Photo: Phubadee Na Songkhla / Shutterstock
In the early 1950s, carving out a road in the newly-created Tsavo National Park in Kenya involved “hacking through scrubland,” according to Dame Daphne Sheldrick in her memoir, Love, Life, and Elephants. Founder of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an organization that rescues orphaned elephants and rhinos, she describes the park landscape as “inhospitable country, covered in an entanglement of dense scrub vegetation infested with tsetse fly...” but “known for its diversity of indigenous species, including fearsome lions, breeding herds of elephants, and thousands of black rhinos.”
Today, the two-lane Mombasa-Nairobi highway (A109) dissects the park to form Tsavo East and Tsavo West. This causes problems for wildlife. Richard Leakey, Chairman of Kenya’s Wildlife Service, says that 18 elephants have been killed from collisions with trucks, and other wildlife become roadkill on a regular basis.
World Wildlife Day
Located in the northern area of the country, it is the second largest protected area in Lao PDR, and co-managed by the provincial offices of forest resources conservation and local communities.
Since 2013, the World Bank has supported this area with an $800,000 grant under the Nam Et Phou Louey Tiger Landscape Conservation project. Together with the Wildlife Conservation Society, our implementing partner, the project promotes the use of sustainable natural resources and the protection of species threatened by human interaction.
On March 3rd we will celebrate World Wildlife Day. Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2013, this day raises awareness of the world’s wild fauna and flora. This year’s theme, "The future of wildlife is in our hands" resonates with those who understand the impact of species loss on the health of ecosystems and human survival.
We are currently in the midst of the sixth, man-made mass extinction of plants and animals. Experts estimate the current loss of species to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. The global Living Planet Index (LPI) shows an overall species decline of 52% between 1970 and 2010. Our increasing demands on nature are driving the two biggest catastrophic threats to species decline- habitat loss and wildlife trade. Habitat loss is a threat to 85% of all species. Exploitation (including poaching and wildlife trade) is the most immediate threat to wildlife populations worldwide.
Illicit trafficking in wildlife is a multifaceted global threat. The problem is particularly acute in Africa, where poaching is leading some charismatic species to the brink of extinction. For example, in 2011 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the Western black rhino extinct, largely due to poaching. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) program estimated that in the last 5 years, between 22,000 to 25,000 elephants were poached per year across Africa.
The World Bank’s vision is a world free of poverty. As this statement suggests, it is rare that we tackle a problem that is not grounded in poverty. Today, on World Wildlife Day, it is our imperative to draw attention to one such issue, an issue that does not stem from poverty but rather comes from greed and neglect. Today, we take on poaching.
The illegal capture and killing of wildlife takes place primarily in developing countries but it is not an issue born out of poverty. The criminological community has disproved the notion that poverty causes crime and found rather that many crimes are opportunistic. In the absence of poverty, crime lives on. This is true of wildlife crime as well, as discussed by World Wildlife Fund experts in a recent interview.
It may seem like a silly question. And of course I’m not proposing that we stock schools with bears and lions – that would probably keep students away. Nor am I suggesting that saving lions will solve the undersupply of education in developing countries. Rather, I am making a broader point about the links between different parts of ecosystems, which often have an indirect but underappreciated bearing on human development.
Habitat conversion and fragmentation, depletion of prey, and hunting have in many parts of the world reduced the ranges of wolves, lions, bears, tigers, sea otters, and other large carnivores to less than half of their original range. When their numbers nosedive, we not only lose iconic species. Ecosystems also lose the keystone species that eat smaller carnivores and herbivores. When fewer animals down the food chain get eaten, ecosystems change – and those changes affect us humans too. A recent article in Science Magazine casts a systematic light on the issue, and its lessons are important for development.
On land, large carnivores can help ensure functioning ecosystems. Consider the case of West Africa, where lions and leopard populations have dropped precipitously. Both species hunt olive baboons, which in turn like to eat the small antelopes, livestock, and food crops that humans also consume. Fewer lions and leopards have resulted in more baboons and more competition for food with humans. In some areas, baboon raids on fields have even forced families to keep children home from school so that they can protect the family crops. Also, since carnivores often go after sick prey, they reduce the prevalence of disease in their prey population. This can limit disease spillover between wild and domesticated animals, as well as cut related pastoralism and animal husbandry costs.