Wildlife populations supporting food, medicine and livelihoods under threat - Veterinary Practice
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Wildlife populations supporting food, medicine and livelihoods under threat

A new global study led by the Zoological Society London has found that wildlife targeted for human use sees steep decline, but conservation and wildlife management are best chance to sustain it

A new study which looks at populations of wild mammals, birds and fish used by humans for food, medicine, recreation and livelihoods has shown that these species are declining at a much faster rate over time than those which are not. This is the first time that data has been compiled on wildlife used or relied on by people across all seven continents, showing the status and trends of these species. 

Led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the study, published in One Earth on Friday 15 April, shows that in the areas where wildlife has been effectively managed populations are stabilising and even thriving. This demonstrates that targeted conservation efforts can work to slow biodiversity losses, and in the best cases, reverse them. 

The study is the first global indicator of trends in wildlife populations “utilised” by humans, whether this be by hunting, fishing or collecting – and reveals that there has been a steep decline of 50 percent (calculated using the Living Planet Index (LPI) method) on average between 1970 and 2016, with species from tropical regions in Africa, terrestrial and freshwater species in the Americas, and marine populations from Asia-Pacific worst affected. 

Although much of the world’s biodiversity currently faces drastic threats, including habitat loss and climate change, the study warns that if this downward trend continues for these utilised populations, the multitude of pressures will become completely unsustainable, not only affecting the survival of precious wildlife species and the integrity of ecosystems, but the lives of millions of local people who rely on them. 

Authored by ZSL with expert input and funding from the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), the study showed that where populations were being managed with protections or conservation measures, such as through community-based natural resource management and sustainable or small-scale fisheries, trends were more likely to be stable or increasing. 

Lead author and ZSL researcher, Louise McRae said: “We know that the human-use of wildlife can pose a threat to biodiversity if done unsustainably, but this is the first time we have quantified these impacts at the global scale. It is significant because not only are we losing biodiversity at an alarming rate, many people around the world also rely directly on wildlife for their livelihoods. 

“The declines revealed in our study show that current levels of exploitation of wildlife may be unsustainable, but where management strategies are in place, dual benefits can be seen for both wildlife and people, so there are solutions that work.” 

The indicator took two years to create using a data set from scientific papers and reports of 2,944 species from across the seven continents, 1,348 of which were pinpointed as “utilised”. 

Evidence of conservation and management benefitting both people and wildlife can be seen in the case of the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) from the Northern territory of Australia, where the controlled harvesting of eggs has been an incentive for its conservation. This work has supported recovery of the species to similar abundance levels as before numbers first went down.  

Community-led conservation initiatives are also prime examples of the efforts needed to tackle the decline of these species. ZSL’s work with communities around Chitwan and Bardia National Parks in India and Nepal to champion local livelihoods and address the competition for grazing between livestock and wildlife aims to support local people to reap some benefit from protecting threatened species that they live alongside. Recent recoveries in greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) numbers show the impact that these approaches can have. 

The sustainable use of resources has been recognised as central to biodiversity conservation and the team hope that their findings will help inform global biodiversity assessments and provide a baseline to track progress towards the post-2020 global biodiversity framework which is a focal point of the long-awaited COP15 conference. 

UNEP-WCMC Chief Scientist Neil Burgess said: “Our research not only shows how human use affects wildlife population trends in broad terms, it also highlights that effective management can have a positive impact on the populations of used species. These are important findings for the global conservation community and efforts to combat global biodiversity declines on the ground, as well as helping to progress urgent international goals to reverse biodiversity loss.” 

ZSL is urging governments to ensure nature and biodiversity loss is part of wider policy-decision making, and recognise its interconnections with other environmental issues such as climate change. Find out more and support ZSL global science and conservation work by donating online.  

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