As Uganda prepares to join the rest of the world on March 3, to celebrate the United Nations World Wildlife Day, it is imperative to reflect on both the global and local themes - Sustaining all life on earth and Sustaining Wildlife in Uganda for the present and future generations, respectively.
Edward O. Wilson, a famed biologist, explains that the protection of species and biodiversity is not only beneficial to human populations, but it is also essential to their survival. His famous “Wilson Law” as he calls it, states: “If you save the living environment, the biodiversity that we have left, you will also automatically save the physical environment, too, but the relationship is not bidirectional because if you only save the physical environment, you will ultimately lose both.”
The impact of protecting essential habitats and preserving threatened species is felt far beyond the boundaries of the animal kingdom. Beyond soil stabilisation to economic diversification, saving endangered animals improves the lives of their human neighbours, too. Habitat preservation, of course, is a key tool for everyone struggling to protect the living environment. When these efforts are successful - and regional biodiversity is maintained or restored, it can have a ripple effect that supports human communities and helps to create new opportunities.
Besides direct benefits such as revenue sharing and enterprise development, conservation initiatives protect human health. Conservation International reports that more than 50 per cent of modern medicines and more than 90 per cent of traditional medicines come from wild plants and animals. While these naturally sourced medicines are not without their own issues, they nevertheless represent an essential pharmacopoeia and body of medical knowledge that cannot be easily replaced by synthetic alternatives.
Furthermore, healthy ecosystems provide important buffers between humans and disease. Studies have linked a reduction in biodiversity particularly among mammal species to an increase in transmission of animal borne diseases to humans. The argument that healthy ecosystems are essential for regulating climate, and mitigating air and water pollution need not to be overemphasised.
We should all work towards ensuring that we make a positive contribution towards the conservation of our country’s wildlife heritage. Human activities have been and remain the biggest threat to wildlife conservation globally. According to World Wildlife Fund, with 100 million different species, co-existing with us on our planet, the last four decades have seen human activities push some animal species to near extinction to an estimated loss of between 10,000 and 100,000 species per year. Poachers are to blame for putting some horned animals like rhinoceros and elephants to near extinction in Africa with a good example being the white rhinoceros.
In Uganda, the Rhinos population ( Eastern black and Northern white had gone extinct. And we worked on a reintroduction programme, which has seen a few at the Rhino sanctuary and preparations to reintroduce them into the wild in high gear. Other factors such as climate change causing frequent droughts and flooding, deforestation, overpopulation, and consumer culture are also to blame for endangering wildlife species.
A reflection on what we have done at individual level to protect and conserve our wildlife resources should call us to action well knowing that conserving wildlife is a matter of our survival and therefore, in our own interest.
Ms Hangi is the communications manager, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).