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According to a recent analysis, the sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth is accelerating. More than 500 species of land animals are on the brink of extinction and are likely to be lost within 20 years; the same number were lost over the whole of the last century. The scientists say that without the human destruction of nature, this rate of loss would have taken thousands of years and they warn that this may be a tipping point for the collapse of civilisation. 

The analysis, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at data on 29,000 land vertebrate species compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and BirdLife International. The scientists identified 515 species with populations below 1,000 and about half of these had fewer than 250 individuals remaining. 

What is a Mass Extinction Event?

A mass extinction is usually defined as a loss of about three quarters of all species in existence across the entire Earth over a “short” geological period of time. Given the vast amount of time since life first evolved on the planet, “short” is defined as anything less than 2.8 million years.

The Analysis

The land vertebrates on the brink of extinction, with fewer than 1,000 individuals left, include the Sumatran rhino, the Española giant tortoise and the harlequin frog. Historic data for 77 of these species shows that they had lost 94% of their populations in the last century. Further, more than 400 vertebrate species became extinct in the last century, extinctions that would have taken up to 10,000 years in the normal course of evolution, illustrating humanity’s profound effect on the planet and those that live on it. 

The analysis also showed that 388 species of land vertebrates had populations under 5,000 individuals and 84% lived in the same regions as the species with populations under 1,000, creating the conditions for a domino effect. The scientists warned that ‘extinction breeds extinction’, where close ecological interactions of species on the brink tend to move other species towards extinction, creating the domino effect. 

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sixth mass extinction
A graph showing the number of species with fewer than 1,000 individuals and number of species whose conservation status had been evaluated by the IUCN. These are the species most likely to be lost in the sixth mass extinction event (Source: PNAS).

Causes

The scientists say that the ongoing sixth mass extinction may be the most serious environmental threat to the persistence of civilisation, because it is irreversible. They say that it is caused by an ever-increasing population and consumption rates. Further, species are links in ecosystems and, as they disappear, the species they interact with are likely to disappear as well.

When a species dies out, the Earth’s ability to maintain ecosystem services is eroded to a degree. Humanity needs a relatively stable climate, flows of fresh water, agricultural pest and disease-vector control and pollination for crops, all services that will be impacted as the sixth mass extinction accelerates. 

Professor Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University and one of the researchers of the analysis, says, “When humanity exterminates other creatures, it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting, destroying working parts of our own life-support system. The conservation of endangered species should be elevated to a global emergency for governments and institutions, equal to the climate disruption to which it is linked.”

Consequences of the Sixth Mass Extinction

When the number of individuals in a population or species drops too low, its contributions to ecosystem functions and services become unimportant, its genetic variability and resilience is reduced and its contribution to human welfare may be lost. An example of this includes the overhunting of sea otters, the main predator of kelp-eating sea urchins. A population boom of urchins wreaked havoc on kelp forests in the Bering Sea, leading to the extinction of the kelp-eating Steller’s sea cow.

Another is the bison, which was a keystone species in North America. At one time, it was maintaining the entire ecosystem, supplying meat, robes and fertilisers to Native Americans, and later to Europeans. Is it estimated that 200 years ago, there were 30 to 60 million individuals, but overharvesting for meat and skins and land conversion for farming decimated most populations. By 1844, there were 325 individuals left. They have since recovered to 4,000 wild bison and 500,000 living in enclosures, but the species has not reclaimed its ecological role and its habitats- the prairies- have been mostly destroyed. 

Many endangered species are being affected by the wildlife trade, both legal and illegal, which poses a threat to human health, is a major cause of species extinction and is eroding the ecosystem services that are vital for our survival. The scientists note that the ban on wildlife trade imposed by the Chinese government could be a major conservation measure for many species on the verge of extinction if imposed properly. They propose including wild species for consumption as food as well as medicinal use and pets to curb the acceleration of the sixth mass extinction.

Previous Mass Extinction Events

There have been five mass extinction events during the last 450 million years, each destroying 70-95% of the species of plants, animals and microorganisms that existed previously. These events were caused by massive volcanic eruptions, depletion of ocean oxygen or collision with an asteroid. In each event, it took millions of years to regain the numbers of species comparable to those before the extinction event.

As such, an estimated 2% of the species that ever lived are alive today. Species extinction rates are today hundreds of thousands of times faster than the ‘normal’ rates occurring in the last tens of millions of years. The losses that we are seeing have mostly occurred since our ancestors developed agriculture 11 000 years ago. 

