Can we halt extinction and safeguard biodiversity?

Can we halt extinction and safeguard biodiversity?

Can we halt extinction and safeguard biodiversity?

Human activities are driving numerous plant and animal species to the brink of extinction. Is it possible to reverse this trend? The Diplomat News examines successful and unsuccessful strategies.

It has been five years since researchers last saw the tiny, dark red splendid poison frog in the humid, lowland forests of western Panama. Since 2022, it has unfortunately joined the lumpy brown Wyoming toad, the black Hawaiian crow, and the vivid blue Spix’s macaw on the growing list of species facing extinction in nature.

Biologists have assessed around 30% of 150,000 plant and animal species, revealing that they are at risk of extinction due to various threats such as habitat destruction by humans, poisoning from pesticides, and hunting for profit and sport.

The last time such a large number of flora and fauna faced extinction was when a massive rock hit the planet 66 million years ago. This event marked the end of the age of the dinosaurs and led to the extinction of 75% of all species.

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Human actions are driving the onset of the sixth mass extinction

Can we halt extinction and safeguard biodiversity?

Humans are the driving force behind the sixth mass extinction, a period in which the Earth is experiencing a significant loss of species. In the Anthropocene epoch, human activity has caused the extinction rate to skyrocket from the natural rate of 10 to 100 species per year to approximately 27,000 species annually. The destruction of the Amazon rainforest alone could lead to the eradication of over 10,000 species in Brazil, a country known for its rich biodiversity.

This alarming trend is affecting various groups of animals, including amphibians, insects, reptiles, and fish, which are disappearing at an alarming rate. As these species vanish, ecosystems become unstable and eventually collapse, posing serious consequences for humans. For example, the decline of pollinators like bees and butterflies can result in reduced fruit, vegetable, and nut production. Additionally, the dwindling populations of wild animals and fish deprive us of important protein sources.

While efforts such as conservation measures, environmental laws, breeding stations, and nature reserves have helped in the recovery of some species, they are unable to compensate for the rapid global extinction rates. More and more species are now under threat, highlighting the urgent need for collective action to address this crisis.

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Mismanaged breeding programs can result in the death of animals

Breeding programs can have devastating consequences when they fail, resulting in the death of animals. Conservation efforts may also falter if the strategies employed are not effective. For instance, the Sahafary sportive lemur in Madagascar has faced challenges. A recent study discovered only 87 of these lemurs, as reported by Edward Louis from the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership. Louis has dedicated a quarter of a century to safeguarding this unique primate.

Louis pointed out that previous attempts to capture and breed the lemurs have been unsuccessful. He explained that when taken out of their natural habitat, the lemurs’ bacterial flora changes, leading to their unfortunate demise within 8 to 10 days.

The primary threat to the sportive lemur is the destruction of their forest homes by locals who rely on charcoal for cooking. To address this issue, conservationists are now exploring alternative fuel sources to encourage locals to help protect the lemurs’ habitat.

According to Magnus J.K. Wessel from the German conservation group BUND, local acceptance plays a vital role in the success of conservation efforts. Wessel stated that when people recognize the value of animal species for their own identity and that of their region, and when they also benefit financially, positive changes occur. This can be observed in Indian national parks where the tiger population has increased significantly, despite the fact that tigers are dangerous animals.

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Can we halt extinction and safeguard biodiversity?

Over the past 17 years, the number of tigers in India has risen from 1,400 to 3,600, thanks to the establishment of protected areas, anti-poaching measures, and a substantial investment of $2.1 billion (€1.94 billion) over the last decade. Local communities now understand the importance of conserving these majestic creatures and also benefit from tourism. Although the current tiger population is still far from the 100,000 that existed in India in 1900, conservationists consider this increase a success.

However, it is important to note that there are no guarantees that tiger numbers will continue to rise, and even well-intentioned conservation measures can have unintended negative consequences. BUND’s Wessel emphasized the need for honesty and acknowledging uncertainties in conservation efforts.

In the 1990s, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) campaigned against hunting rhinos for their horns, which were used in Chinese medicine. They proposed using saiga antelope antlers as a substitute. Unfortunately, this led to a devastating decline of 97% in the saiga antelope population.

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Promotional figures for conservation: Naked mole-rats and rhinoceroses

It’s crucial to raise awareness about species’ extinction, as not many people witness its direct consequences. Wessel highlights the importance of using large, charismatic animals like rhinos and tigers, as well as small, cute furry creatures to engage the public in conservation efforts.

“Being whimsical can also be effective,” he mentioned. “There’s a significant fan base for the naked mole-rat, despite it not being the most attractive animal.”

However, the naked mole-rat is an exception. Most species that need protection are not as appealing to humans, especially creepy crawlies. This is why creating reserves for the more charismatic species is essential for their survival.

Conservation efforts require funding, but not all countries prioritize environmental protection. Even those that do, typically allocate only 1 to 1.5% of their GDP to conservation.

European nations lead in conservation investments, followed by Asian and South American countries. Senegal is at the forefront in Africa, allocating 0.5% of its GDP to conservation.

Interestingly, even countries with higher conservation investments are experiencing species extinction. Since 1990, the number of endangered species has increased significantly in countries like Malaysia, Uganda, and Tanzania, which spend less on protection, as well as in countries like France, China, and New Zealand, which invest more.

Assessing the likelihood of a species’ survival

Can we halt extinction and safeguard biodiversity?

The survival chances of different species are calculated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) using a specific scale. This scale helps determine the potential for a species to recover, either with or without conservation efforts, as well as the maximum population size for each species.

In Southern Africa, the blue crane is a species that could greatly benefit from intervention. Over the next decade, there is a high possibility that the population will fully recover in the wild. However, the outlook for the Sahafary sportive lemur, which Edward Louis is working to save, is not as optimistic. Without reforestation efforts, this species is currently on the verge of extinction. If these efforts are carried out, there is a chance that viable populations could be established within the next 10 years.

To address the issue, Louis is collaborating with a local company in Madagascar to produce fuel briquettes from fast-growing eucalyptus trees. These briquettes serve as an alternative to charcoal made from clearing lemur forest habitats. However, the local community has not fully embraced the use of eucalyptus briquettes. According to Louis, they prefer to use endemic trees instead. Additionally, the eucalyptus aroma tends to be absorbed into the rice during cooking.

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