Today, for those of you unawares, is the inaugural World Wildlife Day. Why World Wildlife Day? Well, in the words of Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations:
“While the threats to wildlife are great, we can reduce them through our collective efforts. On this inaugural World Wildlife Day, I urge all sectors of society to end illegal wildlife trafficking and commit to trading and using wild plants and animals sustainably and equitably”
In other words, wildlife have intrinsic value in and of themselves, but humans also rely upon wildlife for survival, and due to poor wildlife management, these amazing natural resources are now direly threatened with extinction. Luckily, it is in our power to protect wildlife from the forever fate of extinction!
Wildlife are important to human survival not only because we hunt them for food, but because they regulate the environment around us. A healthy ecosystem is protected against threat of invasive species, for example, while an imbalanced ecosystem is much more susceptible. Along the Pacific Northwest, English Ivy and blackberry bushes are taking over much of the natural landscape. At first glance, that might not be a big deal -blackberries taste good, and ivy is pretty. However, invasive species push out the native species in an unhealthy system. It can lead to erosion, poor soil and water quality, and of course loss of biodiversity. We need these things to thrive so that an ecosystem has some resiliency in the event of a disruption. If something happens that the invasive species are not equipped for, they may be wiped out (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing by itself) and leave the landscape and its residents vulnerable to catastrophe such as mud slides while succession takes its time to happen.
Furthermore, while we may appreciate the beauty of wildlife, we may never fully understand its intricacies. We never understood the value of wolves, beavers, sea otters, and other keystone species until we drove them to near extinction. Then, once that critical species was out of the picture, we noticed the balance of the food chains and ecosystems faltering. There were too many elk, who ate too much food, who became overcrowded and ill; there are now much more coyotes than ever before; there are no more constructed ponds serving as refugia for migrating birds, for fish, for frogs; the kelp forests began to disappear because the otters weren’t there to eat their favorite prey, the sea urchin. As we brought these species back from the brink, the ecosystems began slowly to fall back into line as well.
I mention how wildlife affects humans because, unfortunately, not everyone is as enamored with wildlife as I am. I recognize the very real plight and struggle of impoverished humans around the world who do not have the luxury to be concerned about the lovely animals while their children go hungry. But it is important for us, in the first world, to teach them why these animals are important, and how they can prosper while still protecting the environment. And yes, it can be done. Rhino horns are just keratin, the same protein as your nails and hair – it isn’t a magical cure for anything. And for us, who don’t struggle for food, it is even more important to do what we can to help.
Yes, there are things we can do, beyond just throwing money at the problem and hoping it disappears (although donations to reputable wildlife charities are always encouraged). The most important thing we can all do is to conserve habitats – habitats are where animals live, and if the habitat is healthy and whole, the animals will be able to thrive on their own, typically. So don’t litter, always recycle, reduce and reuse in the first place, buy sustainable products whenever you can, eat a lot less meat (three times a week is plenty), and use less water. Things you can start today, and thinking back on it, I made a post similar to this for New Year’s called “Conservation in the Context of Resolutions”
So now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about some amazing wildlife!