One life opinion piece: Wildlife Conservation Day

04 December 2020

Today is Wildlife Conservation Day, a day that provides us with an opportunity to both reflect on the state of the planet from the wild animals perspective and to highlight the rarely championed actions being taken at the community level to preserve the natural environment and so protect biodiversity.

We are all aware of the devastating impact our actions are having on the natural environment. A growing human population and increased consumerism is leading to wide scale destruction of natural forests to make way for agricultural lands to grow feedstuffs for animals and products such as palm oil for our consumption.

Oceans are under threat due to large scale pollution from mega livestock farms’ discharges, international shipping and the dumping of waste products into our seas, and our riverine ecosystems are threatened due to the continued construction of hydro-electric dams and uncontrolled discharges from environmentally toxic industries.

Wild animals themselves are also directly threatened due to our desire to consume them, or to house them in our homes as collectible commodities. Many trillions of both aquatic and terrestrial animals are being fished, snared, trapped and shipped to all corners of the world as commodities in both legal and illegal markets.

All of these factors continue to be an assault on wild animal populations that remain living in their natural environments. A 2019 UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report stated that ‘Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely.

News of environmental destruction and species loss reaches us on a  daily basis and whilst many of us are aware and in many cases actively support the efforts of international conservation bodies to protect natural lands, we rarely learn of the habitat conservation efforts of those within the local communities, living within and beside these natural environments, and the successes and struggles many are having in conserving and preserving their local ecosystems.

For more than 30 years, a community in the central Philippines has been actively involved in reforesting and protecting a mangrove site in the province of Aklan. Due to the efforts of the local community the mangrove has expanded from 50 to 220 hectares, resulting in the successful transformation of a once-barren mudflat into one of the few remaining large patches of mangrove forests in the country. Replanting the mangroves has paid off, both increasing biodiversity as well as providing a natural forest to shield the community from the extreme impacts of the typhoons that routinely tear through the Philippines.

Protecting natural forests and wildlife has been a way of life for indigenous communities inside the Similipal Biosphere in Odisha, India. In the early 70s, wildlife and forest cover of Similipal had started degrading due to rampant smuggling of illegally-felled timber with the associated loss of biodiversity due to habitat destruction and poaching activities.  Despite rampant corruption within the political system set up to protect the forest, the residents of the biosphere took action into their own hands. Their efforts have since helped enrich biodiversity inside the sanctuary, recharge water sources and have resulted in an enhanced livelihood for the residents. The community is conscious about sustainable usage of forest products and subsequent community ownership has resulted in the development of a controlled approach to forest use, resulting in self sufficiency and protection of the habitat.

The Caru Indigenous Territory within the Amozonian rainforest contains some of the last stretches of intact, contiguous forest in the state of Maranhão, Brazil. It is also under threat with some of the country’s highest rates of deforestation and land conflicts over the past decade.  It is protected by the Indigenous Guajajara people, ‘forest guardian patrols’ have been instrumental in enforcing protections and preventing loggers from entering Indigenous territories.

And their community patrols are being effective. In 2018, there was only 63 hectares (156 acres) of deforestation in the reserve, compared to 2016, when deforestation reached a high of 2,000 hectares (4,940 acres).  The Caru Indigenous Territory, has seen 4% forest loss in comparison to the state of Maranhão, which has lost almost a quarter of its tree cover since 2000, according to Global Forest Watch data

A 2018 report by the Rights and Resources Initiative, states that almost 300 billion metric tons of carbon are stored in collectively managed lands across all forest biomes, and numerous studies have found that the best way to protect forests is to empower the people who live in them, granting them land rights and legal standing.

This is especially true for Indigenous-held lands in places like Brazil. Between 2000 and 2015, legally designated Indigenous territories in Brazil saw a tenth the amount of forest loss than non-Indigenous territories.  Empowering indigenous people to protect intact forests is one of the most effective ways to conserve the habitat as well as providing a vital tool in the fight against global warming.

From these three examples it is clear that local communities around the world are instrumental in wildlife conservation and on this day we should celebrate and support their actions. 

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