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Wildlife hurting as man expands land for farming

Every day there are fewer places left on earth for wildlife. [Isaiah Gwengi, Standard]

Every day there are fewer places left on Earth for wildlife. Expanding cities and farmland, degrading ecosystems and changing climate are driving wildlife from their natural habitats into ever smaller, fragmented areas, the UN has warned. United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) Deputy Executive Director Joyce Msuya says habitat loss, whether caused directly or indirectly by humans, is the greatest threat to life on earth.

“We have wiped out 60 per cent of wildlife in the last 40 years and more than one million species are threatened with extinction. Despite the conservation movements’ efforts to stop the crisis, including investments in public awareness to reduce demand for wildlife and new financial commitments to enable protection of threatened species, not much progress has been achieved,” says Ms Msuya.

She says there is need to revisit our current approaches to conservation and focus our attention on the key driver of the loss of healthy wildlife populations—their habitats. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) issued an alarming report on the impact of human activity on nature. Biodiversity is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history. Three quarters of the land-based environment alone has been severely altered by human actions.

Window of opportunity

“Importantly, these trends are less severe in areas held or managed by indigenous peoples and local communities. Farming and food production are a major agent for the conversion of natural habitat into agricultural land,” said Msuya.

A staggering 60 per cent of all mammals on earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36 per cent are human and just 4 per cent are wild animals, she reveals thus adding that 150 years ago this situation was completely different. Then, terrestrial areas dominated by wild animals and forests. Livestock takes up nearly 80 per cent of global agricultural land yet produces less than 20 per cent of the world’s supply of calories. By drastically and quickly changing how people produce and consume food, they can minimise impacts of the current wildlife crisis. Food production cannot come at the expense of other species and natural spaces. It is a path that will lead to our own demise, she warns. The future of wildlife is ultimately linked to our own future, she points out.

“We have a window of opportunity to change our ways to better protect ecosystems, and a responsibility to do so now. And we need political goodwill to get us there. If our efforts to save songbird species, pangolins, elephants and other wildlife under threat are to be successful, and if we are to save our lot, we need to reject choices that destroy habitats,” Msuya says. 

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