The complex web of life as we know it provides essentials like water, clean air, fertile soils, and a stable climate. The earth gives us food, medicines, and materials, often via wild animals. More commonly known as wildlife, these wild animals are vital to so many facets of our existence.
Wild animals are important for many reasons. They:
- Help balance ecosystems
- Feed humans and other carnivores
- Assist with medical research
- Contribute to science via fossils, etc.
- Have great cultural significance
- Contribute enormously to the world’s economy
Sadly, our planet’s wild animal population is in crisis – numbers have plummeted by more than 50% since 1970, and species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate.
We need to reverse this loss of nature and create a future where wildlife and people thrive again or lose these animals to future generations. Here are some significant reasons why wild animals are so important to the world at large.
#1: Wild Animals Maintain Balance in Ecosystems
All living things are interconnected. If any part is threatened or becomes extinct, this has a knock-on effect on the entire ecosystem, sending shock waves through the environment. It’s vitally important to understand that threats to species rarely happen in isolation.
The things that threaten one species can also threaten others, from the tiny insects that pollinate the plants eaten by wild animals, to the peoples at the top of the food chain that eat the wild animals. For ecosystems to survive and perhaps even thrive, we must protect all of our wildlife.
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#2: Diversity Means Healthier Ecosystems and Healthier Wild Animals
When a wildlife issue arises, you’ll often hear the term biodiversity, which refers to the number species in an ecosystem. Healthy ecosystems contain a lot of diversity. Why do we consider this important? A wide variety of animals means greater productivity and better health. If there are fewer animal species, a disease that affects any species spreads faster and more effectively.
With less plant variety, wild animals are far more limited in their intake in diverse ranges of food, and become weaker in many cases. More variety of plants and animals means better resistance. Better resistance means healthier animals, which directly benefits the food and hospitality industry.
Healthier wild animals have better coats and horns, etc. This health improvement is a huge benefit to the millions of people involved in tourism, the garment industry, and many smaller industries that use carefully culled animals.
#3: Wildlife Provides Vital Nutrients to the Human Race
All of the food that we eat originally came from an animal or plant. While we don’t eat as much ‘wildlife’ as we used to because the food supply chain has become so industrial, it’s pertinent to note that all crops and animals were wildlife at one point.
Many people still do depend on wild animals for their sustenance as well. Living without various food sources causes our nutrition to suffer, and our health is affected adversely.
Protecting wildlife and its natural habitats strengthens food security for humans around the world. We can also improve nutrition by returning to more wild food sources and by diversifying our diets.
#4: Wildlife Assists Medical Research
The human race has always turned to nature for medicine. Many medical systems (like Chinese traditional medicines) still wholly rely on herbs & spices, but even Western pharmaceuticals have made giant strides with wildlife research.
Numerous drugs derived from wild animals are already available on pharmacy shelves: Enexatide, derived from the saliva of the Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum, prescribed for type two diabetes. Ziconotide is another, extracted from cone-snail (A predatory sea snail) venom for chronic pain, and Eptifibatide, a synthetic modeled on the venom of a small snake, the Southern Pygmy Rattlesnake, Sistrurus miliarius, which is administered by medical personnel to prevent heart attacks.
Batroxobin, extracted from the glands of South American Pit Vipers and used in several different blood treatments, including the appropriately named Reptilase, is another. When seeking cures for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, researchers continue to look to nature. The more wildlife options scientists have to study, the better.
#5: Wild Animals Assist Us in Understanding the Past (through Fossils)
A fossil is the physical evidence of the existence of a prehistoric plant or wild animal. The fossil is either their preserved remains or other traces, like tracks made in the ground when they were still alive. Fossilized remains – which include fossil bones and teeth, are known as body fossils.
The most common way a large animal fossilizes is called petrification, and the process can take a few thousand or even several million years. Still, it can ultimately help us understand the past a little more.
Researchers use a clock of sorts to establish the date of formation to determine the age of a fossilized rock. Geologists typically use a radiometric dating method, based on the natural radioactive decay of certain elements such as carbon and potassium, as reliable means to date ancient events.
Once a timeline is established by using fossils and carbon dating, we can understand our origins and the passage of time that took place before recorded history. Without wild animals, there would have been no fossils or skeletons to learn more about who and where we came from.
Whether you believe in Noah and his ark, or the science of evolution, or perhaps a combination of both, wild animals are vital to your tale.
The Khoi San peoples of the south Sahara in Southern Africa and the Indigenous Peoples of Australia have drawings in caves in South Africa and Kakadu National Park, respectively. A considerable emphasis of their drawings portrays wild animals and the hunting thereof for food.
These wild animals were considered important enough by the artists to be preserved in the day’s ink and contributed to humankind’s understanding more about the past. Experts can see what animals were being depicted, what weapons were being used, and far more.
