Biden’s efforts on climate is a start but what about including biodiversity?


After moving backwards for four years on all things related to the environment under the Trump administration, the Biden administration has put forward an ambitious plan to protect 30 percent of federal lands and water by 2030 as part of its broader climate initiative

This places the U.S. back into a highly significant global conversation to protect some of the most important places on Earth. Fighting climate change without advancing biodiversity efforts is as futile as trying to save tigers from extinction without protecting the habitats in which they thrive.

Biodiversity conservation is not only an important part of fighting climate change; it brings other important benefits through the provision of a whole range of ecosystem goods and services. Biodiversity is deeply linked to our mental and physical health, clean water, food security and jobs that depend on the environment. And, with approximately 1 million plant and animal species threatened by extinction, the loss of our natural habitats is as much of a global crisis as climate change.

Biodiversity is shorthand for biological diversity, which basically stands for the variety of all life forms on Earth and how they relate to each other within ecosystems. Biodiverse and healthy ecosystems help our planet withstand shocks such as climate change and natural disasters. 

The world’s largest reinsurance company, Swiss Re, published a stark warning highlighting that 20 percent of countries have ecosystems on the verge of collapse. In their warning, they speak about the consequence of losing vital “services” in economic terms. Instead of experiencing rolling crises in food and water supply, we need to connect the economy back to the environment and also to the biodiversity that provides “services” that we should protect.

This is why the Biden administration should take equally bold steps against climate change’s sister crisis — the drastic and accelerating loss of biological diversity on our planet. There are three critical areas where we can go beyond the “30 by 30″ initiative:

First, we need to identify who is most negatively impacting biodiversity and make them stop. For example, we know about the crucial role honeybees and other pollinators play for crops grown in the U.S. Companies that produce pesticides that harm them need to be held accountable for destroying the “services” that this biological diversity supports. We hold polluters accountable for their impact and we need to do the same for those with negative impacts on biodiversity.  

Second, Americans should protect biodiversity and ecosystems in our country and abroad because they are deeply interlinked. Just as we care about child labor in the supply chain of consumer products or toxic factories that produce goods we need, we must to stop habitat destruction that is caused by the things we buy. For example, the way we import soybeef or palm oil can damage tropical forests in Brazil and South East Asia and the shrimp we consume often damages precious mangroves across the tropics. We have to develop systems, as they are underway in Europe and the UK, to stop exporting habitat destruction abroad. We also have to hold our banks and hedge funds accountable for investing in businesses that are driving the destruction of critical ecosystems abroad (and at home).

Third, we should celebrate those people across the world who are historic and natural guardians of biodiverse lands and resources. Strengthening the rights of Indigenous peoples is critical because they are often the last line of defense against the destruction of natural habitats. For example, Native Americans and Alaska Natives have fought damaging methods of oil pipeline development and oil extraction as well as President Trump’s infamous border wall. The world’s approximate 370 million Indigenous people constitute less than 5 percent of the global population, yet they manage over 25 percent of global land surfaces, in turn supporting about 80 percent of global biodiversity. The Biden administration would do well in making tribal sovereignty a linchpin of its implementation of the “30 by 30” initiative. The confirmation of Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) as secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI) and first ever Native American Cabinet member would be a significant first step in this direction.

It is a breath of fresh air to have a U.S. administration that is putting climate action front and center. We all have a duty to educate each other on what that means and make the importance of a biologically diverse environment easier to understand and act upon. Now is the time to connect this intuition with specific and systemic actions we can take to protect biodiversity, so that “nature” can do its job in protecting all of us.

Johanna von Braun, PhD, was executive director of Natural Justice. Most recently a program officer in the Open Society Foundation’s Economic Justice Program. She has worked or consulted for leading organizations in the field of environmental justice with a focus on climate change and biodiversity for the past 20 years.


The Rapid Decline Of The Natural World Is A Crisis Even Bigger Than Climate Change

A three-year UN-backed study from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform On Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has grim implications for the future of humanity.

Nature is in freefall and the planet’s support systems are so stretched that we face widespread species extinctions and mass human migration unless urgent action is taken. That’s the warning hundreds of scientists are preparing to give, and it’s stark.

The last year has seen a slew of brutal and terrifying warnings about the threat climate change poses to life. Far less talked about but just as dangerous, if not more so, is the rapid decline of the natural world. The felling of forests, the over-exploitation of seas and soils, and the pollution of air and water are together driving the living world to the brink, according to a huge three-year, U.N.-backed landmark study to be published in May.

The study from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform On Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), expected to run to over 8,000 pages, is being compiled by more than 500 experts in 50 countries. It is the greatest attempt yet to assess the state of life on Earth and will show how tens of thousands of species are at high risk of extinction, how countries are using nature at a rate that far exceeds its ability to renew itself, and how nature’s ability to contribute food and fresh water to a growing human population is being compromised in every region on earth.

