The bad news: One in five vertebrates could go extinct within our lifetime, and the number may rise even higher than that.
The good news: It would be a lot worse if it weren’t for conservation efforts.
That’s the verdict of a global study of 25,000 threatened vertebrate species presented to the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, in Nagoya, Japan. It found mammals, amphibians, and birds are especially hard hit, with fifty species a day sliding closer to extinction. The main culprits are logging, agriculture, hunting, and alien species.
Yet conservation efforts are saving some animals. The white rhino, like the ones pictured above, was almost extinct a hundred years ago but is now the most common rhino in Africa and its status has been upped to Near Threatened, meaning that while it still needs to be watched, it’s not in any immediate danger. Here’s where ecotourism comes in handy. For example, Niger is hoping to cash in on safari tours by helping a unique subspecies of giraffe, bringing the population from fifty to two hundred in just a decade. Countries where the white rhinos roam are also pushing ecotourism and safaris.
Another success story is the giant marine reserve created in the South Pacific a few years back. This 73,800 square-mile reserve is one of the world’s largest and was created by Kiribati, one of the world’s smallest countries. If tiny island nations and poverty-ridden countries can help out their animals, one has to wonder why any species in the First World are threatened at all. Major food sources like tuna face extinction and even mythical beasts like the Loch Ness Monster may be extinct. When even our legends are dying out, you know we’re in trouble.
[Photo courtesy Joachim Huber]
It sounds like a throwback to a colonial age of pith helmets and native porters, but big game hunting is still popular in South Africa. In fact, it’s on the rise.
A recent study by a South African professor says that some 200,000 South Africans engage in the sport, plus an unknown number of tourists. This translates to millions of dollars in revenue every year and thousands of jobs. There are also knock-on bonuses such as increased hotel and retail revenue.
The study urges the Department of Tourism to “promote the industry aggressively” as a means for rural development.
The most popular animal to hunt is springbok, pictured here, followed by impala, blesbok, kudu and warthog. Much of the hunting is actually for meat, but trophy hunting is also in demand. Classic big game such as leopard and elephant, so popular with the pith helmet crowd, are now illegal to hunt. Some of these animals are endangered and all have much smaller populations than in the past, thanks to human encroachment into their lands and, you guessed it, too much hunting. South Africa now has rules in place to hopefully stop this from happening with animals such as the impala and springbok.
Photo courtesy Bourlingueurs.com.
Uganda has started work on habituating another mountain gorilla group to humans in order to expand safaris in its famous Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Habituation involves gradually exposing gorillas to humans in order for the highly territorial groups to get accustomed to human presence. Once the gorilla groups become used to humans being around, they are much less likely to get frightened or aggressive when safari tours show up.
Safaris are big business in Uganda and those that track gorillas constitute about half of the country’s tourism revenue.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, located in southwest Uganda, is made up of 331 square kilometers of thick jungle. Visitors have to travel through it on foot. It’s a tough journey but allows adventure travelers the chance to see one of the richest varieties of wildlife of any East African park. About 340 endangered mountain gorillas live in the park; sadly that constitutes half of the total population in the world. Because of its importance in protecting the gorillas and other plant and animal life, Bwindi is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.