Can We Stop the Sixth Mass Extinction?

The scientists also propose classifying all species with less than 5 000 individuals as critically endangered on the IUCN list as well as implementing a global comprehensive binding agreement requiring parties to address the extinction crisis, especially through tackling the illegal and legal wildlife trade. 

Mark Wright, the director of science at WWF, says, “The numbers in this research are shocking. However, there is still hope. If we stop the land-grabbing and devastating deforestation in countries such as Brazil, we can start to bend the curve in biodiversity loss and climate change. But we need global ambition to do that.”

Humanity relies on biodiversity for its health and wellbeing. The recent COVID-19 pandemic is an example of the dangers of interfering with and damaging the natural world. The scientists urge that a booming human population, destruction of habitats, wildlife trade, pollution and the climate crises must all be urgently tackled. 

There is time to save species, but the window of opportunity is almost closed. We must save what we can, or lose the opportunity to do so forever. There will likely be more pandemics in the future if we continue destroying habitats and trading wildlife for consumption. The fate of humanity and most living species is at stake; it is therefore imperative that we act now. 

December 14 is Monkey Day! In celebration, Earth.Org is republishing this piece from November 16, 2020. Scientists have discovered a new primate species in the jungles of Myanmar- but it’s already at risk of extinction. The Popa langur, named after its home on Mount Popa, is critically endangered with only about 260 individuals left. 

The Popa langur is a type of monkey with a long tail, rings around its eyes and a tuft of fur on top of its head. According to the study, there are an estimated 200 to 260 individuals left, making them critically endangered. 

Why Does This Matter?

Scientists had long suspected that there might be a new species in Myanmar, based on DNA extracted from the droppings of wild monkeys, but it was difficult to find evidence. In the study, researchers at Fauna and Floral International (FFI) and the German Primate Center (GMC) carried out field surveys of the langurs, whose scientific name is “Trachypithecus popa.” They also gathered samples and DNA of all other Trachypithecus species, cousins of the Popa langur. They combined the data from these surveys and samples, as well as data from specimens in museums in London, Leiden, New York and Singapore, which confirmed the existence of the new species. Genetic studies revealed that the Popa langur separated from other known species around one million years ago.

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These efforts revealed the new species, the Popa langur, which is found only in patches of forest in the centre of Myanmar. Most individuals live in a wildlife sanctuary park on the slopes of the pilgrimage site of Mount Popa, hence its name. 

The study says that the Popa langurs were once widespread across central Myanmar but only a few groups survived. Now, the remaining individuals only live in four isolated populations, the largest being on Mount Popa, home to more than 100 langurs. 

The study urged international agencies like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to add the Popa langur to their lists of threatened species. It says, “Improved protected area management, in particular improved law enforcement is essential to stabilise the two largest known populations. The forests in Bago Yoma are severely degraded and fragmented, but could still provide the largest, contiguous habitat if deforestation and forest degradation are reversed through improved forest protection and restoration.”

Featured image by: CNN

In celebration of International Cheetah Day, Earth.Org is republishing this piece from October 1. South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world’s roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It’s also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.

Initiated by the Endangered Wildlife Trust nearly a decade ago, the Cheetah Metapopulation Project recognises that small cheetah populations may be physically secure in several small reserves, but the likelihood of inbreeding remains high if they are kept separated behind fences. By swapping animals between participating reserves, the trust helps private and state wildlife custodians manage overpopulation and underpopulation on their land and also identify new areas of suitable cheetah habitat. Most importantly, swapping animals reduces the risk of inbreeding among closely related animals.

Vincent van der Merwe, coordinator of the trust’s metapopulation initiative, says that when the project began in 2011, there were 217 cheetahs scattered between 41 reserves in South Africa and beyond. Now there are 419 spread across 60 reserves — more than a third of South Africa’s total cheetah population.

Under Pressure

Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana’s cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.

In contrast, numbers of cheetahs in South Africa have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town’s Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he’s confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of cheetahs in South Africa are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighborhing countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.

Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.

Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.

To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.

Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.

“Most of those early attempts were a flop because the cheetahs were not kept in bomas before release and some of the reserves were also poorly fenced — so the cats shot out almost as soon as they were released,” van der Merwe said.