Left top: A durian plantation in Raub, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Soaring demand for durians in China is being blamed

Left top: A durian plantation in Raub, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Soaring demand for durians in China is being blamed for a new wave of deforestation in Malaysia.
Right top: A palm oil plantation encroaches on a wildlife reserve in Sabah, Malaysia.
Left bottom: The Kinabatangan River flows through a wildlife reserve in Sabah, Malaysia. The overuse of pesticides during the heavy equatorial rains creates a deadly runoff into the fragile river and its tributaries.
Right bottom: A palm oil plantation and factory in Sabah, Malaysia.

Nature underpins all economies with the “free” services it provides in the form of clean water, air and the pollination of all major human food crops by bees and insects. In the Americas, this is said to total more than $24 trillion a year. The pollination of crops globally by bees and other animals alone is worth up to $577 billion.

The final report will be handed to world leaders not just to help politicians, businesses and the public become more aware of the trends shaping life on Earth, but also to show them how to better protect nature.

“High-level political attention on the environment has been focused largely on climate change because energy policy is central to economic growth. But biodiversity is just as important for the future of earth as climate change,” said Sir Robert Watson, overall chair of the study, in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.

“We are at a crossroads. The historic and current degradation and destruction of nature undermine human well-being for current and countless future generations,” added the British-born atmospheric scientist who has led programs at NASA and was a science adviser in the Clinton administration. “Land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change are three different faces of the same central challenge: the increasingly dangerous impact of our choices on the health of our natural environment.”

Around the world, land is being deforested, cleared and destroyed with catastrophic implications for wildlife and people. Forests are being felled across Malaysia, Indonesia and West Africa to give the world the palm oil we need for snacks and cosmetics. Huge swaths of Brazilian rainforest are being cleared to make way for soy plantations and cattle farms, and to feed the timber industry, a situation likely to accelerate under new leader Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist.

Industrial farming is to blame for much of the loss of nature, said Mark Rounsevell, professor of land use change at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, who co-chaired the European section of the IPBES study. “The food system is the root of the problem. The cost of ecological degradation is not considered in the price we pay for food, yet we are still subsidizing fisheries and agriculture.”

This destruction wrought by farming threatens the foundations of our food system. A February report from the U.N. warned that the loss of soil, plants, trees and pollinators such as birds, bats and bees undermines the world’s ability to produce food.

An obsession with economic growth as well as spiraling human populations is also driving this destruction, particularly in the Americas where GDP is expected to nearly double by 2050 and the population is expected to increase 20 percent to 1.2 billion over the same period.

Human have had a huge impact on the world but we make up a tiny fraction of the living world. In the first ever calculation o

Human have had a huge impact on the world but we make up a tiny fraction of the living world. In the first ever calculation of the biomass of life on Earth, scientists found that humans make up just 0.01 percent of all living things. Source: Yinon M. Bar-On, Rob Phillips, and Ron Milo, PNAS, 2018

Nature is likely to be hit particularly hard over the next 30 years, said Jake Rice, chief scientist emeritus at the Canadian government’s department of oceans and fisheries, who co-chaired the Americas study. High consumption and destructive farming will further degrade land and marine ecosystems, he added, although the pace of destruction is diminishing because so much has already gone.

“The great transformation has already taken place in North America but the remote parts of South and Central America remain under threat. A new wave of destruction is transforming the Amazon and Pampas regions [of Latin America],” said Rice.

All of this comes at a huge cost and has implications for the systems that prop up life on this planet, throwing into doubt the ability of humans to survive.

Future generations will likely experience far less wildlife, said Luthando Dziba, head of conservation services at South African National Parks, who co-chaired the section of the IPBES report that focuses on Africa.

Humans have caused the loss of around 80 percent of wild land and marine mammals, and half of plants. Source: Yinon

Humans have caused the loss of around 80 percent of wild land and marine mammals, and half of plants. Source: Yinon M. Bar-On, Rob Phillips, and Ron Milo, PNAS, 2018

“Africa is the world’s last home for a wide range of large mammals but the scientific consensus is that under current scenarios to 2100 more than half of African bird and mammal species could be lost,” said Dziba.

Around 20 percent of Africa’s land surface has already been degraded by soil erosion, loss of vegetation, pollution and salinization, he said, adding that the expected doubling of the continent’s population to 2.5 billion people by 2050 will put yet further pressure on its biodiversity.

While people are familiar with the threats to whales, elephants and other beloved animals, the problem goes far deeper than that. Animal populations have declined by 60 percent since 1970, driven by human actions, according to a recent World Wildlife Fund study.

