Wildlife conservation is the protection of animal and plant species and their ecosystems and habitats.
This conservation can extend to all species, even those that have stable populations, but more specifically, it relates to species that are in danger of extinction and are declining rapidly due to non-natural causes or the impact of humans.
In essence, it involves humans taking action to prevent species from becoming extinct. By protecting one species, we can often positively impact others, as ecosystems have a delicate balance and biodiversity is integral to the survival of animals and plants.
Why Do We Need Wildlife Conservation?
There has been a 60% decline in animal populations in 40 years, which is 1000 times higher than the natural level of species decline. This has been mostly because of humanity’s negative impact on the planet, resulting in habitat loss, reduced animal numbers because of wildlife trading, and increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has led to changes to the climate.
Scientists suggest that we are entering a sixth mass extinction phase, which is defined as 75% of all species in existence being lost in a short amount of time relative to the age of the earth. To put this into perspective, the last mass extinction occurred 65 million years ago when the age of dinosaurs ended.
In the sixth mass extinction, however species are declining so rapidly that there could be a chain reaction that causes many ecosystems to collapse at once, completely altering life as we know it.
Unlike previous mass extinctions that were because of volcanic eruptions or meteors, this is because of the effects of humans, which is why human intervention through wildlife conservation is so important.
What are the Goals of Wildlife Conservation?
1. Increase Species Population Numbers
Wildlife conservation aims to increase the number of individuals in a species to reflect previous levels, or researched levels. The idea is to bring balance to the local ecosystem by finding ways to increase the populations of species and protect them in the long term.
A successful example of wildlife conservation is the African Black Rhino. Its population had been reduced to only 2,410 individuals in 1995 due to poaching and habitat loss, but it now stands at over 5,000 thanks to wildlife conservation efforts. This was tackled by introducing rangers to protect the rhino, providing education to local people about the importance of the species, and working with the local government to implement laws to protect the local wildlife.
There are many instances of conservation successfully increasing the population levels of the species, as this is the crucial first step in preventing the immediate extinction of the species.
2. Protect Ecosystems and Biodiversity
Conserving one species can often lead to benefits for many others, as it entails protection of the habitat and preservation of the food chain. This is particularly evident with the conservation of large predators that sit at the top of the food chain, which have been found to play a vital role in ecosystem security.
Many species have been hunted to extinction by humans across the world, which has led to large predators being the focus of wildlife conservation.
In 1995, within Yellowstone National Park, grey wolves were reintroduced in an effort to conserve this important species and reduce the number of elk. Conservation efforts led to some revolutionary discoveries and unexpected benefits to the ecosystem.
There were also population increases of other species like beavers and birds, improvements to the water systems, and increases in native vegetation like willow and aspen trees. This benefit to the wider ecosystem was not initially anticipated but was entirely because of the impact the wolves had on the grazing habits of their prey.
By increasing efforts to conserve a specific species, it has been shown to help preserve all the species within the ecosystem and balance biodiversity, which is the aim of wildlife conservation.
3. Educate and Liberate Local Communities
A key goal of conservation revolves around educating and working with local communities. Indigenous, native, and local people are the natural stewards of the land and often have excellent knowledge and important experiences that will help in conserving wildlife.
By including local people in conservation, this will ensure the long-term protection and survival of many species.
It is important to consider the effects that conservation may have on a community; there could be a tense relationship between the locals and wildlife that leads to hunting, or even economic constraints resulting in increased farming and habitat loss.
Solving environmental problems is only one piece of the puzzle, as people are living in increasingly closer contact with animals and plants.
The conservation of species in Nepal and India led to the transformation of the Khata Corridor from desolate farmland to a wildlife corridor that connects two important national parks. This work was conducted in collaboration and consultation with the local people who depend upon the land.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was able to transform the area to conserve wildlife, whilst also supporting local people. They helped to install predator proof fences for over 600 families’ livestock enclosures to decrease instances of negative interactions with wildlife and assisted many families to venture into eco-tourism which increased their earnings.
It is only when conservation works with local people and we show respect for the people who live closest to this wildlife that it proves to be successful in the long term.
4. Encourage People to Live Sustainably
The overarching message of wildlife conservation centers on the idea that humanity needs to live more sustainably to protect the global environment. This is particularly important as climatic changes lead to habitat destruction, rapid declines in populations, and the extinction of many important species.
Coral reef conservation highlights this issue, as although local conservation is important, climate change has led to uncontrollable effects on these ecosystems on a local level.
Coral bleaches when the temperature of the water becomes too high, so the algae that live within the coral, which provides it with color, is expelled, leaving the animal vulnerable.
There is coral conservation that is focused on a local level, which aims to protect these organisms in several ways, like cloud brightening or growing species of temperature resilient coral.
However, the bleaching events are hard to predict as they happen rapidly and are caused by sea temperature increases relating to global climate change. To conserve the coral effectively, greenhouse gas emissions would need to be reduced on a global scale in order to lessen these temperature increases.
Conserving on a local level will ensure that species are protected but sharing a message more widely about the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions will make positive effects globally on the conservation of wildlife.
5. Promotes Tourism and Preserves Local Heritage
A protected area with an abundance of wildlife encourages tourism which increases wildlife conservation as it becomes an important part of the local economy.
This can be advantageous for wildlife conservation, like in the Galapagos, where marine ecosystem tourism results in over $170 million dollars a year for the local economy and supports around a third of all jobs in the area. This is because of the unusual and rare marine animals that can be found in this area which draw divers and marine tourists from around the world.
One shark has been estimated to be worth over $5 million dollars over its lifetime, which is a significantly higher amount than fishermen receive for a dead shark. The economic benefits of preserving the local wildlife have led to new laws being passed to limit fishing areas and protect shark species.
What Can We Do to Help Conserve Wildlife?
The aim of conservation is to protect wildlife and habitats in order to stabilize population numbers and protect the delicate balance of ecosystems across the world.
There are many things that can be done to support conservation, including supporting government policy that prioritizes the protection of the natural world.
1. Better Protections on Land
On a global scale, humanity needs to place better protections on land to prevent the destruction of wild habitats, like deforestation for agriculture. This will naturally conserve wildlife as plants and animals have more area to live and biodiversity can increase.
2. Donating to Organizations
There are also things that can be done on a personal level, including donating to reputable organizations that are dedicated to conserving wildlife.
Volunteering to help these organizations or working directly in conservation research is another avenue, as is staying informed and discussing conservation with your friends, family, and colleagues to spread the word.
4. Switching Renewable Energy Sources
To mitigate the effects of climate change, switching to renewable energy sources is an ideal step as well as reducing energy consumption in general.
5. Eating a Plant-based Diet
Eating a plant-based diet can help to lessen the impact animal agriculture has on the world and reduce habitat loss.
6. Support Climate Positive Organizations
It is also important to support climate positive companies by only investing in or purchasing from organizations that are dedicated to tackling climate change.
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