Translocated cheetahs are now generally confined to capture bomas, small fenced enclosures, for four to six weeks to allow them to acclimate to their new home environment prior to being set free.

“We have found that four weeks is normally long enough to break the homing instinct and if you keep them in a boma for longer than that, they tend to lose fitness and condition,” van der Merwe said.

The Phinda private game reserve in Zululand, one of several private game reserves that began re-introducing cheetahs in the early 1990s, recently swapped some of its animals with the nearby Manyoni private game reserve.

“We have found that when we capture and translocate cheetahs to other reserves, the Phinda cats do very well elsewhere because they grew up in a challenging environment,” van der Merwe said. “Because they have to share space with lion, hyena and leopard they have learned to look after themselves — so they are pretty tough animals.”

Charli de Vos, a wildlife monitor at Phinda, says when new cheetahs are released into the reserve in small units, at least one animal is fitted with a VHF tracking collar.

For the first few weeks, she says, the animals’ movements are tracked on a daily basis to ensure that they are not showing “homing” tendencies and that they are also getting used to the presence of tourist and staff vehicles.

“This will apply until the animals have relaxed within their new environment. Once the animals have established a home range within the reserve (approximately three months after release), the VHF collar will be removed. Thereafter the research and monitoring team will try and get a visual of each individual cheetah at least once every second week,” de Vos said.

The reserve also has an online database to record sightings of the animals, with tourist guides, researchers, land managers and land owners able to add sightings.

Despite a cub mortality rate of between 50% and 80% on some reserves, van der Merwe says there are now about 90 cheetahs in the Zululand area. He says cub mortality rates vary according to the number of larger predators such as lions and hyenas.

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Swinging For the Fences

But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.

Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa’s national parks. after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.

Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari in South Africa, says it’s more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.

He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.

“People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly,” Mills said.

He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: “It’s almost like glorified farming.”

“In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas,” he added. “Africa’s human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people’s livestock.”

Mills, who was closely involved in a similar metapopulation project for wild dogs, said he tried to encourage landowners to pull down the boundary fences, to create larger areas of habitat.

“But there are many landowners who don’t want to do that. They want their own areas and their own management programs. But my philosophy is: Take care of the ecosystem so that the animals can take care of themselves, so that nature can run its course,” Mills said.

“Unfortunately, there are so few areas left where nature can have its say these days.”

Van der Merwe says the financial costs of metapopulation management are unavoidable and justified, noting that private reserves bear the overwhelming bulk of the translocation and monitoring costs.

“This is 2020. State funding for conservation has collapsed in most parts of Africa and the days of setting aside any new large, wild open spaces are long gone,” he said. “We should be celebrating the fact that many more private ecotourism reserves have been established on former cattle ranches in South Africa, outcompeting agriculture as a land use and creating new habitat for cheetah. The best we can do is to try and consolidate smaller private and community-owned reserves with larger national parks.”

Sarah M. Durant of the Zoological Society of London and the Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, says cheetahs remain susceptible to rapid decline and that, ultimately, conserving the remaining free-ranging populations in Botswana and Namibia will require “a paradigm shift in conservation toward a holistic approach that incentivizes protection and promotes sustainable human-wildlife coexistence across large multiple-use landscapes.”

This article was originally published on Mongabay, written by Tony Carnie, and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) is celebrating the birth of two critically endangered wildcats at Edinburgh Zoo. 

What is Happening?

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Alison Maclean, carnivore team leader at Edinburgh Zoo, said, “We are thrilled to have welcomed the birth of two wildcats in September, to mum Caol Ila and dad Talisker. The youngsters are doing well and we will be asking for the public’s help to name them in the coming weeks.” 

Featured image by: RZSS

About the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland  

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) is a wildlife conservation charity and owns Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park. Founded in 1909, the Society’s purpose is to connect people with nature and safeguard species from extinction. For further information about RZSS conservation projects in Scotland and around the world, visit rzss.org.uk  

 

Scientists have found that bee diversity is higher in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern, and that bees prefer temperate regions over the tropics. This discovery was made by the team analysing nearly 6 million public records of where individual species have appeared around the world, leading to the creation of the first global distribution map for bees. 

The project, published in the journal Cell Biology, contradicts most plant and animal distribution patterns, where diversity tends to be highest in the tropics and diminishes towards the poles. 

What is Happening?