And insects, vital to the diets of other animals, as well as the pollinators of our food, are facing a bleak future as populations appear to be collapsing. Land use changes and increased pesticide use are destroying habitats and vastly reducing numbers. In Europe, up to 37 percent of bees and 31 percent of butterflies are in decline, with major losses also recorded in southern Africa, according to the pollinators section of the report.

A major assessment of insect studies conducted over the last few decades found that 41 percent of insects are in decline. Sou

A major assessment of insect studies conducted over the last few decades found that 41 percent of insects are in decline. Source: Sánchez-Bayoa and Wyckhuy, Biological Conservation, 2019

“Species which are not charismatic have been politically overlooked,” said Rounsevell. “Over 70 percent of freshwater species and 61 percent of amphibians have declined [in Europe], along with 26 percent of marine fish populations and 42 percent of land-based animals … It is a dramatic change and a direct result of the intensification of farming,” he said.

This destruction is also driving mass human migration and increased conflict. Decreasing land productivity makes societies more vulnerable to social instability, says the report, which estimates that in around 30 years’ time land degradation, together with the closely related problems of climate change, will have forced 50 to 700 million people to migrate.

“It will just be no longer viable to live on those lands,” said Watson.

The study will also recognize that much of the remaining wealth of nature depends on indigenous people, who mostly live in the world’s remote areas and are on the frontline of the damage caused by destructive logging and industrial farming. According to IPBES, indigenous communities often know best how to conserve nature and are better placed than scientists to provide detailed information on environmental change.

Brazil – which nationwide hosts about 42,000 plant species, 9,000 species of vertebrates and almost 130,000 invertebrates – has an indigenous population of almost 900,000 people, says the report.

“What surprised me the most about this study was that it became clear that the older cultures, like the indigenous peoples of the Americas, have different values which protect nature better [than Western societies],” said Watson. “No one should romanticize indigenous peoples, and we cannot turn the clock back, but we can learn a lot from them on how to protect the planet.”

Indigenous people, however, continue to experience discrimination, threats and murder. In Brazil, for example, Bolsonaro’s election has cemented a pro-corporate, anti-indigenous agenda that has already started to undermine the rights of the country’s native communities.

Left: Aerial view of deforestation in the Western Amazon region of Brazil.<br> Right: Members of the Munduruku indigenous tri

Left: Aerial view of deforestation in the Western Amazon region of Brazil.
Right: Members of the Munduruku indigenous tribe on the banks of the Tapajos River protest against plans to construct a hydroelectric dam on the river in the Amazon rainforest on November 26, 2014 near Sao Luiz do Tapajos, Para State, Brazil.

Although their conclusions are stark, the IPBES authors are not entirely gloomy about Earth’s prospects. In offering practical options for future action, they want to show that it is not too late to slow down or even reverse degradation.

They will also recognize that individual and community actions to plant trees, regenerate abandoned lands and protect nature can have a major positive impact.

Many other solutions to save nature have been put forward by individuals and countries.

Veteran biologist E.O.Wilson proposed that half the Earth needs to be protected to have any hope of avoiding disaster. Elsewhere, indigenous people in Latin America have argued for the creation of one of the world’s largest protected land areas, stretching from the southern tip of the Andes to the Atlantic.

Several countries are taking bold initiatives to restore land, both to help meet climate targets and to protect and enhance biodiversity. Pakistan intends to plant 10 billion trees (although its previous billion tree campaign was not without controversy), Ethiopia has mobilized communities to regenerate 15 million hectares of degraded lands and the Green Wall project is pushing for a 4,970-mile long belt of vegetation across Africa. Meanwhile, the U.N. Environment program has reported a surge in the number and size of marine protected areas.

Public awareness of the crisis is also growing, with new social movements setting up to put pressure on governments to act urgently. The Extinction Rebellion movement, which began in London in October, argues that we face an unprecedented emergency. Backed by academics, scientists, church leaders and others, including Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky and Vandana Shiva, it claims to have spread to 35 countries in its first two months. Children too are joining in. On March 15, thousands of young people across 30 countries plan to strike from school and protest against inaction on climate change.

But despite these moves to reverse the ongoing destruction of the natural world, the big picture remains worrying. Ambitious global agreements like the Aichi targets set in Japan in 2010 and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals around protecting nature, may not be met at current rates of progress, say the report authors.

Ultimately, Watson concludes that saving nature will require a major rethink of how we live and how we think about nature, but that it is possible to turn this dire situation around if governments want it to happen.

