Imagine a world in which forests are brimming with the sounds of birds and bugs, wild animals roam all seven continents, the oceans are clear of debris, and habitats like the rainforest are lush with life — this is a possible future we’re facing right now. This is the future we want to face.
Human and wildlife connection
In 2020, we saw the planet at what seemed to be an all-time low — a devastating pandemic, fires ravaging vast swaths of land, and further loss of various species and biodiversity — there’s no question that climate change is an imminent danger. About 60% of communicable diseases are transmissible between humans and animals. Considering the accelerating destruction of forests and other natural habitats, the risks of emerging diseases are higher. And while TV series and documentaries like Our Planet allow us to see the threat of climate change to wildlife, it can seem like a distant nightmare unrelated to our own issues. However, the reality is we’re all connected. If we preserve nature and wildlife, humanity benefits too.
By achieving sustainable development goals and implementing major changes, experts agree we can limit global warming by reducing worldwide emissions. But what does wildlife have to do with it?
What’s the connection between the natural world, people, and wildlife?
When nature is out of balance, so are we. In its biennial Living Planet Report 2020, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) shows that by continuing to take over previously uninhabited land and allowing wildlife trade to flourish, we not only destroy natural habitats, we also ravage wildlife. Observed populations of various species — fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals — decreased in size by about 68% from 1970 to 2016. Destruction of nature isn’t only a tragedy, it’s also dangerous; we risk pandemics and amplify climate change.
Zoonotic diseases or zoonoses, like coronaviruses, are diseases that can pass from animals to humans (and vice versa). In an interview with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Bernard Bett, a scientist and researcher at the International Livestock Research Institute, observes that such diseases are increasing. Why are we seeing a rise in zoonotic diseases? “Land use,” says Bett, “climate change, economic development, population growth and people living in densely populated areas are all contributors for zoonotic emergence”. These same issues also threaten biodiversity.
But biodiversity is really the answer to the problem itself. Bett explains that preserving biodiversity causes a “dilution effect” in a given ecosystem, and clarifies that “this is because in a mixed population of hosts, some would be ‘dead end’ hosts, which don’t allow an infection to occur”. In order to preserve biodiversity, we’ll also need to reduce those risk factors for zoonotic diseases, meaning that we’ll not only be on a better, more sustainable path, but we’ll also be much more likely to avoid another pandemic.
While the WWF 2020 Report acknowledges that accurately measuring biodiversity loss and the true impact of human influence on the natural world is difficult, all indications show that we are facing a decline in the health of the planet — “We cannot shield humanity from the impacts of environmental destruction. It’s time to restore our broken relationships with nature for the benefit of species and people alike”.
What is World Wildlife Day?
Back in 2013, the UN designated March 3 as World Wildlife Day to celebrate the biodiversity of wildlife worldwide. Every year, a new theme is selected to highlight an aspect of biodiversity that needs our attention. In 2021, that theme is Forests and livelihoods: sustaining people and planet, aligning with several UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and bringing awareness to the connection between nature and humanity — an apt campaign in these times.
According to the WWF, 80% of all land animals call the forest home, 300 million people live in forests, and about one-fifth of the world’s population depend on forests. Woodlands are a crucial ecosystem for both humans and animals, yet forests still face a surmounting threat. Every year, we lose more than seventeen million acres of forests, and that’s after improvements — deforestation has slowed by over 50% in the past quarter of a century.
How can we all take action as individuals?
Making regular donations to appropriate funds and signing petitions created by organizations like the WWF are great ways to help wildlife. But there are other ways you can help out in your own backyard. Here are seven ways you can be a local conservationist.
- Take a walk (or a hike!) and get to know the wildlife in your neighborhood. If you have kids, educate them about the different species of plants and animals that you see. You’ll learn more about the nature around you and hopefully get in a healthy stroll too!
- Keep phone numbers of nearby wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centers. If you see an injured animal or find unwelcome guests in your backyard (or attic) then you’ll know where to call, which will ensure your and the animal’s safety. These organizations and facilities are trained to help wildlife in your area and can walk you through next steps.
- Encourage eco-friendly sustainable practices in your household. Use environmentally friendly products and take action by recycling, reusing, or donating items, and reducing water waste. This will mitigate negative impacts on local wildlife habitat.
- Take responsibility for your consumption and know what’s in your food or product and where it came from — you’ll help prevent wildlife trafficking and possible transmission of diseases.
- Visit protected areas like preserves or national parks and see wildlife from a safe distance. You’ll be able to see beautiful sights for a small fee (or sometimes, for free!) and aid preservation efforts. And if you’re camping nearby, do your best to leave no trace.
- Volunteer — it doesn’t have to take up all your time. Plenty of local centers, parks, and organizations could use your help. Whether it’s clearing trash, planting trees, or even offering your expertise (like accounting or social media management), there are many nontraditional ways to be an advocate.
- Learn and educate others. It seems simple enough, but taking the time to learn more about endangered species and the realities of losing biodiversity in your area can make a difference. You’ll be prepared to support legislation to protect wildlife and know endangered species from invasive species.
There are many other ways to protect wildlife in your area. Your local efforts will create larger change and influence others to take action as well — you do have the power to make a difference for wildlife, for nature, and for us.