Like most people, I love almost everything that has to do with nature especially the animals that live alongside us on an everyday basis depending on where we live. But we have a problem that so many people have addressed for so long and that is the conservation of all our wildlife.
You’d be surprised and possibly a bit saddened to know that there are an estimated 1,000 endangered animal and plant species worldwide and this number is only increasing (AnimalSake 2018). Off the top of your head you may already have a few animals you’ve heard as being endangered. This list may include the bengal tiger, polar bears, gorillas and, surprisingly, sea otters.
There is much research out there to spell out what’s happening and how we can prevent further damage. Let’s have a look.
First, what is wildlife? Your pet cat, dog, or bird used to be a part of this group and still technically fall under the label of wildlife. Undomesticated animal species are normally labeled as such and occasionally flora falls under this. This has also come to include fungi and other species that haven’t been introduced to humans.
Unfortunately, wildlife may not be introduced to humans themselves but to the effects humans have on the planet. Activities such as deforestation, urbanization, and overfishing and things such as global warming has been having an effect on the flora/fauna population.
“Because of global warming, polar bears are resorting to cannibalism, as a result of loss of ice. 10’s of thousands of Adélie penguins have died in the Antarctic, apparently because ice no longer extends far enough into the sea for them to reach their breeding grounds. If enough plants and animals start dying off, eventually the changes will work their way up the food chain until humans are threatened” (Vashi 2013).
Deforestation is another problem to tackle. To make room for agriculture and cattle, farmers and ranchers will cut down forests and occasionally use the slash-and-burn technique you may have learned in freshman year of highschool. “These fires not only alter the structure and composition of forests, but they can open up forests to invasive species, threaten biological diversity, alter water cycles and soil fertility, and destroy the livelihoods of the people who live in and around the forests” (WWF).
LiveScience reports that according to the FAO, half of the world’s tropical forests have been cleared. Compared to the world’s landmass, forests still cover 30% of it, “but swaths half the size of England are lost each year” (National Geographic). LiveScience also reports that the Earth loses 18.7 million acres of forests per year, which is equal to 27 soccer fields every minute, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Deforestation also plays a hand in 15% of greenhouse gas emissions (WWF) which leads to global warming as stated before and eventually causing problems for the ecosystem and wildlife.
WWF’s 2016 Living Planet Report found global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012. WWF also reported that “we’re seeing the largest drop in freshwater species: on average, there’s been a whopping 81% decline in that time period.”
Freshwater ecosystems are usually very fragile and they only cover about 1% of the world. Humans, though, divert their flow, pollute them, and drain them of resources (Kazmeyer). Humans rely on freshwater, too, but our effect on them is rather devastating. Some ways humans have altered freshwater ecosystems is with the overuse of water and pollution and chemical runoff.
The waterways that help wildlife thrive is also the water that is supplied to towns and cities. When water is overused, the natural renewal of these waterways can affect the ecosystem negatively. “Reducing the amount of water in lakes and other reservoirs puts pressure on aquatic populations, reducing the amount of living space available, and in some cases, it dries up streams and ponds entirely” (Kazmeyer).
These ecosystems face pollution and runoff threats from nearby towns and cities as well. Kazmeyer states that “industrial dumping, particulate pollution from combustion engines, and agricultural fertilizers and pesticides, in many cases end up in rivers and streams, either falling there directly or carried to the waterways by rain.” Toxic pollutants have an effect on freshwater, yes, but less lethal compounds can affect the wildlife that relies on these waterways. “Some of these toxic substances can even cause genetic mutations, altering the life cycle of fish, amphibians and other wildlife and causing birth defects that can destroy a population over time” (Kazmeyer).
These are just some of the tragic effects of humans on the ecosystems worldwide. There are a number of other things that fall hand-in-hand with deforestation, water pollution, overfishing, poaching, illegal hunting, and a variety of other things. Of course, people are trying. We’ve been planting more trees, getting people to use and waste less water, we’re educating others on biodiversity and raising awareness. Humans have created sanctuaries for endangered species and are breeding them in captivity to raise the decreasing populations, but all of this isn’t enough just yet. We ourselves should go out and join a wildlife conservation cause. If we aren’t able to support anyone just yet, we should make others aware and have them support or spread the word as well.
There’s going to be a point when it’ll be too late and that’s when mostly everyone is going to truly try their best to conserve the wildlife populations. How long until we humans are the ones struggling to survive because the species that help us thrive are gone? I can’t say for certain, but what I can say that it’s going to require so many of us to try and start helping these plants and animals grow and live life to the fullest without having to run from what they may call home.