“There are no magic bullets or one-size-fits-all answers. The best options are found in better governance, putting biodiversity concerns into the heart of farming and energy policies, the application of scientific knowledge and technology, and increased awareness and behavioral changes,” Watson said. “The evidence shows that we do know how to protect and at least partially restore our vital natural assets. We know what we have to do.”

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Message for the next World Wildlife Conference – CITES CoP18

Ivonne Higuero, CITES Secretary-General

The 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will take place at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in Colombo, Sri Lanka from 23 May to 3 June 2019. This will be the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES in South Asia since CoP3 held in New Delhi, India way back in 1981.

All of us at the CITES Secretariat are very much looking forward to this important meeting of the Convention and it is our pleasure to work with the Government of Sri Lanka during this preparatory period. I wish to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to the Government of Sri Lanka for their generous support and commitment to hosting this meeting.

The agenda for the meeting will cover a great number of CITES issues for discussion by the Parties under the headings of strategic matters, implementation and interpretation matters, species specific matters and proposals for amending the CITES Appendices. These discussions will have a significant impact on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, especially when viewed in the context of the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the preparations for the post 2020 biodiversity framework.

Sri Lanka is privileged with great natural beauty, abundant wildlife and rich land and marine biodiversity in its extensive protected area system. This is the second time for a meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES to take place in an island country. It promises to be the perfect setting for the critical global discussions on the conservation and sustainable use of wild animals and plants under CITES for both people and the planet.  We sincerely hope to have the pleasure of welcoming you in Colombo next May and supporting all stakeholders to achieve progress in meeting global biodiversity commitments.


See you in Sri Lanka!




22.10.2018 | 12:01am

WILDLIFEIn-depth: Could ‘rewilding’ help to tackle climate change?

As little as 14,000 years ago, lions roamed across most of Earth’s continents, including Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Though it is not possible to tell what caused the lions to go extinct, evidence taken from fossils and ancient cave paintings suggests that human hunting could have played a role in their downfall.

Now, some researchers say that large animals, ranging from lions and elephants to giant tortoises and donkeys, should be reintroduced to areas where they once thrived.

It is argued that this type of conservation, which is known as “rewilding”, could help to restore ecosystems to what they could have looked like before major human interference.

special issue published today by the Royal Society explores how rewilding could help to tackle climate change and its impacts, as well as how future warming could affect the success of rewilding schemes.

Could elephants tackle emissions?

One of the 16 research papers in the special issue, which is published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, looks at how “trophic rewilding” could be used to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Trophic rewilding refers to the restoration of dwindling or recently lost animal populations. (This is opposed to “Pleistocene rewilding”, which is concerned with reintroducing animals that have long been extinct in an area, such as the idea of returning mammoths to Siberia.)

The paper argues that reintroducing large herbivores, such as elephants, sloths and tapirs, could help countries to lower their emissions for several reasons.

Large herbivores were once a common sight in all of Earth’s habitable continents. However, hundreds of years of intensive livestock farming has contributed to steep declines in native herbivores and large increases in cattle. Today, there are around 1.5bn cows on Earth.

The replacement of native animals with cattle has caused steep rises in emissions of methane – a greenhouse gas that is 34 times more potent than CO2 over a 100-year period.

This is because cows are “ruminants” – meaning that they have specialised stomachs capable of digesting tough and fibrous material, such as grass through fermentation. The digestive process causes cows to belch out high amounts of methane.

Native herbivores, on the other hand, can have much smaller methane footprints. Many large herbivores, including rhinos, elephants and camels, are “hindgut fermenters” – meaning that they have a simple stomach and carry out fermentation of food in the large intestine.

This type of digestion produces much smaller amounts of methane, says study lead author Prof Joris Cromsigt, a researcher of megafauna (large animals) from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

However, to date, there has been no research comparing the methane footprints of different large herbivores and cattle, he tells Carbon Brief:

“Little empirical data is out there for wildlife. The largest emissions, per individual animal, come from large ruminants, such as cattle, and similar wild species, such as African buffalo or American bison. The least methane is, in principle, produced by the large non-ruminants, such as rhino, elephant and equid [horse] species.”

The figure below, taken from Cromsigt’s paper, gives a rough comparison of the methane emissions of different groups of animals.

Infographic of a Comparison of the methane emissions of different groups of large herbivores. On the chart, a larger symbol represents larger overall methane emissions for that group. Source: Adapted from Cromsigt et al. (2018)

Comparison of the methane emissions of different groups of large herbivores. On the chart, a larger symbol represents larger overall methane emissions for that group. Source: Adapted from Cromsigt et al. (2018)

Research released in 2017 estimated that, over the past 1,000 years, the replacement of wildlife with cattle in Africa has caused methane emissions to more than double from 3.4m tonnes a year to 8.9m tonnes a year.

