Indigenous Peoples’ lands key for wildlife protection

Indigenous lands cover more than one-quarter of Earth’s land surface, overlapping with 37% of all terrestrial protected areas and 40% of landscapes free from industrial-level human impacts. As a result, Indigenous Peoples and their lands are crucial for the long-term persistence of the planet’s biodiversity and ecosystem services. Furthermore, according to a research study from University of Queensland, Indigenous Peoples’ lands are an important ecological refugia, harbouring a significant proportion of threatened and endangered species globally. In Australia, for example, 45 to 60% of the country’s threatened species occur on Indigenous Peoples’ lands.

The study, lead by Dr. Chris O’Bryan and his team, conducted the first global assessment of the overlap between 4,460 terrestrial mammal species composition and mapped Indigenous Peoples’ lands.

Outstanding importance for wildlife protection

The study found that 2,695 of all mammals species, more than half of the total species assessed, have at least 10% of their ranges in Indigenous Peoples’ lands. In addition, 22.6% of the mammals have more than half of their habitat in these lands, especially in Oceania, Southeast Asia, northern Asia, the grassland and semiarid regions of Africa, and northern South America. For example, the endangered red panda (Ailurus fulgens) and the tiger (Panthera tigris) of Southeast Asia have 73% and 65% of their habitat within Indigeous lands, respectively.

Importantly, when focusing on the 1,002 mammal species classified as threatened by IUCN, almost half of them have at least 10% of their habitat on Indigenous People’s lands.

Although the study only analysed terrestrial mammals due to a higher data availability on habitat distribution, the authors suggest that the patterns observed in mammals may reflect other forms of biodiversity.

Example of species that have >50% of their habitat in mapped Indigenous Peoples’ lands.

Indigenous lands critical for international conservation and sustainable development agendas

Once again, the results of this study are a clear example of how Indigenous Peoples’s lands and knowledge play a globally important role in the conservation of biodiversity into the future. Therefore, the partnership and representation of Indigenous Peoples in global environmental forums, policies and programs aiming to protect global biodiversity such as the Convention on Biodiversity Diversity’s (CBD) is vital.

Such partnerships, however, need to be negotiated, equitable and respectful with local Indigenous People. Only when we fully respect Indigenous People’s rights, including their full and effective participation in developing laws, policies, and programs that affect them, we will be able to ensure the long-term and equitable conservation of biodiversity.

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