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map distribution bees

This map of the global distribution of bees above shows that bees prefer arid, temperate regions rather than the tropics. Areas with darker colours have more species (Source: Cell Biology).

John Ascher, a biologist at the National University of Singapore and senior author of the study, says, “People think of bees as just honey bees, bumble bees, and maybe a few others, but there are more species of bees than of birds and animals combined.”

Michael Orr, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and lead author of the study, said to CNN, Climate change poses a large threat to many species. But that’s going to be irrelevant if we don’t protect the habitats of species that are being destroyed now.” 

 

Tristan da Cunha, a four-island archipelago in the south Atlantic Ocean with 245 permanent residents, is creating a massive marine protected area (MPA), set to become the fourth largest completely protected marine area in the world, and the largest in the Atlantic. 

The government of Tristan da Cunha made the announcement last week, saying that the protected area will span almost 700 000 sq km, making it almost three times larger than the UK, and will protect 90% of the waters around the island chain by making them a “no-take zone,” in which fishing, mining and other extractive activities are banned. 

Why Does This Matter?

The UK- which has a duty to protect wildlife in all its territories- will be responsible for the long-term monitoring and enforcement of the MPA. The new sanctuary is the result of a collaboration between the Tristan da Cunha and U.K. governments, and a number of other conservation groups, including The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which has worked in the region for 20 years, and the National Geographic’s Society’s Pristine Seas initiative.

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Conservationists say that this will help bolster a small lobster fishery outside the sanctuary, and it will also protect foraging grounds for the tens of millions of seabirds that roost on the island and the habitats for seals, sharks and whales. The island also serves as a critical nursery for blue sharks.

James Glass, Tristan da Cunha chief islander, says, “Our life on Tristan da Cunha has always been based around our relationship with the sea, and that continues today. The Tristan community is deeply committed to conservation: on land, we’ve already declared protected status for more than half our territory.

However, some NGOs have criticised the UK government’s support for marine protection in its overseas territories when its own record on protecting its domestic marine habitats is less-than-superb. An investigation by the Guardian revealed that all but two of Britain’s offshore MPAs were being bottom trawled. 

Jonathan Hall, head of UK overseas territories for the (RSPB), says, “We should also be looking at protecting UK waters. The contrast is stark. We have this small community that is showing leadership in protecting their waters, but there have been lots of examples this year where more effective management of our existing protected areas is needed.”

MPAs are seen by experts as a silver bullet for conservation. A study found that MPAs worldwide protect food supplies by producing larger catch yields. Fisheries that are left undisturbed can produce a “spillover” effect in which an abundance of fish from a protected area spills over into fishing hotspots. The study found that expanding the current network of protected areas by just 5% could boost global fish catch by at least 20%.

Featured image by: Flickr 

In late October, nearly 200 Loa water frog tadpoles hatched at the National Zoo of Chile, a little more than a year after a team of conservationists in Chile evacuated the last-known 14 frogs from dry habitats and brought them to the zoo. This offers a glimmer of hope for the critically endangered frog.

In June 2019, herpetologist Andrés Charrier discovered that the only known stream home to the Loa water frog (Telmatobius dankoi) had dried up as a result of extraction of water for mining, agriculture and real estate development. In a small muddy pool, scientists discovered 14 malnourished and dehydrated individuals. With the help of the Chilean government, the 14 frogs were airlifted to the National Zoo of Chile in the capital, Santiago. The hope was to begin a conservation breeding programme, but first the scientists needed to stabilise the remaining individuals. “When we brought these animals to the zoo, I didn’t even know if they were going to survive the transfer from Calama on the plane to Santiago,” said Charrier. Zoo staff were able to save 12 of the 14 individuals. 

The rehabilitation of the rescued individuals was the first objective of the conservation effort. The second objective was the successful reproduction and the hatching of the tadpoles, which has now also been accomplished. Yet the final objective, reintroducing the species back into their natural habitat, may prove to be the most challenging.

The city of Calama is located in the middle of the Atacama desert. In the driest non-polar desert on Earth, water is a scarce and precious resource. Calama is considered the mining capital of Chile. Various industrial processes led to the contamination and shrinking of the only stream the Loa water frog is known to inhabit. It is against these threats that conservationists have to contend if they hope to accomplish their third objective. Sadly, these threats are not unique to the Loa water frog, and it is believed that many species of water frog are threatened by human activities. 