The reintroduction of large herbivores could also boost the carbon storage of forests, Cromsigt says.

This is because large herbivores act as long-distance seed dispersers for large fruit trees. In fact, research suggests that many large tree species in South America (such as the jicaro tree, shown below) may have evolved giant fruit in order to entice now-extinct large herbivores, such as the giant ground sloth.

C01137 Calabash tree or gourd tree on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico.

Calabash tree or Jícaro tree on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. Credit: Planetpix/Alamy Stock Photo.

Without large herbivores, numbers of the tallest and woodiest trees – which also store the most carbon – have declined. Additionally, research shows that the loss of living herbivores, such as American tapirs and African and Asian forest elephants, could cause the world’s tropical forests to lose between 2% and 12% of their stored carbon.

Costly conservation

It can be reasoned then, Cromsigt argues, that replacing cattle with wildlife could lower methane emissions, while boosting carbon stores in forests.

However, at present, many of the world’s large herbivores are critically endangered and face threats from poaching, habitat loss and conflict with humansResearch released this month found that humans have caused more than 300 mammal species to go extinct, undoing the work of millions of years of evolution.

One way to incentivise people to protect and try to restore wildlife numbers could be “to make it pay for itself”, Cromsigt says.

He points to an example of South Africa, where legislation introduced in 1991 gave people ownership over wildlife on their land. The new rules saw a massive rise in wildlife farms for game hunting, which led to the total estimated number of wild animals in the country rising from around 500,000 in the 1960s to close to 18m in 2010.

Cromsigt suggests that, if people switched from eating farmed beef to wild game, cattle ranchers could be incentivised to protect wildlife instead of cattle. He admits, however, that such a change would require “a radical cultural shift”.

Another way rewilding could be funded is through climate mitigation financing offered under the Paris Agreement. This money is being heavily invested in tree-planting schemes, but investing in wildlife could also help to boost tree numbers, Cromsigt argues:

“Why are these programmes not investing in fighting the bushmeat crisis and restocking our empty forests with megafauna frugivores [fruit eaters]…or stopping the current onslaught on African and Asia megafauna, such as elephants and rhinoceros?”

White rhinos and wildfires

As well as tackling the root cause of climate change, rewilding could be used to help humans and ecosystems adapt to some of its impacts, according to the special issue.

In many parts of the world, climate change is likely to be making wildfires more severe. This is because warming has led to higher summer temperatures and, in some regions, less summer rainfall – creating the dry, tinderbox conditions that enable fires to quickly spread.

Some large herbivores are thought to play a role in suppressing wildfires, according to a second paper in the special issue.

One reason for this is because large herbivores eat fallen leaves and vegetation, which would otherwise act as fuel in a fire.

Second, herbivores eat some plants, but leave others, which can change the makeup of plants in a forest. “This can mean that zones of low and high flammability are interspersed in arrangements that could impede the spread of landscape fires,” the authors say.

Third, some animals alter their forest landscapes by leaving trails or digging holes. The bare patches of land left behind from these activities can act as fire breaks, the researchers say:

“The physical scale of these features can be substantial. For example, in a montane vegetation complex in Tasmania, 10% or more of the ground surface was covered by animal paths, mostly created by medium-sized macropods [kangaroos and wallabies] and wombats.”

C767C8 Bridled Nailtail Wallaby Onychogalea fraenata Endangered species Photographed in Queensland Australia.

Bridled nailtail wallaby (Onychogalea fraenata), in Queensland, Australia. Credit: Dave Watts/Alamy Stock Photo.

Evidence suggests that, in some parts of the world, the reintroduction of large herbivores appears to have had an impact on wildfire intensity, the researchers say.

For example, earlier research shows that the reintroduction of white rhino to Hluhluwe iMfolozi National Park in South Africa could have impacted the severity of wildfires. White rhinos are thought to be efficient fire suppressors because they graze on tall grass, which can help fires spread between trees.

During an experiment, researchers removed white rhinos from some parts of the park and measured changes to grass height and wildfire size in areas both with and without rhinos.

The research found that fires were significantly larger in sites where rhinos were removed. This is shown in the chart below, where the total area covered by fire during the experiment is shown for areas with (black) and without (white) rhinos in the Hluhluwe and iMfolozi areas of the park.

Line graph showing Impacts of rhino removals on fire size at Hluhluwe and iMfolozi locations. Black represents mean area of each fire with rhinos, and grey the area when rhinos were removed. Source: Waldram et al. (2008)

Impacts of rhino removals on fire size at Hluhluwe and iMfolozi locations. Black represents mean area of each fire with rhinos, and grey the area when rhinos were removed. Source: Waldram et al. (2008)

The research found that, in Hluhluwe, the removal of rhinos from test areas caused fires to increase 50-fold, from 10ha to 500ha, on average. In contrast, the removal of rhinos from test sites in iMfolozi caused fire area to become four times larger. (This could be because, in Hluhluwe, other herbivores were available to graze on tall grass, the authors say.)

