Wildlife populations across the globe have fallen by 58% in just over 40 years, according to the Living Planet assessment. The assessment is published every two years with the goal of assessing the state of wildlife across the world.
The report highlights large decreases for freshwater species, as a result of human activity, as well as larger species that are prone to over-exploitation and poaching. The world is currently experiencing a mass extinction event, only the 6th in the history of life, and the endangered species list is consistently growing. Current trends show that two-thirds of wild animals will be lost by 2020. There are a number of factors that cause wildlife populations to decline, including major habitat loss and development of wild areas, pollution, overfishing, poaching, wildlife trade and climate change.
The method for collecting this data is not perfect and has been criticised, however given the complexity of determining wildlife populations, this is as close as we can get to assessing the overall situation.
The statistics and predictions are shocking, but the continued decline of wildlife is not inevitable, and with swift and direct conservation action, species can recover. This study must be seen as a wake up call to all of us to assess how we interact with wildlife and to demand better environmental practices from our governments and businesses. Humans are directly causing the extinction of thousands of species, but we also have the power and the opportunity to turn the tide. We need more people to fight for wildlife protection and conservation before it is too late.
As we get into Autumn in the northern hemisphere, one of nature’s greatest spectacles is taking place, birds are migrating south in large numbers, with many leaving us and some arriving from the north!
The Great Barrier Reef has passed away in 2016 at just 25 million years old, this startling news came in an obituary written by Rowan Jacobsen for Outside Magazine, the frankly brilliant article has gone viral, leading many to begin mourning the death the largest living entity on the planet. However, people of the world, you can stop your mourning, wipe away those tears, take off the black clothes and cancel the flights to Australia for the wake, because the reef is not dead, yet.
The reef is certainly not well and could die off in our lifetime. Reefs around the world are threatened by rising ocean temperatures as a result of climate change, this causes coral bleaching. Recent coral bleaching events have taken a huge toll on the system, bleaching occurs when the coral is subjected to high temperatures for an extended period of time. Coral is a living being and interestingly relies on a type of algae to produce food for it, in return the algae lives in the coral, which is protected. However when the water temperature is too high the algae becomes destructive to the coral, so as a reaction to this it effectively spits out the algae, without the algae the coral has nothing to feed on and it can starve to death. When the algae is spat out the coral is left with just the skeleton and appears white, which is what we describe as bleached. However, just because coral has become bleached does not mean it is automatically dead, some can recover if the temperature falls. In some cases scientists have found examples of coral surviving large bleaching events, and not all of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached. To pronounce the reef dead at this stage would be like declaring your 75-year-old grandmother as dead after she had a rough few months, it’s not great, but she isn’t a completely lost cause.
It is dangerous to preach such doom and gloom, because whilst it may open some eyes to the issues facing the natural world, many will believe that there is nothing that can be done to save the planet and thus won’t do anything. Nature is being pushed to the limit and the Barrier Reef is a prime example, however never write it off until it is actually gone, the death of our wildlife and our large ecosystems is not inevitable if we start to actually demand change from our governments whilst making small changes to our own lives. The response to the obituary has shown that no one wants the reef to die, it is now time to hear the warnings and make the changes needed to save the Great Barrier Reef and oceans as a whole.
Well what a few weeks I have had, I am back after a bit of a whirlwind month.
I was in South Africa taking part in the IFAW Youth Forum for People and Wildlife, this event brought together 34 youth environmental leaders from 25 countries to learn, connect and tackle some the biggest issues facing wildlife today. The event coincided with CITES, the largest wildlife conference on Earth, which was also taking place in South Africa.
Youth in wildlife conservation often struggle to get a voice, the field can be a bit of a old mans club, and whilst this is changing, it was incredibly refreshing to meet with conservationists from all walks of life. Before the Forum I had expected it to be an amazing experience, however I did not know the real positive impact it would have both professionally and personally.
The first few days were designed to introduce us to each other, to learn about the work we are all doing and the country that was hosting us, South Africa. We visited the community of Kliptown within the township Soweto. Here I came face to face with poverty for the first time, I saw children that struggled to go to school, shared squat toilets and had limited access to drinking water. However what really sticks with me is that Kliptown is not a ‘poor African’ stereotype, but rather a vibrant, happy and hopeful community. All through Kliptown you are not faced with a pity party, instead there is music, dancing, laughter, play and life. People here are not sad poor people, they are just people living their lives like everyone else.
We then learnt about the dark history of South Africa in the apartheid museum and finished positively by visiting Nelson Mandela’s house and the towers of Soweto. Johannesburg is not Vancouver, it has a reputation and caution is definitely advised, but don’t write it off, it is a city of surprises with so much culture and history.
We then left the hustle and bustle of the city for Pilanesberg National Park, where we stayed in one of the fanciest places I have ever been! The time in Pilanesberg National Park was a chance for us to continue getting to know each other and discuss how we can work together towards our goals and a successful Forum. We also heard from the rangers of the park on how they risk their lives everyday to try and save wildlife from poaching. Over the 2 days we got to go out on game drives, watching some of the most iconic African species in their natural habitat. We saw a leopard trying to hunt impala and lions laying in the road just a short distance from where we would be eating dinner and a giant crocodile swimming right in front of the hide we were sat in. The list of wildlife is endless so here are some highlights- leopard, lion, elephants (and baby), rhino, wildebeest, giraffe, crocodile, zebra, impala, springbok, hoopoe, roller and African fish eagles.
After leaving Pilanesberg, we returned to Johannesburg and began the Forum. This was 3 days of workshops, debates, discussions, expert panels and guest speakers. The topics ranged from CITES to effective communication and diversity in conservation, as well as learning about the brutal reality of wildlife trade. It was a privilege to hear from and openly speak to experts in the field.
My work in education covers an aspect on wildlife trade, but the Forum gave me a shocking insight on how big and devastating wildlife trade is throughout the world, it is a complex issue that is having a huge impact on wildlife populations. It is so important that we all educate ourselves and others about what wildlife trade looks like, it is not all rhino horn, tiger bone and elephant tusks, it can be as innocent looking as the parrot in the pet shop or the cute slow loris being tickled on Facebook. People in the trade prey on the naivety or apathy of the public and it is so important that we learn to spot the signs, because with no consumers or admirers, the trade becomes worthless.
As the Forum came to a close we had a VIP evening hosted in our honour, which was attended by the CITES Secretary General, government officials from across the world and conservationists from a variety of organisations.
On the final day we went to CITES for the opening ceremony. There I got to chat with a number of people about the upcoming convention, I heard about sharks, African grey parrots, whales, frogs and everything in between. Wildlife conservation is never as clear cut as sometimes it seems, this was definitely a lesson learnt.
The week was intense, action packed and over way too fast. The highlight was of course meeting and getting to know the other 33 delegates and the amazing staff, who worked so hard to put it all together. We represented 25 countries and work in a variety of areas in conservation. The work that they do is unbelievable, It was a privilege, how often do you get the chance to learn first hand about conservation and wildlife in 25 different countries?! As well as this I got the chance to represent where I am from and where I live, talking to delegates and experts about the wildlife and conservation taking place on Vancouver Island, throughout Canada and the UK. The plan is not to stop here, the group will continue to work together with aims to expand and include more young people from around the world, to give youth a voice in wildlife conservation and to tackle the issues impacting wildlife and people.