As explained in the biodiversity section1 of this web site, conservation of ecosystems and the species within them would help to maintain the natural balances disrupted by recent human activity.
A report from the global conservation organization, WWF, has suggested that since 1970 the pressure we exert on the planet has almost doubled and the natural resources upon which we depend have declined by more than 33%2.
However desirable conservation may seem, in reality it is a struggle.
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.
The current form of globalization has also been criticized for ignoring sustainable development and environmental concerns3. For many years, critics, NGOs, activists and affected peoples have been accusing large corporations4 for being major sources of environmental problems.
Consequently, helping species and ecosystems to survive becomes more difficult.
In 1999 scientists revealed what they believed was the
origins of AIDS
42. 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 companies43, 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 AIDS44.)
New species still being found; makes conservation more important
As reported45 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 species46 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.]
In June 2002, it was announced that two never-before described species of monkey have been found in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest47. These remarkable finds shows that there is still much to discover and learn about biodiversity in general.
Conservation, protecting and preserving is therefore more about the species in question; it requires the protection of their habitat too, which in turn helps many other species in those same areas.
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 Europe53.
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
On April 16, 2003, Britain’s BBC aired an award-winning documentary titled Ape Hunters55, about how apes in Central Africa are being hunted for their bushmeat, almost to extinction.
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, finding and photographing these apes in the dense jungle could be so challenging that sometimes it would seem like a futile effort.
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 ecosystem70.
The person of the Forest, or Orangutan, is one such species at risk due to corruption, excessive logging and poaching.71 Palm oil plantations have recently been increased because of world demand and their use as biofuels. Mining and fragmentation by roads are other problems they face.
Other species at risk in Indonesia include the Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran and Javan Rhino and the Asian Elephant.
See the following for some more information on related issues:
Loss of Biodiversity75, in particular the section on deforestation
Centre for Science and Environment76 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:
The African Conservation Foundation79 is a portal web site with many links and information on all sorts of issues related to conservation in Africa.
(The links in these above pages, and at the end of this page provide a lot more information too.)
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
80. In Russia, for example, radioactive waste is
threatening the Arctic
81 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 industry82 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 report83 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 environment84 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 killed92 as a result. And, according to environmental organization, Natural Resources Defense Council93, 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 link94 for additional information.)
For more on LFAS:
The Stop LFAS95 campaign web site has generated over half a million email protests and provides links to more information
A report from the National Resources Defense Council, titled Sounding the Depths; Supertankers, Sonar, and the Rise of Undersea Noise96
The variety of life on Earth, its biological diversity, is commonly referred to as biodiversity. The number of species of plants, animals, and microorganisms, the enormous diversity of genes in these species, the different ecosystems on the planet, such as deserts, rainforests and coral reefs are all part of a biologically diverse Earth. Appropriate conservation and sustainable development strategies attempt to recognize this as being integral to any approach. In some way or form, almost all cultures have recognized the importance of nature and its biological diversity for their societies and have therefore understood the need to maintain it. Yet, power, greed and politics have affected the precarious balance.
Environmental issues are also a major global issue. Humans depend on a sustainable and healthy environment, and yet we have damaged the environment in numerous ways. This section introduces other issues including biodiversity, climate change, animal and nature conservation, population, genetically modified food, sustainable development, and more.
Added an update on declining numbers of large carnivores and the soaring rhino poaching
Added some info on some African nations banning hunting on lions, and an update on criminal activities around soaring rhino killings
Added a small update on some subspecies of rhinos becoming being declared extinct
Added a small note about the impacts of oil spills
Added notes about the impacts of pollution on a global scale
Updated information about Tiger populations
Added a small note about declining rhino populations as well as a video on mountain-gorillas
Link and images added on military sonar impacts on whales and dolphins
Small note added on declining amphibian populations
Added a small note about over 1000 species being discovered in the past decade in the Greater Mekong Region of Southeast Asia.
Added a small section on declining number of primates
Added chart showing spread of declining tiger population. Also made note of declining numbers of penguins and polar bears
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
Hundreds of new animal and plant species discovered in western New Guinea
Added a note about the near extinction of vultures in India
Added a note on the declining number of lions
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.