What exactly is wildlife conservation?
Wildlife conservation is primarily working to protect plant and animal species, and their natural habitats.
Who is involved in wildlife conservation?
There are many organisations and individuals involved in conservation; from environmental law makers, to wildlife rehabilitators, to wildlife veterinarians, safari guides, game rangers, ecologists among many others. Some big, well known conservation bodies include WWF (World Wildlife Fund), Wildlife Conservation Network, National Audubon Society, World Land Trust, and hundreds of others.
One important group of people, who are often forgotten about or shunned, are zookeepers and zoo staff. Zoos offer the absolute last resort of backup genetics for any species that is close to extinction or has gone extinct. There are a number of species that would be completely gone without zoos, and some species have even been put back into the wild, so we definitely need zoos, mostly because of the acts of humans who selfishly take and take without thinking of the consequences. I will be going into depth on the work of zoos in an upcoming blog, so make sure you look out for that.
When we think of conservation, we mostly think of animals, maybe the plight of the rhinos comes to mind, or the piles of burning elephant tusks shocked you so you want to protect the elephants now, but have you ever considered that plants need specialist conservation in certain parts of the world?
There are species of plant which have become incredibly rare; usually caused by habitat destruction, such as illegal logging in the Amazon Rainforest, and replanting the land with an oil palm plantation. There are projects all over the world trying to create backup seed banks of these plants so that if the devasting day comes where these plants can’t be found in the wild, there is still a pool of seeds that can be used to regrow them. One such project in the UK is the infamous Eden Project in Cornwall, although I’m yet to visit myself still.
Why is conservation such a big deal?
Conservation is a big deal because the main reason animals and plants are becoming so greatly endangered is due to humans. There are some pretty nasty people in the world that for whatever reason think that their bank balance is worth more than an animals’ life. In other cases, there are people trying to feed their families that get lured in to do the dirty work for the rich people who want more.
If we don’t try and conserve the natural world, the earth will be thrown out of balance, and issues like the Coronavirus pandemic will become more frequent. The continuous removing of the world’s rainforests will drive climate change to uncontrollable heights, with extreme weather becoming increasingly frequent and unpredictable. The reduction of invertebrates, especially the pollinators, won’t just mean reduced food sources for wildlife, but reduced food sources for us. A lot of our food is produced with plant products, without the pollinators, our food abundance will dwindle.
Not only will the poaching and killing of animals upset the natural balance of the world, it could be a cause for major disease outbreaks that would otherwise be under control. For instance, vultures have an incredibly strong stomach acid, capable of killing some very horrible diseases such as anthrax. Vultures are prosecuted and poached for traditional beliefs and medicines; some ridiculous notions including that if you eat the brain of a vulture, you will be able to see into the future and others pertaining the smoking of certain body parts, sleeping with the skull next to your pillow etc. Vultures are being killed in mass numbers caused by purposefully poisoned carcasses, seriously affecting the numbers left in the wild. Just a few months after I left Africa, at the start of 2015, there was a mass poisoning, killing 65 vultures in one fell swoop; but not only did the poisoned carcass kill the vultures, two jackals were found dead, as well as a number of other animals as the poison had run into a nearby water source. Vultures, jackals and other predators especially are incredibly important to keep disease from spreading through the eco-system from old rotting carcasses.
Other animals are also killed for “traditional medicine” with notions such as curing cancer, improving sexual health, reducing headaches and other such things. With scientific evidence and studies, we know these things are simply not true and it is unbelievable that the killing of animals still goes on to drive this industry.
How does conservation work then with so many different issues?
A lot of conservation efforts start way before thinking about working in the field to make protection plans. One of the most effective ways to drive out the traditional medicines, and other beliefs that may be carried, is to educate the local people, especially the children in the local schools. Children often become very passionate when they are exposed to some of these issues and it allows them to go home and tell their parents about it. Of course, there are going to be people who refuse to change and that is why on the ground protection and research is needed.
Conservation projects will first send a group of specialist researchers into the area of interest to find out more about the animal’s ecology, behaviour, range and other such things. From this information, a plan of action can be developed, such as creating protected areas where it is then illegal to enter or hunt, and then to put anti-poaching units on patrol in those areas. There are other steps that will need to be taken due to funding distribution needs etc which is normally the determining factor sadly. There are many other things that happen in conservation, perhaps more steps that I am not aware of as of yet, but these are the basic considerations for setting up and running a conservation project.
There are many other projects set up, such as Animals Asia, who work to rescue Sun Bears in Asia that have been trapped for the bear bile farming industry, an absolutely horrific thing to see.
There are many different aspects of conservation, some are office jobs pertaining to management and coordination of projects, some jobs are physical and in the field, researching, protecting and so on.
What isn’t lacking in any area of these jobs is the passion to protect the natural world, something which sadly the humans shouldn’t be involved with as we don’t know how to care for it properly. No other animal seeks out to destroy another animals home deliberately, no matter the costs.
Wildlife conservation support ideas
- Your local zoo – a lot of zoos run many different in-situ projects, helping to protect the habitat for the cousins of the animals you see in their care (make sure it’s a reputable zoo where the animals have high welfare standards).
- WWF – they have many different projects all over the world protecting habitats and protecting the animals within those habitats.
- In-situ volunteering projects – these projects will employ locals (helping with many developing countries and their high unemployment rates) – these projects will also give you experience to put on your CV to help you further your career.
- Any charity that piques your interest – maybe you have a favourite animal, or group of animals – look for charities that work with those species and support them. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of wildlife conservation charities out there, and if you’re here reading this blog, you have the internet so you will be able to find them if you look hard enough. One example would be the Urban Caracal Project in South Africa, working to conserve Caracals in Cape Town.
- Becoming an advocate to protect a certain species. No, you don’t need a big name like David Attenborough or Jane Goodall to campaign to save animals. You could start your own blog about your passion, helping to educate others and driving passion in them. This could either help you raise funds to support an already existing charity, or you could work to create your own in the future.
- Promote conservation education, encourage people to watch nature documentaries, read nature books, go on nature walks and become mindful of their impact on the world.