Unfortunately, despite the effort put into conservation by organizations and activists, their work can easily be undermined by those who have other interests. This occurs, for example, from habitat destruction, illegal poaching, to influencing or manipulating laws designed to protect species.
In 1999 scientists revealed what they believed was the origins of AIDS. The source comes from a type of chimpanzee that is immune to the virus. Unfortunately, the forests in which they live are being opened up by logging companies, resulting in a destruction of the chimpanzee’s habitat.
Also hunting of these and other animals is on the increase in the forest. All these factors are preventing further studies of the possible cures for AIDS. (For more about the immense problems around the world from AIDS, including political issues, check out this web site’s section on AIDS.)
New species still being found; makes conservation more important
As reported by University of California, Berkeley, using DNA comparisons, scientists have discovered what they have termed an “evolutionary concept called parallelism, a situation where two organisms independently come up with the same adaptation to a particular environment.”
This has an additional ramification when it comes to protecting biodiversity and endangered species. This is because in the past what we may have considered to be one species could actually be many. But, as pointed out by scientists, by putting them all in one group, it under-represents biodiversity, and these different evolutionarily species would not get the protection otherwise needed.
An example of this can be seen with the African elephant, where forest dwelling species are found to be different species to the ones found in the savannahs, as reported by the Telegraph newspaper. As the article also points out, “Instead of assuming that 500,000 elephants exist in Africa, it now seems that there are many fewer of each kind, and ‘they are both much more endangered than we presumed’, said Dr Georgiadis [of the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya.]”
The factors described above that affect AIDS research also highlights a deeper aspect of other related issues affecting conservation. In Europe, for example, threats such as increased agricultural/land requirements, hunting, persecution and land-claims etc are contributing to a shrinking biodiversity in Europe.
Efforts to move towards sustainable development and conservation efforts are therefore beginning to be based on the understanding that issues such as poverty need to be addressed, to provide people with alternatives.
Poverty and Conservation; Need to address root causes
The documentary also explored the inter-relationship and challenges between
Increased bushmeat consumption, and
How poachers fared when offered sustainable development as an alternative to hunting
The documentary highlighted that while in the wealthier parts of the world we see conservation as desirable and easily recognize the importance and urgency of protecting the rapidly declining numbers of the great apes, what is less recognized are the complex multitude of causes, of which the wealthy world also plays a negative part. In effect, it has been easier to blame “others” and almost ignoring our own impacts.
That is, as well as hunting for bushmeat leading to concerns about dwindling numbers of animals, the causes of the increase in bushmeat consumption need understanding.
For example, in small villages on the frontiers of the forest, individual bushmeat consumption has been part of local customs for a long time, as there are no domesticated animals, and the forest has been the source of survival for villagers, for most of their requirements.
However, increased poverty in nations such as Cameroon has forced more villagers to the bigger cities to look for work. This has brought the custom of bushmeat consumption to a larger population, thus increasing demand for it.
In addition, increased commercial logging (about 50% of the timber goes to Europe, the documentary pointed out) has resulted in dense forest being opened up allowing hunters and poachers to go further into the forest than ever before.
Bushmeat hunting is more profitable than other options, even though some hunters pointed out that if there were other options, they would not hunt. Occasionally, illegal logging and commercial logging company employees such as truckers have also been involved in illegal trading of bushmeat.
Sustainable development alternatives have been attempted. For example, projects have promoted the protection of the apes, rather than hunting. This has been through encouraging and provide real incentives for hunters themselves to protect the apes. A focus has been to attract tourists, who would be willing to pay to see these animals in the wild, thus sustaining the people and paying for conservation and other measures.
Although this approach has proven successful in other places, it is unfortunately not always guaranteed to work. The documentary followed some former-hunters who were attracted to the idea, but also highlighted the difficulties in this. For example:
Causes of poverty were still not being addressed, so it was hard for people to go for alternatives.
To pay former hunters, the projects of course needed proof that these people were indeed attempting to find the apes and allow those apes to slowly get familiar and accustomed to humans, so that tourists could eventually be guided in. However, the challenge of often finding and photographing these apes in the dense jungle would sometimes seem futile.
Although there were successful sitings and eventual interaction, the promise of tourists has not materialized, and so funding was dwindling.
The villagers had also been encouraged to grow small plots of cash crops, such as cassava and plantain. As these were growing near the forests, occasionally a group of apes would destroy those crops in their search for food, causing anger amongst the villagers whose immediate survival depended on those crops, as many people would go hungry otherwise.
In detailing the impact of the logging companies in opening up the forests for increased destruction of habitat and more poaching, some African development organizations also pointed out that western consumer life styles therefore had an impact on the dwindling numbers of apes, because those demands fuel a lot of deforestation.