These results suggest that reintroducing large herbivores could help to suppress wildfires in other parts of the world, such as in California, says study lead author Prof Christopher Johnson, an ecologist from the University of Tasmania. He tells Carbon Brief:

“There is evidence that climate change is increasing the risk of destructive fires in many parts of the world. Those same changes mean that traditional strategies of fire suppression and prevention work less well. Large herbivores – and some other animals – can stabilise fire regimes, and potentially make fire control more tractable and effective.”

Warming woes

While several papers in the special issue focus on how rewilding could help to address climate change, others explore how global warming could impact the success of existing rewilding projects.

In an opinion article, two scientists from the University of Zurich argue that climate change is likely to impact the success of rewilding projects involving giant tortoises on islands in the Indian Ocean.

Many different species of giant tortoise were once widespread across islands worldwide, including in Mauritius, the Galapagos and the Canary Islands. However, the arrival of humans to these islands saw many giant tortoises hunted to extinction.

The disappearance of giant tortoises is thought to have had detrimental impacts on islands, including the conversion of freshwater wetlands into bogs. This is because, like other large herbivores, giant tortoises act as long-distance seed dispersers.

To combat these changes, a rewilding programme was started in 2000 on Ile aux Aigrettes, a 25-hectare island off the coast of Mauritius. The programme introduced dozens of Aldabra giant tortoises, a close living relative to the extinct Mauritius giant tortoise.

HNNJ6J An Aldabra giant tortoise in a grazing area on Grand Terre Island.

An Aldabra giant tortoise in a grazing area on Grand Terre Island. Credit: National Geographic Image Collection/Alamy Stock Photo.

Research shows that the reintroduction brought benefits to the island, including by boosting numbers of endangered ebony trees, which rely on the animals for seed dispersal.

However, climate change could impact the success of projects using tortoises, the researchers say. This is because tortoises are “ectothermic” reptiles – meaning they rely on their external environment to regulate their body temperature.

The reliance of tortoises on their external climate means that even small increases in temperature could threaten their survival, the researchers say:

“They are often rewilded to habitats that are at least seasonally dry, where the ability to successfully maintain their water balance can depend on very small margins.”

Tigers, lions and donkeys

fourth paper in the special issue takes a look at how future climate change could impact where rewilding could be carried out across the globe for 17 different species.


RCP2.6: The RCPs (Representative Concentration Pathways) are scenarios of future concentrations of greenhouse gases and other forcings. RCP2.6 (also sometimes referred to as “RCP3-PD”) is a “peak and decline” scenario where stringent mitigation… Read More

Using current species distribution models and future climate projections, the researchers created maps showing where the climate could be suitable for each species at present (1950-2000) and in 2070.

The researchers use two scenarios for their projections, including a scenario with relatively low global emissions (“RCP2.6”) and a scenario with relatively high emissions (“RCP8.5”).

All of the species chosen for the analysis are suggested candidates for rewilding projects, the researchers say.

RCP8.5: The RCPs (Representative Concentration Pathways) are scenarios of future concentrations of greenhouse gases and other forcings. RCP8.5 is a scenario of “comparatively high greenhouse gas emissions“ brought about by rapid population growth,… Read More

These include tigers, lions, leopards and cheetahs. These apex predators could have a positive impact on habitats by regulating numbers of their prey, researchsuggests.

Other animals on the list include several large herbivores, including muskox and red deer – which could play a role in maintaining Arctic tundra – and donkeys, which are known to dig wells that are used by other species.

The maps below show the current distribution of land that would provide a suitable habitat for the 17 different species. On the maps, white shows no suitability, warm colours show high suitability, while dark colours show a low, but present, suitability.

17 maps showing Global distribution of suitable habitat for 17 rewilding candidates at present day. White shows no suitability, warm colours show high suitability, while dark colours show a low, but present, suitability. Click on image to expand. Source: Jarvie and Svenning (2018)

Global distribution of suitable habitat for 17 rewilding candidates at present day. White shows no suitability, warm colours show high suitability, while dark colours show a low, but present, suitability. Click on image to expand. Source: Jarvie and Svenning (2018)

The results show that, for many of the chosen species, the current range of suitable habitat across the world is much larger than the range in which they actually live. The results are instead more reflective of the animals’ prehistoric ranges, the researchers say.

The maps also show that, at present, many of parts of Australia could offer a suitable habitat for elephants and rhinos, the authors say:

“For suggested conservation introductions, regions of climatic suitability were predicted for both elephant species in most of Australia, parts of southern Europe and the Americas.”