All of this helped scientists map out a clear path backward from the present, and while the scientists get most of the praise, wild animals played a huge role.
#6: Wildlife Has Rich Cultural Significance
The impact caused by wildlife on culture cannot be ignored. Wild animals (and plants) have always influenced things like religious beliefs, ceremonies like weddings and funerals, and food. For the followers of Hinduism, elephants and cows are sacred symbols. Bear in mind that although cows are partially domesticated now, they were once wild. To keep each culture and its traditions alive, it’s essential to protect wildlife.
With positive input and education of the population, wild animals can help inspire people to lead a sustainable and sensible lifestyle. They can invoke sympathy, mutual respect, and compassion, resulting in people being conscious of the damaging effects of their lifestyles and altering them.
#7: People Worldwide Depend on Wildlife for Their Income
For millions of people, wildlife is their primary source of income in one way or another. According to the World Economic Forum, U$44 trillion is tied to nature. In the Global South, one and a half billion people depend on forests. Globally, three-fourths of all jobs depend on water. As wildlife and their habitats shrink, jobs are lost.
Without plants and wild animals, our lives would be less than. We have domesticated some wild animals over the years to become our livestock, providing milk, meat, clothing, and transportation in many cases.
Wild canines and wolves were bred and interbred developed to become domestic dogs, hunting partners, bodyguards, and pals. They are also the most effective alarm system, day or night.
Wildlife plays a significant role in balancing the environment. It provides stability to different facets of nature. Wild animals and a calm nature have been intimately associated with humans for emotional, social, spiritual, and survival reasons.
Wildlife helps to maintain balance in nature. The uncontrolled killing of carnivores leads to an increase in the number of prey animals (generally herbivores), which affects the forest vegetation.
Due to the resultant lack of food in the forest, they come out from the forest to agricultural land and destroy farmers’ crops, facing death at the hands of angry and fearful humans.
#8: Wildlife is Vital to the Economy
Wildlife conservation parks and reserves are geared up to attract visitors from all over the world. Many countries and economies depend on wildlife for tourism, which makes up over 10% of the world’s GDP.
Countries like Brazil, Australia, Kenya, South Africa, and others are primarily dependent on wildlife tourism, without which, the economy of many countries would suffer significantly.
Wild Animals Are Vital to Humans:
- As food.
- For clothing and textiles.
- For work and transport.
- In science.
- In medicine.
- In hunting.
- As pets.
- For sport.
#9: Protecting Wildlife Offers Employment Opportunities
In a thriving economy, wildlife preservation can also create employment opportunities. When hunters have money to spend, they look for a site with a positive attitude to controlled hunting and a strong wildlife protection ethos.
Game Rangers can find employment, as can people in the food and beverage industry, and so on.
#10: Being in the Presence of Wildlife Calms the Soul
At present, there’s a global mental health crisis, as most of us are aware after just one hour of watching the news. Evidence confirms that time in the ‘wild’ helps calm you down. People who live on game farms are believed to be active, emotionally capable, and physically healthy.
In a project in the United Kingdom, volunteers with poor mental health took part in nature walks and conservation work. After 12 weeks, they reported a colossal improvement.
To protect our mental health, we need to protect wildlife and the habitats in which they live.
The Importance of Natural Forests to Wildlife
The world’s trees support many large organisms. Trees are used for food, shelter, and nesting sites. Some animals use trees casually, for resting, or for hunting perches from which to capture prey. As the trees mature, the animals can enjoy wholesome fruits, leaves, and insects living within the tree.
Apart from fruit, nuts, seeds, and sap, trees protect a veritable grocer’s shop on the forest floor, with mushrooms, certain berries, and other treats growing under the tree’s protection. These treats feed larger game like deer, big birds, wild pigs, and opportunistic grazers, which provide us with sustenance.
Wildlife is Under Threat
Wildlife is critical to our continued well-being on this planet. You would have to be a cave-dweller not to realize that wildlife globally is under a multi-pronged attack, and the threat is genuine and literally life-changing. Here are just a few of the threats that wild animals are facing today:
Trade in Illegal Animals
Trade in Illegal wildlife can diminish the population of a species resulting in local or possibly global extinction. When an endangered species is involved, the poaching or harvesting of that species to supply the illegal trade creates the risk that the species may become extinct.
Animals are often smuggled in inadequate housing and can suffocate to death or overheat if the transport vehicle is left in the wrong place for too long. Healthy animals can become sick, and sick animals can die, and both can pass on diseases.
Often, insufficient food and water and the percentage of animals that arrive at their destination are shockingly low.
It’s not just small, easy to conceal animals like rabbits, birds, and chameleons that are smuggled, but I learned of a man in South Africa in the late 90’s who could offer Caracals and even Tigers – all for a price.
