Science is core to wildlife conservation

The human impact on wildlife is growing more and more every year — not only due to global warming but also through agriculture gobbling up more and more land, habitat destruction, hunting and poaching, transportation… most of the things we do as a society have a negative impact on wildlife, when they’re done excessively. Biologists even agree that humanity is causing an ongoing massive extinction, with unforeseeable consequences — both for wildlife, and ourselves.

Image via Pixabay.

No conservation without science

Wildlife Conservation Society President Cristian Samper has recently issued a statement highlighting the importance of science when it comes to wildlife conservation.

“Science is at the core of wildlife conservation. It allows us to understand how to conserve wildlife and wild places and measure the impact of our work to save them. At WCS, we march for science every day through our field work in nearly 60 nations and in our zoos aquarium in New York City.”

With the widespread degradation of highly biodiverse habitats such as coral reefs and rainforest, as well as other areas, we don’t even know how much of a damage we are causing, and many believe this extinction will be invisible. Half of the world’s species might be gone by 2100, and it’s not just the animals that will suffer, we’ll suffer right alongside them.

Now, if we want to improve things, we first need to understand what’s going on. This is where scientific research steps in, as Samper explains:

“We could not do our work without science. Our WCS scientists produce more than 400 research papers a year. Science has informed our work throughout our 122-year history – helping to discover new species, to prevent the extinction of species, to achieve recovery of species, to establish protected areas, and to inform policies that help wildlife and communities thrive together.”

“In our early years, science helped us prevent the extinction of the American Bison; it helped us inform the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and it helped us inform a ban on commercial whaling, among many other conservation successes during our first century.”

The golden toad of Costa Rica has been extinct since around 1989. Its disappearance has been attributed to a confluence of several factors, including El Niño warming, fungus, habitat loss and the introduction of invasive species. However, we still don’t know exactly what drove it over the tipping point. Image credits: Charles H. Smith

In modern times, science is just as — if not even more — important. Every day our understanding of biodiversity expands, and we get a better idea of how we can better work to protect vulnerable biodiversity. Basically, we need solid information to take the most efficient conservation measures, and this is all science.

“More recently, science has given us important data that will help with the recovery of forest elephants that have been decimated by poaching. In a paper published last year in the Journal of Applied Ecology, researchers found that forest elephants begin breeding later and have much longer calving intervals than other elephants, which means the population takes much longer to increase. Low birth rates mean that it will take forest elephant populations at least 90 years to recover from their losses. WCS scientist Andrea Turkalo, lead author of the study who collected data over several decades, said this research provides critical understanding regarding the dire conservation status of forest elephants.

It’s not only animals — plants too are threatened. Image via Pixabay.

The march for science

Raising awareness is also key to protecting wildlife, and the upcoming march for science might also play a part in this regard. Scientists and people who care about science and the environment will march on April 22, on Earth Day. It’s important to note that the march is non-political and non-partisan — tackling only non-science and anti-environmentalism, no politics itself. It is hoped, however, that politicians will take note of this march and continue supporting science, instead of “alternative facts.”

“By marching, we aim to celebrate science, not to politicize it. While science is the fine print in all smart policy – at WCS, we want to highlight at the March for Science the importance of science to all our work. Science is behind the good news and bad news about wildlife conservation but it has nothing to do with the fake news. Science is the antithesis of fake news.”

“In 1970, more than 20 million marched on the first Earth Day. I will be honored to march with the millions who are expected to march from around the world on Earth Day 2017 in recognition of the power of science. Science helps us navigate the complicated world of wildlife conservation with the facts. Nothing we do at WCS in our efforts to save wildlife is accomplished without science.”

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