Wildlife Conservation Efforts Really Do Work
Across the globe, wildlife is under increasing threat. Humanity is expanding its footprint into ever more remote regions. We are destroying habitats, polluting land, air, and water, overfishing, and hunting animals past the point of no return. To counter this looming catastrophe, in 1992, 150 government leaders signed the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). This multi-lateral treaty was designed to promote global sustainable development.
To enhance their efforts, CBD signatories created the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. This 2010 document established 20 targets to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss and promote ecosystem conservation. In this study, researchers focus on Target 12, which states that, “By 2020, the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.”
To see how close we’ve come to meeting this target, researchers used the Delphi method to quantify the number of bird and mammal species saved from extinction. The Delphi Method uses opinions from a group of experts to answer a question. During the process, the experts learn what others in the group have to say. They then revise and refine their own opinions until they reach a conclusion. For this investigation, researchers surveyed experts regarding the effects of conservation efforts on a select set of bird and mammal species for the periods 1993 – 2020 and 2010-2020. (These periods corresponded to the life of the CBD and Aichi Target 12, respectively.)
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species was used to identify candidate species for the study. To be included, a species had to be near extinction and be the subject of conservation actions that could avert that extinction. A total of 39 bird and 21 mammal species were part of the final analysis for the 1993-2020 period. Another 23 bird and 17 mammal species were included for 2010-2020. Results indicated that 21-32 bird and 7-16 mammal species were saved from extinction after 1993. From 2010 forward, these figures were 9-18 bird and 2-7 mammal species. Given that 10 bird and five mammal species did go extinct after 1993, extinction rates were between a quarter and a third of what they would have been absent conservation activities.
Wild animals go extinct for a variety of reasons. For the birds in this study, the primary threats were invasive species, followed by habitat loss from agriculture and aquaculture, and hunting. The same threats applied to the mammal species in the study, but in reverse order. Conservation efforts for birds included invasive species control, in situ conservation, and area protection. For mammals, actions included legislation, reintroduction, and in situ conservation.
The message here for animal advocates is a hopeful one. This study not only quantifies the impact of conservation efforts but identifies the most effective conservation activities. These results can help us to secure funding and to focus future efforts, knowing that the science says we are making a difference.