The poaching of wild animals has adverse side effects that affect local communities, animal populations, and our environment. It is an evil fueled by a lucrative black market trade in animals and animal parts. These animal parts are sold for their medicinal properties.
Environmental groups, animal rights groups, government agencies, and even the Duke of Cambridge are calling for an end to wildlife poaching. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), and The International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) are leading international efforts to end wildlife poaching.
Poachers usually kill for profit. Bear gall-bladders and Big-Horned Sheep antlers are worth top dollar for their so-called medicinal properties.
At the National Wildlife Property Repository in Colorado, the wildlife service destroyed six tons of ivory confiscated at USA border control.
Elephants are killed for their tusks because, although it is possible to remove the tusks without killing the elephant, the pachyderms are too dangerous to attempt any removal of tusks when they are still alive. The international community is responding, but very slowly.
In South Africa, crack response teams patrol the world-famous Kruger National Park, armed with night-vision goggles, automatic assault rifles, and other state-of-the-art military equipment. They work under military rules of engagement with orders to deal severely with poachers who are either apprehended when found or shot when attempting to escape.
Teams of poachers are known to swarm over trapped or shot White Rhinoceros adults and hack their horns from their still-living bodies with axes. Genuinely horrific and graphic. Sadly, also a daily occurrence in 2019 and 2020.
In most of West- and Southern-Africa, heads of vultures are regarded by many as a lucky charm, similar to a rabbit’s foot in Europe or North America.
Various other body parts are also used, this time for traditional medicinal purposes. Some ethnic minorities use vulture heads, feet, and blood as treatments for a range of diseases, as spiritual protection, or to gain the ability to see into the future.
Poisoning of the Oceans
Plastics pollution has an immediate and deadly effect on wildlife. Thousands of seabirds, sea turtles, seals, and other marine mammals are killed each year. These deaths are after ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it. Endangered wildlife species like Hawaiian Monk Seals, Pacific Loggerhead Sea Turtles, and others are among almost 700 species that eat, or get caught up in, plastic detritus.
The problem we face of plastics in our waterways and oceans must be addressed at the cause. The Center for Biological Diversity, which is presently based in Tucson, Arizona, has petitioned the EPA to regulate plastics as a pollutant and stop plastic pollution at the source, prior to it even reaching our rivers oceans.
We are, unfortunately, surrounded by polymers (plastic in various forms). Plastic is in almost everything that we buy, including the single-use packaging we never re-use, the consumer goods on our shelves, and even in our clothing. Polyester and other materials used in clothing can shed microscopic plastic cells during a regular wash, totally unknown to most of us.
From 2000-2010, the earth has seen more plastic created than in all the years in history up to the end of the last century.
Every year, billions of pounds more plastic end up in our oceans. Studies have estimated there are now between 15 and 51 trillion plastic items in the world’s oceans.
Not a single square mile of surface ocean anywhere on our planet is free of this plastic pollution.
We are deep into a pandemic crisis. The fossil-fuel industry plans to increase plastic production by 40 percent over the next decade. Oil oligarchs are swiftly erecting petrochemical plants across the continental United States to turn fracked gas into yet more plastic. This increase promises more toxic air pollution and more plastic flowing into our oceans.
We must seek urgent action to address the global plastic pollution pandemic.
Unfortunately, plastic is not bio-degradable, and the EPA reports that every piece of plastic ever made is still in existence. There are five significant oceans – all of which are inundated with plastic products that will never break down. The most critical problem area is off the west coast of the USA and has been named ‘The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
‘The Great Pacific Garbage Patch’
The GPGP is a gyre (a gyre is an extensive system of circulating ocean currents) of plastic residues in the Pacific Ocean. It’s by far the most significant accumulation of plastic in the world.
How large is it? This Garbage Patch would cover 25% of the continental USA in size. This gyre is not the only one on the planet, but it is the largest.
One year ago, the GPGP covered an estimated surface area of around 1.6 million square kilometers, an area double the size of Texas or triple the size of France. The mind boggles at what extent it will be now or in ten years.
Loss of Habitat
Loss of habitat is a massive concern for wildlife. There are several causes, and some remedies seem impossible, as the perpetrators are giant corporations and even governments. Yet, we cannot simply read the facts and discard them because it is too difficult to affect change.
De-forestation & Forest Degredation
De-forestation and forest degradation happen very quickly. When a forest denuded to create a palm-oil plantation or a new human settlement, this can be a matter of weeks. It can also happen slowly due to continued forest degradation as temperatures increase due to climate change, which is usually caused by human activities.
The most common causes of deforestation and intense forest degradation are agriculture, poor forest management, illegal and legal mining, and increased fire incidence, lack of oversight and intensity.
Some infrastructure improvements, such as road building, railroads, etc., can affect natural forests by opening them up to human settlers and agriculture. Inefficient forest management and poor control regarding the collection of firewood can severely impact the health and longevity of a natural forest.