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There are 63 species of water frog found in South America, with about 10 species in Chile. Many species of water frogs (including the Loa water frog) are micro-endemic, meaning they are only found in a small region. Water frogs are either semi-aquatic or entirely aquatic, making them incredibly sensitive to changes in their environment and particularly vulnerable to climate change. Habitat destruction, invasive trout species, disease and pollution are also threatening South America’s water frogs.

The achievements of the team involved in the rescue, rehabilitation and reproduction of the frogs is no small feat, as no one is known to have attempted to care for the species before. It is almost certain that without intervention, the species would have become extinct. It is important to celebrate the success of this conservation effort, but it is also a stark reminder of the impact humanity is having on all areas of the natural world. 

The Loa water frog is considered critically endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and was once found only in a single stream in Chile. Experts say there may be between five and eight individuals still living in the wild. Returning the species to the wild someday will require identifying a safe home for the frogs and protecting that habitat from the threat of illegal water extraction and habitat destruction. 

Featured image by: Smithsonian Mag 

Poaching for tusks, horns or other body parts is a well-recognised threat to wildlife in Africa, but the impact of hunting for bushmeat may pose a greater threat. Conservationists in Southern Africa are exploring new ways to contain this.

“Bushmeat is a significant problem in Zambia. For us, it’s by far the biggest threat to our wildlife populations,” Luwi Nguluka, awareness programs manager for Wildlife Crime Prevention (WCP), told Mongabay.

The Zambian NGO has been working with the country’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) to campaign against the supply and demand in the illegal bushmeat trade.

Nguluka says urban bushmeat consumption in Zambia is rising as populations grow and wealth increases. At the same time, Zambia’s wildlife populations are declining, making bushmeat harder to come by and so driving up the price. With increased price comes prestige, adding yet another driver to demand for the illegal meat in Lusaka, the capital.

It’s a pattern other researchers are noting elsewhere. Peter Lindsey, conservation initiatives director for the Wildlife Conservation Network, has conducted extensive research into bushmeat hunting. When he surveyed managers of protected areas, NGO staff, and tourism industry representatives about the impact of hunting for bushmeat across 11 countries in Africa, respondents ranked it as the severest threat to wildlife in protected areas, alongside hunting for body parts such as rhino horn.

Despite this, bushmeat hunting in Africa and beyond does not garner the column inches devoted to more well-known conservation issues such as the ivory trade, rhino horn or deforestation.

“We are only now beginning to appreciate that this crisis may extend to much of the Africa as a continent,” said Julia van Velden, a doctoral candidate at Brisbane’s Griffith University studying the bushmeat issue in Malawi.

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bushmeat africa wildlife
The Zambian Department of National Parks and Wildlife’s (DNPW) “This Is Not a Game” campaign highlights the health risks from consuming illegal bushmeat. Image courtesy of This Is Not a Game.

While the park managers and others surveyed identified hunting for bushmeat as a key threat to wildlife in Africa, there is not enough research to precisely define its impact. One worrying indicator is the many instances of otherwise healthy ecosystems where populations of large-bodied mammals are well below their expected numbers. One such example is Zambia, where populations of large mammals in national parks are 74% below their maximum carrying capacity, which researchers believe is largely a result of illegal hunting.

In West and Central Africa, where hunting and trading of many kinds of wildlife is legal or semi-legal, researchers try to extrapolate how much hunting occurs by visiting bushmeat markets, though the informal nature of the trade and the inaccessibility of some areas makes this a challenge. Estimates for the Congo Basin range from 1 million to 4 million tons of bushmeat consumed every year, with both these figures considered an underestimate by their authors. But even with some understanding of consumption, the complexity of studying forest ecosystems makes it hard to say with certainty exactly what impact bushmeat hunting is having.

The challenge becomes greater in countries where bushmeat is strictly illegal. Hunters and consumers are often understandably reluctant to divulge their activities, making it challenging for researchers to understand who is hunting what and why.

The social and economic dynamics of the bushmeat trade vary from place to place, so findings in one region are not necessarily applicable elsewhere. In many countries in Africa there is currently little or no research into the bushmeat trade, and the high cost of the research required is often beyond the means of already thinly stretched park authorities.

“Without local studies, it is impossible to manage this issue, as you simply cannot say the same drivers of these activities apply,” van Velden said.

