World Wildlife Day: Taking a holistic approach in wildlife conservation

Dr Theresa Mundita S Lim

The survival of iconic animals, such as elephants, orangutans, tigers, raptors, and hornbills, to name a few, easily comes to mind when we talk about wildlife conservation. While the plight of endangered species gives conservationists, governments, and organisations more obvious reasons to work even harder, wildlife conservation goes beyond the protection of species and needs to be carried out in a holistic fashion.

From large predators feeding on small ones to bees that act as pollinators, those that live in the wild are interconnected with each other and need protection.

The theme of this year’s World Wildlife Day celebration ‘Sustaining all life on Earth’ reminds us of the bigger picture of wildlife, which encompasses wild animals and plant species and their habitats. The ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) stands in solidarity with the international community in celebrating this important occasion for all living things on the planet, especially at this crucial time when one million species are on the brink of extinction, according to the 2019 report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

In the ASEAN Region, the Red List Index (RLI) has been decreasing, albeit slowly, from 2006 at 0.8510 to 0.8485 in 2013, according to the data of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This means the rate of species extinctions has increased in seven years. Lower RLI means higher rate of species extinctions.

There have been cases of local extinction in the past. The Helmeted hornbill or Rhinoplax vigil, native to six ASEAN Member States, namely Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand is considered extinct in Singapore and is listed as critically endangered species in the other member states.

White-lipped frog. PHOTO: ASEP AYAT

Late last year, the last Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia died, making the species extinct in the country. At present, there are only 80 remaining rhinos, all living in Indonesia. These cases of local extinction and threats of species extinction are discomfiting, serving as a wakeup call for us.

Conserving biodiversity in ASEAN is globally significant as data from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2019 show that 3,875 species, or 13 per cent of the species threatened with extinction globally, are found in the ASEAN region.

As the region is constantly challenged by wildlife trafficking and loss of natural habitats, actions at all levels are important. We commend the efforts of the ASEAN Member States in enforcing wildlife protection laws and improving habitats for wildlife.

In Thailand, a wildlife corridor built to connect Khao Yai National Park and Thap Lan National Park through added vegetation and improvement in the landscapes, helped the movement of wildlife and increased the population size of at least five endangered species and five endemic species, according to Thailand’s sixth national report recently submitted to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

In Malaysia, citizens, particularly the youth, are tapped to lead conservation-related efforts. Volunteers patrol the Sungai Yu Wildlife Corridor, which connects the greater Taman Negara landscape with the Titiwangsa range. They dismantle snares and report illegal logging activities and encroachment within the forest reserves. Certified divers have also been trained as ‘EcoDivers’ in Reef Check surveys that are conducted annually around the country.

With the ASEAN Member States, the ACB made strides through programmes, such as the ASEAN Heritage Parks Programme, which supports wildlife conservation in the ASEAN by training park managers and protected area staff in effective protected area management, and providing opportunities for them for collaboration. The ACB also recognises the importance of livelihood opportunities through biodiversity-based products for members of communities who are often lured to illegal wildlife hunting and other environmental crimes.

Hope is empowering. With 2020 as “super year for nature and biodiversity”, governments and stakeholders are working with optimism and vitality on the development of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which will guide the world’s actions towards wildlife conservation and addressing biodiversity loss.

At the Third ASEAN Conference on Biodiversity or ACB 2020 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this month with ‘Towards 2050: Living in harmony with nature’ as the theme, representatives of the ASEAN member states will discuss key issues and best practices in wildlife conservation and sustainable management, among other topics like climate change, sustainable financing, and mainstreaming biodiversity.

Outputs from the ACB 2020 will likewise feed into the region’s unified position on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

An action-oriented and forward-looking biodiversity framework, together with initiatives on the ground, is crucial for a holistic and effective approach in protecting and conserving wildlife and their habitats.