The foremost reason for the current biodiversity crisis is the overexploitation of natural resources by humans. This has already pushed many species into extinction through the last centuries, like the great auk, passenger pigeon and the Carolina parakeet. Many more are highly threatened from it, like Sumatran rhinoceros, saiga antelope, chinchilla or many large cat species. Overexploitation occurs from many reasons, including poaching for fur, ivory and traditional Chinese medicine trade, for local consumption, in particular of fish, or by collectors. In addition, wildlife sometimes causes significant damage to locals, such as by crop destruction or livestock depredation. By killing the animals, locals try to reduce the damage to their livelihood and become safer.
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Exploitation of wildlife can be a very important activity for the survival of the local poor communities, as it provides them with food or with very high profits from wildlife trade. Therefore, in order to prevent further overexploitation, conservation strategies often aim to provide locals with an alternative livelihood. For example, in Pakistan, a trophy hunting scheme is in place to protect the Suleiman markhor and the Afghan urial. In this way, the locals agreed to give up their traditional hunting rights for promises of new jobs. Similarly, many ecotourism schemes exist that provide the communities with income not related to killing wildlife. In this way, they increase wildlife acceptance and motivation to conserve wildlife.
Economic crisis and nature exploitation linked
The new Coronavirus is causing a collapse of global economy, in particular tourism, as there are restrictions on travel. While trophy hunting and ecotourism work great in normal circumstances, at the moment, they cannot operate. This means a great loss of income for those involved. Considering that it’s the most vulnerable who suffer most in such crises, they may not have a choice but go back to what they did before – hunt bushmeat. In addition, even others that work in other sectors have now lost their jobs and need an alternative livelihood, like bushmeat.
And indeed, there is already a spike in tiger poaching in India, while 1% of the entire population of the giant ibis was wiped out in a single event in Cambodia. In addition, over 100 painted stork chicks were killed in the largest water bird colony in Southeast Asia. Such high rates of wildlife killing lead to overexploitation.
Furthermore, many national parks and wildlife reserves also receive funding through tourism which is now absent. With the income gap and stronger pressures on nature, it is now going to be even harder for them to protect their area and enforce the laws.
The pressure is likely not going to affect only vulnerable wildlife species, but might rather have an impact on the entire ecosystems. The increased reliance on natural resource will include forest and forest products, that might also cause increased deforestation. Illegal logging is already a large problem across the world. That’s not only the case in tropical ecosystems like the Amazon but also in Europe.
Do we value nature enough?
The spill-over of the current economic crisis into conservation crisis points to a deeper problem of conservation funding. As funding is generally scarce, mostly through donations and profits from tourism, the entire system collapses easily. Even in the best of times, conservation is under-funded, but in times of crisis, many efforts are simply reversed. This shows how we still perceive nature to have a low value and secondary importance compared to economy. Yet, we directly depend on nature for clean air, water, food and better health. Therefore, a reconsideration of this is absolutely crucial. Thus, nature conservation should be an essential part of our fight for survival rather than a privilege. Particularly considering that such pandemics are made more likely by our destruction of nature.
Finance ministers from G20 countries are meeting this week to discuss economic recovery after the pandemic crisis. Expert conservation group Campaign for Nature is calling on them to include nature protection in their plans.