Did you know that it is predicted that up to 21% of South East Asian rainforest species will be gone by 2011?
Did you know that analysis of data studying African forests elephants over a nine-year period between 2002-2011 revealed a population decline by sixty-five percent?
These statistics are unsettling and alarming, so it’s critical, now more than ever, to really take the time to reflect on why species are vanishing at an unprecedented rate, and how we can make the necessary changes to try to save them.
- A version of this article appeared on A Peaceful Living.
As I mentioned in my Earth Day post, I’d like to think that we can collectively be more mindful of the way we live every day, and this notion extends to helping endangered and threatened species. Everything is connected. The things I buy and the way I choose to live up here in Rhode Island, USA can send a ripple effect of consequences across the world.
One of the largest extinction drivers is habitat loss caused by humans. Habitat loss could be caused by urban development, clearing land for agricultural development (soy for livestock or space to graze livestock, for example), or forest cleared to harvest a resource like palm oil or minerals.
In parts of Indonesia, massive swaths of bio-rich forests are being cleared and slashed and burned, at an alarming rate, to supply demand to the palm oil industry. Among the many organisms who call this disappearing ecosystem home, perhaps the most notable is the incredibly intelligent, and endangered orangutan. Palm oil is effectively destroying their homes, so with no place to go or food to forage, these animals are dying of starvation. Luckily the rescue organization International Animal Rescue in West Kalimantan, an area of Borneo, works tirelessly to save as many as they can. That their homes are putting orangutans in closer proximity to humans also leads to baby orangutans being stolen for the pet trade. To read more about palm oil and living palm-oil free visit Selva Beat.
Habitat loss can also lead to pocketing, in which a habitat becomes so fragmented that a particular species essentially becomes trapped and has nowhere to go or find food. Again, this leads to more frequent encounters with humans as animals who have no other place to go can wander into a populated area, trample or consume crops, and find themselves in conflict with humans. Stories of this occurring to elephants in Africa or Tigers in the Sundarbans are common and unfortunate.
Other major extinction drivers include global warming, invasive species, and overexploitation (i.e. hunting and poaching).
So, what can we do as individuals?
Here’s a list of 6 ways you can do you part every day to help protect endangered and threatened species:
1. Never purchase products made from endangered or threatened species.If there is a market for it, there will be a supply – even if the supply is sourced and traded illegally. The illegal wildlife trade thrives because there is a market to support it. Simply put, if you buy it, you’re supporting an industry that is a major contributing factor to the decline of various endangered species. Shark finning,poaching of elephants for their ivory, or the killing of beautiful manta rays for their gills are industries all driven by demand. You may think that purchasing an ornately carved elephant tusk or trying out the local delicacy that happens to include ingredients sourced from an endangered species while on vacation is no cause for concern because the damage has already been done–but you are directly feeding demand. Make sure you know what you’re buying before you buy it, and if there is any question as to how or where the product was sourced, just don’t buy it.
2. Never patronize tourist attractions or carnivals and circuses that use wild animals. There are many scenarios in which one might find themselves presented with the opportunity to interact with a wild animal or see one perform – a traveling circus is perhaps the most common example. Also worth considering is a subset of the booming tourism industry in which attractions featuring wild animals have become increasingly popular. For example, one might see the myriad elephant trekking companies operating throughout South East Asia and think it would be a fun and unique way to explore the natural surroundings and connect with incredible creatures. I understand the initial draw, but not only is it harmful to that particular elephant, it is harmful to the entire species. While some animals are bred in captivity to be used in entertainment and tourism industries, the majority are taken from the wild; overexploitation is a contributing factor to their decline. Tigers, monkeys, elephants, and certain species of bears are especially at risk as they are among the most popularly used animals for entertainment purposes. Using wild animals as entertainment is fraught with enough problems to warrant its own discussion, but worth noting here is the educational component it imparts to younger generations. When young people see wild animals like elephants, tigers, or monkeys only in the context of entertainment it serves to decrease the animals’ intrinsic value as a species existing in the wild – rather than associating them as autonomous beings who are valuable to the ecosystem as a whole, and in their own right, young people will associate them as mere fodder for entertainment. It’s important to provide true educational opportunities that will foster and encourage respect for wild animals and the need for their preservation and responsible stewardship. The fate of endangered species rests, in part, in future generations desire to save them.
Never do this.
3. Don’t buy products that destroy threatened and endangered species habitat. The most glaring example of this is palm oil, which is a major contributing factor to the destruction of precious rainforest that is home to the orangutan, among other plants and animals. Choosing not to buy products containing palm oil and asking brands to use alternatives sends a clear message. As a consumer, you can have an impact by voting where you spend your money.
You can also make more conscious choices when buying products for your home. When shopping for furniture, for example, don’t buy tropical hardwoods or look for furniture made from recycled materials or from woods certified through the Forests Stewardship Council.