03.03.2021

5 reasons why wildlife conservation has no alternative

Rhino

Rhinos reduce the spread and intensity of fires by grazing grass. Photo: Miguel Schmitter

From the mighty tiger to the humble worker bee, the huge variety of life on earth contributes to our lives and well-being in more ways than we think. From offering a wealth of natural medicines to safeguarding us from climate shocks and improving soil health, we need wildlife for our survival, well-being and prosperity.

However, the way we live and work – from the food we eat to how we build our infrastructure – is causing a steep decline in their numbers. In the past 40 years alone, we’ve seen, on average, adecline of 65 per cent in populations of species.

This World Wildlife Day on March 3, Let's spare a thought for the plight of many threatened species around the world. Here are five reasons why they should be a priority for all of us.

1. Protection against climate change

We all know that forests play a vital role in tackling climate change by storing carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. But did you know that the wild animals in these forests also have a crucial role to play?

Protecting wildlife could significantly reduce the frequency and intensity of destructive forest wildfires. Plant-eating wild animals reduce the amount of grass that can fuel fires through grazing. In Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in South Africa, for example, one of the world’s largest grazers, the white rhinoceros, has been known to reduce the spread and intensity of fire, especially after high rainfall when grass grows more rapidly.

Furthermore, large wild grass-eaters such as elephants, zebras, rhinos and camels do not produce so much methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as domestic livestock. This is because they digest grass in a different way than livestock – using a large, single stomach rather than regurgitating their food.

But that's not all. Wildlife can also help forests to store carbon more efficiently. Many tree species in tropical rainforests rely on animals like elephants and toucans to eat their large, fleshy fruits – and so help disperse their seeds. Trees with large fruits can grow taller than those with small fruits, making them more effective in trapping carbon. Studies show that the loss of such trees results in as much as a 10 per cent drop in the carbon storage potential of tropical forests.

2. Nature’s medicine cabinet

Chemicals from nature have been a part of human civilization ever since our early ancestors began using them to improve and enrich their own lives. Today, they continue to provide valuable knowledge to researchers and medical practitioners with crucial implications for medical sciences. Amphibians are especially important for modern medicine with compounds extracted from frogs alone used for treating depression, seizures, strokes and memory loss. We also rely on animals for a range of novel compounds including ‘frog glue’, a flexible adhesive obtained from the glands of Australian 'holy cross' frog species, used to treat human knee injuries; lanolin and Vitamin D3 derived from sheep’s wool; and Premarin, used to treat menopausal symptoms, prepared from mare’s urine.

Monkeys

3. Cultural significance

Non-material benefits, ranging from spiritual enrichment to leisure pursuits, while difficult to measure and value, are amongst the least recognized yet most important contributions of wildlife to human well-being.

Wildlife offers numerous therapeutic benefits. Research has shown that people are most drawn to landscapes that are tranquil, aesthetically appealing, contain wildlife and have a historic significance. Natural habitats and landscapes which support thriving wildlife populations also serve as valuable spaces for people to interact with wildlife, ranging from photographing wildlife to watching wildlife films. Not surprisingly, international travel to wildlife destinations has tripled over the past 20 years, with visits to protected areas rising in most developing countries and generating an estimated revenue of 600 US billion dollars a year.

Wildlife also provides us important spiritual benefits, with sacred places and species playing an important role in many people’s lives. The snake temple in Penang, Malaysia and the Galtaji Temple in Jaipur, India, dedicated to monkeys, are just two examples of wildlife forming the basis of religious practices and rituals.

4. Improving soil health and fertility

Wild animals play a key role in enhancing the health and fertility of soil by improving its nutrients. Their dung and urine helps replenish the nutrient content of the soil by providing it with enriching minerals. Wildlife, which range widely, can also move nutrients around – for example, the hippo’s night-time grazing in grasslands brings nutrients back to the river through their dung, increasing fish productivity.

5. Reducing the risk of pandemics

The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. Changes in the way we use land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. 

Pandemic risk can be significantly lowered by reducing the human activities that drive the loss of biodiversity, by greater conservation of protected areas, and through measures that reduce unsustainable exploitation of high biodiversity regions.

Toucan

About #Connect2Earth and IKI

Connect2Earth is a global WWF campaign designed to spread the message as to why nature matters. It aims to create a movement of people around the world who are speaking up to tackle the dual challenge facing the planet - climate change and the loss of nature. By creating open-source and unbranded Social Media assets on key days throughout the year as the World Wildlife Day, WWF works to facilitate conversations about nature, raise awareness on the values of biodiversity and inform people of the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.

WWF has partnered with the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to create the webpage Connect2Earth.org, which is designed to share ideas and tools to push for action and change. The acitivities are supported by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) as part of the project "Up-scaling of biodiversity communication to achieve Aichi Target 1".


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