Wildlife conservation has become a life’s work for very many nature lovers around the world – for good reason as the Garden Wildlife Direct team explains here.
When you dive into the word ‘conservation’ you realise it means preventing a wasted resource. Seeing animal and plant life through the lens of resources gone to waste makes humans seem wholly selfish creatures. It is as if these materials are placed on the planet for our use and any protection of this wildlife is solely the protection of our resources for the future.
Photo Credit: Sam Veasna Conservation Tours – Food training at Jahoo Gibbon Camp, Cambodia, as part of a wildlife conservation programme.
Yet, for most who undertake wildlife conservation, it is defined as the practice of protecting animal species and their habitats for their own sakes, not ours. It is the act of restoration and prevention in defense of wildlife’s right to exist unhindered by humanity. Activities such as agricultural expansion, logging, and poaching are causing the extinction of considerable numbers of our flora and fauna and a loss of essential biodiversity. In the last 40 years, there has been an estimated loss of ten thousand species, or half the world’s wildlife, thanks to human activity. Although extinction has always been a part of nature’s pattern, humans are responsible for accelerating this process by a factor of between 100 and 1000 times normal.
Given these statistics, the reasons for wildlife conservation should be self-evident. Our natural world is a gift and one that we must seek to value and honour by working with its cycles and rhythms if we are to live in harmony with our surroundings. But here are other reasons that offer a practical understanding of why wildlife conservation is important to us.
Pollination and the Continuity of Native Plant Species
Pollinators such as bees, insects, butterflies, and some birds play a critical role in our food production. By pollinating the flora, these animals cause the plants to fruit, seed, and propagate. Without this pollinating role, plants would not provide the foodstuffs we rely on – not just vegetable matter and staples such as wheat and rice but meat from grazing animals.
However, the health of the natural ecosystem is essential to the survival of pollinators. Maintaining native plant life is key to this, which means mass agricultural practices need careful management so that wild vegetation remains available. Without a sufficient number of nutrient-rich flowers, the pollinators die off. Over-use of herbicides and pesticides compounds this loos. Wildlife conservation works to redress the delicate balance that is so central to our food production.
Photo Credit: Nature Travel Namibia, Black Rhino at a waterhole – just one of the mammals of wildlife conservation concern in Africa.
Treasures of the Rainforest
One hundred and twenty prescription drugs sold worldwide are derived directly from rainforest flora. Ingredients used in two-thirds of all cancer-fighting drugs are found in rainforest plants. Through the centuries we have discovered that nature can provide many of the remedies we need to fight our ailments. The venom of a cobra is important in some medications for leprosy, for instance, and many plants can be tapped for their anti-inflammatory properties.
Photo Credit: Sam Veasna Conservation Tours, The critically endangered Giant Ibis in its Asian habitat.
Each time we strip back an ecosystem, we lose flora and fauna that could be the cure for illnesses we are still fighting. Rainforest agencies are working to conserve these precious acres of unique forest for generations to come.
Wildlife Conservation to Protect Human Health
New diseases have emerged that can be attributed to human beings living in ever-closer proximity to wild animals and exploiting these for food and as pets. Ebola, for instance, is a zoonosis, meaning it is a disease that can jump from non-human animals to humans. The natural habitats that separated us from wild animals are being gradually degraded by urban sprawl and expanding agriculture. Conservationists are working to maintain the balance between keeping wild areas wild and providing living and working space for an increasing population.
Humans cannot be healthy in an unhealthy environment, though. Pollution and destructive practices that are causing the loss of wildlife species worldwide also harm us. On a basic level, the clearance of forests can lead directly to increased flooding; the release of chemicals into the air can impact our breathing. Wildlife conservation promotes the awareness that everyone is a part of the system we live in and we need to be mindful of the consequences of our actions.
Another aspect of conservation is the prevention of bioaccumulation. Animals absorb the chemicals and plastics we send out into the environment and these are transmitted up the food chain. An obvious example is a fish that ingest microplastics which then make their way onto our plates.
Photo Credit: Farakunku Lodges, Green Vervet Monkeys are threatened by the exotic pet trade.
Saving Nature for the Sake of our Mental Wellbeing
Being in nature is seen as a key to good mental health. A connection to the ecosystem we inhabit helps us to feel part of something greater than ourselves. In addition, tuning into nature with all our senses can help us calm our nervous system and reduce our stress.
Each time we strip away natural habitats and replace them with man-made materials, exploit the oceans, reduce the forests and tame the wilderness we are removing a connection we have with our world. Why else do we seek out areas of natural beauty to spend our leisure time if not because it gives us such a sense of peace and wellbeing?
Wildlife Conservation as a Key to Tourism
For many countries, the preservation of wildlife is connected to the health of their economy. Places such as Tanzania, Kenya, Costa Rica and areas around the Amazon river rely for important income on visitors who come to view the beauty of their flora and fauna. This has led to local champions for wildlife conservation – a much more important movement than changes being imposed from outside the community. In making choices that reduce unsustainable exploitation of natural resources these indigenous people benefit from the income tourism brings them and reduce their dependence on damaging practices.
Photo Credit: Leon Marais – Lawson’s Birding, Wildlife, and Custom Safaris, African Wildcats – hybridisation with domestic cats is the greatest issue facing these animals.
And wildlife tourism also creates jobs. From hotels to restaurants, transport and food providers and specialist guides, nature provides opportunities for people to make a living.
Securing the Future Health of our Planet
The conservation of wildlife is existential – our planet will not survive if we continue to work against nature. Climate change is the real and significant threat to the future that has arisen from our disregard for our practices. Conservation of species is a battle to secure a healthy world for generations to come.
Ironically, nature is one of the best tools we have for reversing the problems we have created. Excessive carbon release can be captured by planting trees. Maintaining the balance of animals in an ecosystem can prevent plagues of insects, and keeping nature wild can prevent future pandemics. Encouraging ecological stability and balance offers us, as well as wildlife, a healthy place to live.
So Why is Wildlife Conservation so Important?
While the answer to why we should conserve wildlife should be self-evident, it is clear we need to understand the consequences of not looking after our world. Animals and plants should be protected for the mere fact they exist and are part of a natural balance. A very basic example of this is the fact that we breathe in air filled with oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide; plants ingest carbon dioxide and release oxygen. So the waste product of one is a life-giver to the other.
Photo Credit: Jose Luis Sanchez – Iberian Lynx Land – Iberian Lynx have been the subjects of extensive wildlife conservation efforts to keep their populations healthy in Spain and Portugal.
Common sense suggests that if we work with the cycles and rhythms of the planet, nature will provide. Human beings often mistake advancement with making progress. Seeing wildlife conservation at work helps us to understand the limits we are placing on our future health and wellbeing by destroying our natural resources. The danger that pandemics will become more prevalent, extreme weather more violent and our sense of harmony with the world irreparably damaged is brought home to us.
But beyond all these grand reasons for protecting wildlife is one simple truth: we are selfish creatures in causing species to go extinct for our gain and we are depriving our children of their right to see such beauty.
This article has been written by the content team at Garden Wildlife Direct, one of the UK’s leading suppliers of bird food, feeders and much more!