Tackling the Supply

For communities living alongside wildlife, bushmeat can be an important component of their diet. A study tracking the availability of fish against hunting of bushmeat in nature reserves in Ghana over 30 years found that hunting increased sharply in years when fish supply was poor, suggesting an important link between bushmeat and food security.

In Madagascar, where commercial trade in bushmeat is relatively limited, hunting offers an affordable source of animal protein for rural communities. In one survey conducted in eastern Madagascar, 95% of those interviewed said they had eaten at least one protected species. But the majority showed a preference for meat from domestic animals, suggesting bushmeat hunting could be greatly reduced if alternative sources of animal protein were affordable and available.

While some hunters elsewhere on the continent still hunt purely to provide food for their families, in many places hunting wildlife has a more commercial aspect.

“It’s very rare that it’s purely subsistence,” Lindsey told Mongabay. “In some cases, guys will hunt for a bit of meat for their families but very often in that kind of arrangement, they will also sell some of the meat.”

A study of illegal bushmeat hunting in the Okavango Delta found that households that hunted typically had more wealth and cattle than those that didn’t, suggesting hunters were motivated by money rather than necessity. An unpublished study of illegal bushmeat hunting around Kafue National Park in Zambia found that virtually all hunters there were economically motivated, selling 90% of their meat and keeping 10% for their own consumption.

Communities living adjacent to national parks in Africa are often some of the most economically deprived, hampered by a lack of infrastructure and with already limited economic options often exacerbated by restrictive conservation measures. The appeal of illegal hunting is easy to see for Zambia’s poachers when each can earn a median income of $48 a month in an area where the median household income is just $15 a month.

“In most parts of Africa, mechanisms to benefit communities from wildlife are not really there,” Lindsey said, “so they take the only benefit that is available to them, which is to hunt for the pot or hunt to sell.”

Lindsey says that finding ways for local communities to benefit from wildlife is crucial to reducing hunting. One solution would be to give local communities ownership over local wildlife with an allowable quota for hunting. Local communities could choose to sell their quota to trophy hunters for greater economic return than selling bushmeat, as in Namibia’s community conservancies.

The quota system is not without its own issues, though. Lindsey points out that managing quotas in a wild ecosystem, where populations are affected by ecological conditions such as droughts, is challenging and requires constant monitoring.

Of course, benefits to local communities don’t have to be consumptive. Namibia’s community conservancy model also generates income from ecotourism and photographic safaris.

“In Namibia, in the community conservancies, there is pretty clear evidence that these methods have resulted in recovery of wildlife populations in some areas,” Lindsey said.

In a 2018 survey of rural residents in 32 of Namibia’s communal conservancies, 90% said they were happy with trophy hunting on conservancy land due to the benefits it generates for the communities. Only 11% of respondents said they supported conserving wildlife on community lands if the benefits from hunting no longer existed. An economic analysis of 77 Namibian conservancies published in Conservation Biology, found that Namibia’s complementary mix of both ecotourism and hunting was crucial to maximizing returns for local communities, and that a singular focus on either would greatly reduce the value of Namibia’s wildlife to local people.

In Lindsey’s survey of protected area managers, Namibia notably bucks the trend with bushmeat hunting of low concern relative to other threats, including poaching wildlife for body parts such as ivory, human-wildlife conflict, and incursions by livestock into protected areas.

Community-based initiatives like Namibia’s conservancies are challenging to implement. They require an identifiable local community group with exclusive and legally enforceable ownership of land — something that does not always exist. The revenue generated from activities like ecotourism and trophy hunting is also seldom enough to support a whole community, or else the benefits are unevenly distributed.

And successful community conservation initiatives like Namibia’s still require costly protection.

“Even if you had a protected area with the local community on side, there’s still a huge resource that someone is going to come and try and harvest if you don’t protect it,” Lindsey said.

October 24 is Freshwater Dolphin Day. In celebration, Earth.Org is republishing this July 16 piece. WWF-Hong Kong and its partners have released an ‘emergency action plan’ to save Chinese white dolphins in the Pearl River Delta, in what they say ‘may represent our last chance to save the species’. 

According to the group, there are about 2 000 Chinese white dolphins- also called pink dolphins for the hue they acquire as adults- left in the Pearl River Delta and the population looks to be rapidly heading below the minimum number needed to sustain it. Their numbers are declining by around 3% every year; in Hong Kong, the number has dropped by more than 80% in the past 15 years. They warn that action needs to be taken now to preserve the species’ core habitats and prevent its extinction.

