New York, NY – A new study comparing the wildlife conservation commitments of nations around the globe has found that affluent countries in the developed world commit less to the conservation of large mammals than poorer nation states. Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, and Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) directed the study published today in Global Ecology and Conservation.
Led by Panthera Research Associate Dr. Peter Lindsey, scientists created a Mega-Fauna Conservation Index (MCI) to evaluate the footprint of 152 nations around the globe in conserving large, imperiled animal species, such as tigers, lions and gorillas. The MCI evaluates spatial, ecological and financial contributions, including: a) the proportion of the country occupied by each mega-fauna species; b) the proportion of mega-fauna species range that is protected; and c) the amount of money spent on conservation, either domestically or internationally, relative to GDP.
As reported today in The Economist, the study’s findings revealed that poorer countries tend to take a more active approach to the protection of large mammals than richer nations. Ninety percent of countries in North and Central America and 70 percent of countries in Africa were classified as major or above-average mega-fauna conservation performers.
Although challenged by poverty and instability in many parts of the continent, Africa prioritizes and makes more of an effort for large mammal conservation than any other region of the world. In fact, Africa accounts for four of the five top-performing mega-fauna conservation nations, including Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The United States ranked 19 out of the top 20 performing countries.
Conversely, approximately one-quarter of countries in Asia and Europe were identified as major mega-fauna conservation underperformers. Asia as a region scored lowest on the MCI, home to the greatest number of countries classified as conservation underperformers.
Lead author and Panthera Research Associate, Dr. Peter Lindsey, stated, “Scores of species across the globe, including tigers, lions and rhinos, are at risk of extinction due to a plethora of threats imposed by mankind. We cannot ignore the possibility that we will lose many of these incredible species unless swift, decisive and collective action is taken by the global community.”
Human-caused threats, including poaching for the illegal wildlife trade and habitat loss and persecution due to conflict with people, among others, are devastating large animal populations around the globe. Recent studies indicate that 59% of the world’s largest carnivores and 60% of the world’s largest herbivores are currently threatened with extinction.
Professor David Macdonald, Director of WildCRU and co-author of the paper said, “Every country should strive to do more to protect its wildlife. Our index provides a measure of how well each country is doing, and sets a benchmark for nations that are performing below the average level to understand the kind of contributions they need to make as a minimum. There is a strong case for countries where mega-fauna species have been historically persecuted, to assist their recovery.”
The creation of this conservation index aims to mobilize and elevate international conservation support and action for large animal species, acknowledging those countries making the greatest sacrifices for conservation and encouraging nations who are doing less to increase their efforts. Scientists seek to produce this conservation index annually to provide a public benchmark for commitment to protecting nature’s largest, and, some would say, most charismatic wildlife.
Addressing how countries can improve their MCI scores, Dr. Lindsey commented, “There are three ways. They can ‘re-wild’ their landscapes by reintroducing mega-fauna and/or by allowing the distribution of such species to increase. They can set aside more land as strictly protected areas. And they can invest more in conservation, either at home or abroad.”
At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, developed nations vowed to allocate at least $2 billion (USD) per annum towards conservation in developing nations. However, current conservation contributions from industrialized nations have reached just half of that amount, averaging $1.1 billion per year (USD).
Co-author and Oregon State University Distinguished Professor William Ripple added, “The Mega-fauna Conservation Index is an important first step to transparency – some of the poorest countries in the world are making some of the most impressive efforts towards the conservation of this global asset and should be congratulated, whereas some of the richest nations just aren’t doing enough.”
David Macdonald founded the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) in 1986 at the University of Oxford. Now the foremost University-based centre for biodiversity conservation, the mission of the WildCRU is to achieve practical solutions to conservation problems through original research. WildCRU is renowned for its specialisation in wild carnivores, especially wild cats, for its long-running studies on lion and clouded leopard, and for its training centre, where early-career conservationists, so far from 32 countries, are trained by experts to become leaders in conservation, resulting in a global community of highly skilled and collaborative conservationists. Visit wildcru.org.