Wildlife conservation is a vital field that works to protect flora and fauna species and their habitats around the world from climate change effects and human encroachment. The last 200 years has seen a drastic rise in the human population, in addition to the industrial and digital revolutions. Capitalism and wealth inequality are having an impressively negative effect on the planet, as just 100 companies are producing 70% of the greenhouse gases while 20 billionaires contributed an average of 8,190 tons of CO2 in one calendar year (2018). All of that is speeding up human made climate change, which is in turn hurting some of the most vulnerable wildlife species.
Why Should We Care?
Wildlife conservation is so important for many reasons but especially because of biodiversity and ecosystem restoration. The natural world depends on the many layers that different ecosystems are built on and one species’ population drastic decline or extinction can have a domino effect on the rest of the environment. Individual ecosystems around the world have coevolved over millennia in ways that allow for a range of checks and balances to keep the environment, plants, and animals healthy. With a drastic change seemingly overnight (at least in evolutionary terms), there are unfortunate consequences.
This is incredibly evident in the return of grey wolves in the Yellowstone National Parks, which were reintroduced in 1995. When these predators returned, the rest of the ecosystem and many other species started to flourish. This happened because grey wolves helped thin out weak and sick elk in native herds without killing too many. That has in turn helped prevent elk overpopulation and has freed up more resources for the surviving elk, who are no longer starving to death. And by thinning the elk population, the wolves also helped other species in the park, like rabbits, bears, beavers, and otters. The unchecked elk numbers that happened after the wolves disappeared resulted in the overgrazing of shrubs, grasses, and berries in the park, leaving few resources for other animals. Elk could also spend more time drinking water by rivers, which eventually lead to soil erosion and murky waters.
- When the Bison Return, Will Their Habitat Rebound? by Louise Johns, Smithsonian Magazine
Wildlife conservation can also help the pollination of plants and help with food security, as so much of the food we eat every day is dependent on pollinators like bees and butterflies. The rising global temperatures, habitat destruction, and loss of diverse foods that have happened because of climate change have had an immensely negative impact on the pollinating species the world so desperately needs.
Working with Rural and Indigenous Communities
In the above video, conservationist and TED Fellow Moreangels Mbizah talks about the importance of including and educating local, rural, and indigenous communities about coexisting with and conserving wildlife. For more rural areas, particularly in the United States, wildlife conservation can mean finding a balance that protects the farmers’ livelihoods and allows wildlife to survive. Because of the low density of people, wildlife is more frequently found in rural areas than urban and these same areas are also more likely to have agriculture be the primary industry of work. Wild animals all over the world have been known to eat from fields and gardens; some wild animals have been known to kill and eat livestock.
While hunting, trapping, and poisoning can be the easy way to deal with wildlife, many farmers and gardeners have experimented with finding unique and humane ways to keeping animals out. Some farmers around the world are using machines to emit sounds when wildlife is nearby to hopefully scare the animals away.
Additionally, indigenous communities around the world protect an estimated 80% of the world’s biodiversity and many have been on the forefront of the climate change fight. The fights against the Keystone XL pipeline, Dakota Access pipeline, and Line 3 have been led in part by indigenous people. Following indigenous peoples’ lead on climate is vital and that work can have positive ripple effects into the fields of wildlife conservation and more.
- How Wildlife Conservation in Northern Kenya Survived the Pandemic by Tristan McConnell, National Geographic
Is There Still Hope? How Can I Get Involved?
It can be really difficult to keep any sort of hope in regards to wildlife conservation, particularly with stories like northern white rhinos being listed as functionally extinct. But there are many folks who are optimistic about the recovery of different species and that hope and optimism is vital, as it can remind you to keep going on some of the harder days.
There are so many ways for ordinary folks to get involved without having to become conservation biologists. If you have the garden or yard space, consider making it wildlife and pollinator friendly with water sources, structures like bird or bee houses, and native plants, trees, and bushes. For apartment/condo dwellers, you can even help with a balcony by having container gardens! Additionally, you can limit the pesticides and other chemicals you use and reduce your use of artificial light when possible to decrease light pollution at night.
You can also support organizations working on the various parts of wildlife conservation by donating money or other resources, volunteering, visiting organizations like zoos or wildlife refuge, or even symbolically adopting animals. The Alaska SeaLife Center, for example, allows you to adopt a giant pacific octopus, harbor seal, or northern sea otter and they’ll even send you an adoption kit with a plush animal, adoption certificate, and fact sheet about the species you adopted. Other organizations that have symbolic adoptions and work with all sorts of wildlife include the Sierra Club, the PAWS Wildlife Sanctuaries, and the Wildlife Safari in Oregon.
Wildlife conservation and the fight against biodiversity loss is a marathon but there are so many people that have been focused on the long game in a variety of fields. One couple in Brazil, for example, spent two decades replanting a rainforest, which resulted in hundreds of endangered animals returning to the area. While climate change is a fast acting threat, it’s going to take time to see the positive changes that we’re making.