The most recent government estimates indicate an average of just 32 Chinese white dolphins left in Hong Kong’s waters, a historic low, down from 188 in 2003. 

The largest dolphins measure up to 2.5 metres in length, the young about a metre, and they can weigh as much as 150kg. According to the IUCN Red List, the species are listed as ‘vulnerable’ and populations are decreasing in all its native habitats, from China and Cambodia to Malaysia and Thailand. 

You might also like: What has Happened to South Africa’s Great White Sharks?

Why are Chinese white dolphins endangered?

Coastal developments are encroaching on their feeding and breeding grounds, increased marine traffic strikes or disorients them, and pollution is poisoning them. These developments also make the animals extremely stressed, which affects their socialisation and reproductive habits. 

As part of the emergency plan, seven critical threats to the marine mammals are identified: habitat loss and degradation from development and construction, a depletion of the fish they eat from overfishing, illegal fishing and unsustainable fishing practices, underwater noise disturbance from boats, marine vessels that strike the dolphins, toxins and pollutants from industrial run-off, entanglement in sea nets and sea level rise. 

The group also proposes that 13 core protected areas be set up, stretching from the waters west of Lantau to Dongping Harbour at the western edge of the delta. They want these areas to be declared as ‘no-take’ and ‘development-free’. 

Dr Laurence McCook, WWF-Hong Kong’s head of oceans conservation, says that they’re working closely with partners and authorities in Guangdong to determine how the areas they’ve identified can be cleared of fishing and mooring.

He adds, “The Chinese white dolphin is a unique and shared heritage of Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong. It would be a global tragedy to lose this iconic creature from the future of the Greater Bay Area. The governments, businesses and people of the delta region should seize this last chance to save our Chinese white dolphins.”

Otherwise, he says, extinction is not a threat, but the most likely outcome.

Featured image by: chem7

The world has a history of using nature to help repair crises; in 1993, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt allocated USD$10 million for emergency conservation efforts under the New Deal. In South Korea, a famine and refugee crisis in the 1950s saw the government restoring forests and farmland, which created hundreds of thousands of jobs. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic is seeing nations use nature restoration to create jobs to kickstart their economies. Here’s how seven countries are looking to repair nature by including restoration commitments in their COVID-19 recovery plans. 

France

One of the countries looking to repair nature as part of their COVID-19 recovery plans is France. About one-third of France’s $120 billion recovery package is devoted to greening the economy. The country is investing in clean buildings, industry and transport, and it is also allocating resources for the “agro-ecological transition” of agriculture. This includes training and tax credits for organic farmers, replanting and restoring hedges along field boundaries and supporting locally-based food systems and urban farming. 

Kenya

Nairobi has hired families struggling from the pandemic to clean up its parks and waterways, the benefits of which are already being seen: over 1 000 tons of rubbish have been removed and fish are returning to the Nairobi River. 

Ireland

The nation has allocated $18 million to rehabilitate over 30 000 hectares of degraded peatlands. This project is aimed at improving and increasing the area of wetlands for endangered species and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Colombia

The government is planning to plant 180 millions trees, 50 million of which should be planted before the end of the year. The package includes funds to promote agroforestry and agropastoralism, both of which can restore soils and ecosystems. The government also plans to tighten mining regulations. 

You might also like: Singapore Plans to Plant A Million Trees by 2030

Pakistan

The country has hired tens of thousands of people who lost their jobs during COVID-19 lockdowns to plant saplings, including mulberry and acacia trees. The government exempted the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami initiative from some lockdown restrictions. 

Ethiopia

The country is planning to plant 5 billion seedlings in 2020, in an effort to double its forest cover by 2030. Ethiopia has focused on forest restoration to create green jobs, improve the health of its citizens and kickstart an economic recovery from COVID-19. Last year, the country planted over 350 million trees in one day, a world record. 

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The UK plans to invest up to $52 million in a “Green Recovery Challenge Fund,” which will help create or safeguard up to 5 000 jobs in nature conservation and restoration. The UK is also developing a system to assess its natural capital to improve its understanding of habitats and provide better guidance for decision making.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, says, “A green recovery is one that tackles the climate, biodiversity and pollution crises at the same time.”

Restoring nature is one of the core objectives of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global push to repair lands lost to development, that is set to begin in 2021. 

Featured image by: Flickr

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