory jewelry and other animal parts used for medicinal purposes, otherwise known as wildlife smuggling. According to the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, this industry is worth up to $2 billion a year. But we can still act: report such sales if observed or suspected and refrain from buying such products, eliminating demand. Ivory trade has caused the endangerment of elephants and while some success has been reached though abandoning the use of ivory for piano keys, for instance, it’s still a long road to reducing the number of animals killed. A recent study suggested that 75% of elephant populations in Africa are shrinking due to poaching. Bushmeat hunting is also still driving wildlife decline (including fish supplies), in West Africa for instance, and in areas where people depend on local wildlife for food security. In response, scientists are emphasizing the urgent need for developing protein alternatives to bushmeat and improving fisheries management. There are also individuals who trophy hunt, which can negatively impact species survival. Everyone knows the story of Cecil the lion!
Several other human-induced issues emerged rather recently and include, for instance, massive development projects that aim at enlarging road networks in Africa that will likely diminish the pristine wilderness areas and affect migration routes used by wildlife. Or antimicrobial resistance found in wildlife species. And of course, let’s not forget about pollution, or exploitation of natural resources that cause habitat loss for many wild species. All that is being magnified by climate change making wildlife conservation a real challenge.
Conservation as a process
Wildlife conservation is a tricky task. It is not only about the protection of wild plant and animal species but also their habitats. It is a process of improving awareness today for future generations to enjoy, respect and acknowledge the significant role provided by the wildlife we know. While World Wildlife Day is a day to celebrate and a call to action, wildlife conservation and attention to the issues shouldn’t be confined to a single day.
The importance of biodiversity is included in several of the Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted in 2015. Such as Goal 15, which is dedicated to land biodiversity and emphasizes the importance of protection, restoration and promotion of the sustainable use of ecosystems and halting biodiversity loss.
So, let’s celebrate and raise the awareness of the world’s wildlife and let it not fade away beyond just one day.
Room and Need for Action
There is a lot to be done… From cooperation among farmers and conservation specialists on creating wildlife corridors and protecting regions of rich biodiversity, like in the Congo Basin where 39 percent of the region is threatened by severe hunting pressure.
Last but not least, let’s go back to public involvement in the wildlife conservation dialogue. However, is that a dialogue? Or is raising awareness a one-sided issue that doesn’t receive a response most of the time? There should be a focus on finding ways to contribute to wildlife conservation in our day-to-day lives, financially support sustainable management, and improve governance of natural resources.
And what we can do in the meantime, is at least start small! Leave some fallen leaves in the garden to create a habitat for lizards and other native creatures. In the end, some of them are less known and beautiful than others (when’s the last time you saw a Chinese Giant Salamander stuffed animal?), but they still deserve and require protection. But, ultimately, acting and raising awareness should also be about sharing what you know about and your love of wildlife. After all, their future is in our hands!