This inefficient management can lead to the lethal ‘Death by 1000 cuts’ and go unnoticed for years.
What Causes De-forestation & Forest Degradation?
There are a couple of main causes for de-forestation and degradation:
- Conversion of natural forests for other uses, including paper pulp, palm, and soy plantations, pastures, settlements, roads, and infrastructure, also plays a part in deforestation.
- Forest fires: Every year, forest fires remove millions of hectares of forest worldwide. The fires are not a part of nature, as they are not planned and can upset the cycle of growth and set it back decades. In an area where natural fires have been suppressed for years, the unnatural accumulation of vegetation accumulates, making the conflagration more intense. The resulting loss of habitat has wide-reaching consequences on wildlife, biodiversity, climate, and the economy.
We have all seen the heartbreaking video footage from wildfires in Australia, where badly burned Koalas have to be hand-fed because their paws are too damaged to climb into Eucalyptus trees to reach the leaves they live on.
Consider this: When a tree burns down in a forest, it seldom burns alone and a massive conflagration traps canopy-dweller and trunk resident in situ, roasting them in their homes.
- Illegal and unsustainable logging practices: Illegal logging occurs in all types of natural forests on all continents – destroying nature and wildlife, erasing community livelihoods, and forcing poverty on many locals.
Illegally harvested timber finds its way into major markets, such as the USA., and European Union, where greed fuels the cycle. This illegal logging is the most significant cause of deforestation and degradation. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), in 2019, the tropics lost 30 soccer fields’ worth of forests…every minute!
According to the same source, 17% of the Amazon was lost since 1970. In some cases, the intentions are good, i.e., clearing land for running cattle, etc., the results are the same. Wildlife has nowhere to go.
- Climate change: The loss of natural forests is both cause and effect of a changing climate. This climate change can damage forests by drying out tropical rainforests resulting in increasingly harmful fire damage to the forests. Inside these forests, climate change is already harming biodiversity, an attack that is certain to increase.
Protecting our wildlife could significantly reduce the frequency and intensity of destructive forest wildfires. Herbivores minimize the amount of grass that fuels fires by grazing. In Hluhluwe-uMfolozi Park in South Africa, one of the world’s largest grazers – the white rhinoceros – has been known to reduce the spread and intensity of fire its grazing habits, especially after a high rainfall period when grass grows more quickly.
Indeed, larger mammals that graze on natural grasses (elephants, antelope of all kinds, zebra, rhinos, and others) do not produce as much methane gas, which is harmful to the climate compared to sheep and cattle and other domesticated farm animals.
Wild animals can also help forests store carbon far more efficiently. Certain tree species in tropical and savannah rainforests rely on animals like elephants and giraffes and many bird species to eat their large fruits – thus helping the trees disperse their seeds over a wide area. Trees with larger fruits can grow taller than those with smaller fruits/berries and trap more carbon – always good for growth in nature.
Studies have shown that the loss of such trees results in a 10% drop in the carbon storage potential of natural forests.
Which Wild Animals are Most Affected by De-forestation & Degradation?
Many animals rely on forests. Eighty percent of the world’s land-based species, such as elephants and rhinos, live in forests. On the island of Sumatra, I visited the main colony of Orangutans in 1986, and there were 23 500 of them (Orang=person, Utan=forest, so ‘Forest-dweller’ if you like) in the area. Recent counts show just 7 500.
The Sumatran Tiger, the White Rhinoceros, the Cross River Gorilla, the Black Rhino, the Proboscis Monkey, and many others are all on the critically endangered list as a result of poaching and deforestation, and it doesn’t end there:
Mountain Gorilla: The Rwandan Mountain Gorilla is a critically endangered primate found primarily in the higher mountains of Rwanda, Central Africa. The gorillas captured the public imagination in the 1981 movie starring Sigourney Weaver, “Gorillas in the Mist.” Sadly, only about 900 of this beautiful and intelligent species remain today.
The Javan Rhinoceros: This rhino is one of the rarest animals on earth and is presently listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. There are less than 65 of these animals surviving in the wild today.
Once again, Illegal logging, a volatile palm-oil industry, lack of legislation, and forest fires, have taken a toll on one of the world’s most intelligent primate species. It is now on the critically endangered list of the IUCN.
The Giant Panda: Ecological changes have sadly accounted for the numbers of this much-loved creature plummeting in its habitat in the Szechuan province of China.
The Golden Lion Tamarin: This diminutive animal of the Amazon Rainforest has had its habitat disappear in the face of intensive soy farming and timber removal. As a result, it finds itself in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) critically endangered list.
Wild Animals have been with us since the dawn of time. Their presence is vital to ecology and our well-being, and they must be protected if they are to make it to dusk…