While the documentary mentioned above focused on Cameroon, other places in Africa and around the world also show similar relationships between poverty, consumption, and environmental destruction.
The fourth most populous country, Indonesia, houses 10 percent of the earth’s remaining tropical forests. Not only are forests depleting year by year, but species that depend on the forests are also disappearing, and these species are needed to ensure a stable ecosystem.
Centre for Science and Environment in India, provides many articles on sustainable development projects recognizing the importance of involving local people in conservation issues. A cartoon of theirs also captures the inter-related aspects vividly:
Another source of problems that can affect an environment and the species that live in it stems from poor or careless industrial practices or management of industrial waste by government and large corporations. In Russia, for example, nuclear radioactive waste is threatening the Arctic region. The figures and impact of this mentioned in the previous link suggests that the amount of radiation is similar to that which was present at the Chernobyl incident in 1986.
The Gold industry has also left a set of environmental, social and political problems in its wake. For example, a dam on a gold mine owned by Aurul SA broke, spilling waste water, highly contaminated with cyanides and heavy metals. From the river in Romania it made its way into Hungary. Amongst various other things, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF,
A rare species of otter, that was only 400 strong before the spill can no longer be seen.
More than “100 tonnes of dead fish have been collected from the river’s surface—but many more are believed to be lying on the river bottom. In addition to those species directly affected by the toxic spill, there is a secondary danger to all species which feed on anything living in the river”.
Farmers have reported dead or blinded livestock.
The ecological damage has been huge and the cost estimates are still to be completed. Some scientists fear that it will take many years to restore the waters.
WWF’s special coverage of this issue is no longer available online, but they have a report about it which has further details.
The corporate-led form of globalization that we see today also affects how natural resources are used and what priorities they are used for. This site’s section on corporations and the environment looks into some of these issues further.
There are countless other examples of how industrial run-off or other practices has caused a lot of environmental damage. And much of it is for our wasteful lifestyles, but as the following quotes highlight, these are examples of working for the “wrong kind of efficiency.”
Low Frequency Active Sonar Affect Whales, Dolphins and Other Sea Life
The United States Navy and NATO have been using and testing Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS) to detect enemy submarines. Many dolphins and whales who use their own sonar to navigate the oceans have been severely affected. The sound is so loud (over 235dB) that it can and kill and maim whales, dolphins and sea life. LFAS is known to be harmful to humans as well.
Global protesting and four lawsuits have convinced the US Navy to end its Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS) tests early in the waters off Hawaii. In many places, the general public has reacted strongly to the damage inflicted on marine life and the protest is growing fast as more people become aware of the tests. The campaign still goes on to ensure awareness is raised.
Unfortunately, tests still continue and whales and other marine animals are thought to have been being killed as a result. And, according to environmental organization, Natural Resources Defense Council, “the U.S. Navy is now seeking the power to exempt itself from environmental laws” that are designed to address this concern. (See also this link for additional information.)
For more on LFAS:
The Stop LFAS campaign web site has generated over half a million email protests and provides links to more information
Added an update on declining numbers of large carnivores and the soaring rhino poaching
February 24, 2013
Added some info on some African nations banning hunting on lions, and an update on criminal activities around soaring rhino killings
November 10, 2011
Added a small update on some subspecies of rhinos becoming being declared extinct
May 15, 2011
Added a small note about the impacts of oil spills
April 15, 2011
Added notes about the impacts of pollution on a global scale
February 13, 2010
Updated information about Tiger populations
July 26, 2009
Added a small note about declining rhino populations as well as a video on mountain-gorillas
April 10, 2009
Link and images added on military sonar impacts on whales and dolphins
March 29, 2009
Small note added on declining amphibian populations
December 15, 2008
Added a small note about over 1000 species being discovered in the past decade in the Greater Mekong Region of Southeast Asia.
September 7, 2008
Added a small section on declining number of primates
December 30, 2006
Added chart showing spread of declining tiger population. Also made note of declining numbers of penguins and polar bears
March 12, 2006
A type of rodent, thought to have been extinct for 11 million years found is found alive in Laos. Further highlights the importance of conserving habitat to help conserve animals
February 7, 2006
Hundreds of new animal and plant species discovered in western New Guinea
August 31, 2005
Added a note about the near extinction of vultures in India
August 21, 2005
Added a note on the declining number of lions
December 23, 2004
Added a number of BBC articles regarding impact of sonar on whales. In addition new ape and monkey species were just recently discovered, showing there is still much to discover and learn about our diverse planet.
Alternatives for broken links
Sometimes links to other sites may break beyond my control. Where possible, alternative links are provided to backups or reposted versions here.