Why Wildlife Conservation has no Alternative – It’s estimated that wild animal populations have fallen a staggering 65% over the last 40 years alone. While few would likely argue against the majesty and awe-inspiring nature of the wild animals with whom we share this planet, our actions don’t always reflect this sentiment. Beyond the risks our behavior poses to the animals themselves, there is significant danger to entire ecosystems as a result of the declining populations of vital species around the globe. We simply have no choice to protect them; our own future may depend on it.
Wild animals help in our fight against climate change
It’s well understood that forests play a significant role in capturing carbon emissions and fighting global warming. While we can continue our efforts to restrict deforestation and illegal logging, wild animals who inhabit these forests and the surrounding plains play a vital role, too.
One substantial threat forests face is wildfires, which the local wildlife help combat. Herbivorous animals, including the white rhinos in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in South Africa, consume vast amounts of grass and low-lying foliage, which significantly reduces the ability of wildfires to spread. These wild animals are also known to produce far less methane than domestic livestock, which are often reared on farmland that has been established through deforestation.
Taller trees have larger fruits that contain their seeds. These trees rely on large species such as elephants to consume them and disperse their seeds. Poaching and other actions which threaten wildlife will, in turn, result in a less healthy forest and an increasingly warming planet.
While it’s important to recognize the link between poaching, illegal animal trading, and herbal medicine practices such as the use of endangered rhino horns, there is still a lot of value to the medical community to be gained from maintaining a healthy ecosystem for our wildlife. From amphibians alone, we can extract chemical compounds used to treat amnesia, depression, seizures, and strokes. There are undoubtedly many more miraculous medical marvels waiting to be discovered from wildlife, as long as we don’t drive them to extinction first.
Wildlife helps fertilize their habitat through their nutrient-rich excrement. This is especially true of species with a tendency to roam across larges areas, as they usefully redistribute minerals between neighbouring pastures. Without this, we’d experience an increase in monocultures, making entire regions more susceptible to diseases and invasive species. A loss of a single species can have dramatic effects up and down the entire food chain. Removing one keystone predator could result in its prey becoming overpopulated and ultimately overgrazing pastures making them less fertile with each season.
Preventing future pandemics
While there are many drivers behind epidemics developing into pandemics, one undeniable root cause is often human-wildlife interaction. Minimizing human-wildlife interaction will prevent many of these diseases from spreading to humans in the first place. However, this interaction becomes increasingly difficult to avoid when commercial activities such as logging, agriculture, and human settlement expansion exploit previous wild habitats. By establishing protected regions, we can maintain the planet’s biodiversity and ensure encroachment into vulnerable habitats is prevented.
So who is responsible for promoting wildlife conservation, and what can we, as individuals, do about it?
Anyone aware of the importance wildlife plays in preserving ecosystems can play a part. While governments can adopt policies that will force companies and industries to operate in a more environmentally friendly manner, politicians respond to the demands of their citizens at the end of the day. If we show them that we demand change, they’ll be forced to respond or risk losing our votes. One way to get the message across is by supporting grassroots organizations that work for wildlife conservation. Their efforts have tangible effects, which inspire people and make decision-makers take notice. You can find front-line environmentalists through platforms such as Milkwire and support their work, thereby contributing directly to wildlife conservation and making a difference.