The map below shows the distribution of suitable habitat for each species in 2070 under a high emissions scenario.

Global distribution of suitable habitat for 17 rewilding candidates at 2070 under a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5). White shows no suitability, warm colours show high suitability, while dark colours show a low, but present, suitability. Click on image to expand. Source: Jarvie and Svenning (2018)

Global distribution of suitable habitat for 17 rewilding candidates at 2070 under a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5). White shows no suitability, warm colours show high suitability, while dark colours show a low, but present, suitability. Click on image to expand. Source: Jarvie and Svenning (2018)

The results show that, for many species, the total amount of area with a suitable climate remains relatively similar from present to 2070 under both the low and high emissions scenario.

However, the total amount of land suitable fell for other species, including African and Asian elephants, white and black rhinos and muskox and tapirs. For tigers, climate suitability fell in the Indian subcontinent – which has been earmarked as a key area for tiger conservation.

Multiple authors (2018) Trophic rewilding: consequences for ecosystems under global change, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B,

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As the Population of Humans Doubles, the Number of Animals Halves

It’s unbelievable to me that in the year 2014—going on ’15—the media still does hyperbolic backflips every time some celebrity gets pregnant or decides it might be fun to become a daddy, as if human reproduction is some mysterious miracle we should all be awed by. Well, there’s only so much awe I can take before something becomes truly awful–especially in light of the fact that every new human born equates to less biodiversity for everyone.

That’s something I’ve known for a long time. Now, recent studies have officially confirmed that in the forty-six years since human overpopulation was first recognized as a serious problem, our numbers have more than doubled, while the number of naturally occurring animals is half of what it was then.

I’ve seen countless distressing instances of human “success” negating thatelk-000-home17300 of the rest of Earth’s creatures. The most vivid recent example pitted a new Costco, Home Depot and the site of a soon-to-be future Walmart against an elk herd’s migration corridor. Where stately Roosevelt elk once freely travelled between protected park lands, a lit-up strip mall and associated blacktop parking lots now spell the sad end for wildlife and wilderness alike.

In a scene played over and over across anywhere USA, more land is taken up by more lanes of highway so more people can visit more superstores. More and more road-kill results finally in fatality for a few humans, and before you know it, a “cull” is implemented on whatever wild species dares to stand in the way of human “progress.”

Throughout the land you can hear the battle cry: “Out of the way, animals, we’ve got diapers and baby carriages to buy.”


Wildlife needs half of the planet to avoid ‘biological holocaust’

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 By

A Pulitzer Prize winner and Harvard scientist has said that half of the Earth should be human-free and dedicated solely to the world’s wildlife In order to avoid mass extinction of species.

Prominent biologist and two times Pulitzer winner E.O. Wilson has suggested that half of our planet should be dedicated to the world’s animals, as the only way to avoid critical mass extinction.

85-year old Wilson is considered the father of sociobiology and is a leading expert in biodiversity. His work largely focuses on the extinction crisis and the role human societies played in mass extinctions of the 20th century.

Speaking to the Smithsonian Magazine, Wilson explained his ‘Half Earth theory’ to try stop what he calls a ‘biological holocaust’, the sixth mass extinction event caused by humans, which is wiping out species at an incredible pace.

Wilson said in the interview, “It’s been in my mind for years, that people haven’t been thinking big enough –even conservationists. Half Earth is the goal, but it’s how we get there, and whether we can come up with a system of wild landscapes we can hang onto.

“I see a chain of uninterrupted corridors forming, with twists and turns, some of them opening up to become wide enough to accommodate national biodiversity parks, a new kind of park that won’t let species vanish.”

As an example of effective wildlife protected corridor, Wilson named the Yellowstone-to-Yukon 2,000 miles conservation region, which covers an area from Wyoming in the US to the Yukon territories in Canada.

A study from earlier this year revealed that humans are causing species to disappear at 1,000 times the natural rate, mainly because of the destruction of habitats and hunting, in addition to the effects of manmade climate change.

One Man’s Success is Another’s Demise

Correction: that title should have read, “One Man’s Success is ALL Others’ Demise,” for mankind’s triumph comes at the cost of endangerment, degradation and despoil for every other species. It’s not a simple case of Darwinian “survival of the fittest;” it’s the first and only instance of a single species’ persistence setting off a mass extinction.

Charles Darwin never actually said anything about “survival of the fittest,” (those words were dreamed up by some sensationalizing journalist) Darwin’s thing was natural selection. And anyway, humans can hardly be thought of as the “fittest,” compared to nearly every other species out there. Without technology we’re nothing but bald-bodied, clawless, finless, fleshy, flightless, miniature land sloths—most unimpressive next to every other animal we’ve sent down the road to oblivion.

Yet each cog in the great wheel of life we carelessly cast aside is another nail in our own coffin. Homo sapiens won’t come out of this man-made biodiversity crisis smelling like roses, but rather like road kill. All the kings gadgets and all the kings medical men won’t be able to put Humpty-humanity back together again once we’ve completely cracked the fragile shell of life on Earth and sold it off as the last McMuffin.

So, biodiversity or anthropocentricity—what’s it gonna be? You can’t have it both ways.

Come on Man, didn’t your mother ever teach you not to play with mass extinction? Having your own epoch is not something to be proud of. The current era, the Anthropocene, was so named not for any great human achievement, but because we’ve disrupted things enough to bring on our very own mass extinction—and this biodiversity crisis won’t go away until we back down or get out of the picture.

We are tilling under everyone and everything that gets in the way of our single-minded push to raise a bumper-crop of humanity. Of all the Earth’s invasive species, Homo sapiens is the one in dire need of controlling. Yet, we’ve been able to cleverly avoid or survive every effort Nature has come up with to regulate our numbers…so far.

But be warned, lowly human: Mother Nature still has a few tricks to throw at you if you aren’t willing to manage your own population. For as every good farmer should know: he who grows a mono-culture risks crop failure.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Where Will We Be in Y3K?

With several important issues on deck to blog about, the spring winds blew a tree over our power lines and we spent the afternoon back in the relative Stone Age, huddled next to an outside window, straining to read printed pages by what natural light the stormy day had to offer. I decided to do some spring cleaning and throw out anything I hadn’t read or in some other way utilized in the last decade or so. Just as the power came back on I came upon the following letter I wrote after reading Richard Leakey’s book, The Sixth Extinction. This letter, which is as relevant today as when I wrote it (except that there are now 7 billion people instead of 6), was published on January 10, 2000 in the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

Ina fit of arrogant optimism bolstered by surviving the Y2K non-crisis, many are asking, “Where will we be in Y3K?” Perhaps a more pressing question is,” Which species would be able to survive another 1,000 years of mankind’s reign of terror?”

Forget computer malfunctions, power outages or other inconveniences. The new millennium finds us in the midst of a mass extinction unrivaled since a giant asteroid struck Earth 65 million years ago. Unfortunately, Bruce Willis can’t bail us out of the impending Armageddon by simply blasting a menacing death-rock to smithereens.

Our species, one in 1,413,000, is out to prove that it doesn’t take an asteroid strike to unravel life’s intricate diversity. In doing so, humans are on a collision course with destiny. We are eradicating 30,000 species per year—120,000 times the natural extinction rate of one every four years.

A recent annual survey by the Chinese government found so few of their nationally celebrated, freshwater white dolphins remaining in the Yangtze River that on Dec. 29 they were written off as living relics of an extinct species. China and India now boast more than 1 billion each of a human population that is 6 billion strong and growing. Comparing those figures with the billion inhabitants on the entire planet in 1600, any game manager would clearly see a species out of balance.

As Richard Leakey, the renowned paleoanthropologist warns, “Dominant as no other species has been in the history of life on Earth, Homo sapiens is in the throes of causing a major biological crisis, a mass extinction…And we may also be among the living dead.”

Where will we be in another millennium? Will a future Bruce Willis save us from ourselves? Or will we have gone the way of the dinosaur and the Yangtze white dolphin?


Chronicling the End, Part 1

The End. Everybody has one. Some are nicer than others. The end is not necessarily a bad thing, just an inevitability. What goes up must come down, but the end of one era can be a new beginning for another. Not all endings are unwelcome.

For instance, while the NRA and the Safari Club view the end of hunting as a bad thing, it would actually spell the beginning of a more agreeable era for wildlife—a time when human beings treat animals with respect and compassion, rather than objectifying and maltreating them.

Just as the end of winter brings the promise of spring, the end of the Anthropocene age will bring hope for new life to flourish.

Now, rumor has it there are those who think I’m too negative when referring to the future of humankind. But although I’m a realist when it comes to the future of our species (or rather, the lack thereof) I don’t secretly hope for the violent demise of humanity. If I hope for anything, it’s that people will learn to accept new ways of living lightly on the planet that include eschewing meat, treading softly rather than stomping out gargantuan carbon footprints everywhere, and of course, voluntarily reducing our population in a big way.

Barring that—and if Homo sapiens continues on the currently charted course—then I’m afraid to say I feel the species’ days are numbered. Call me Malthusian (as detractors call Paul Ehrlich for his theories outlined in The Population Bomb), but I’d have to say Thomas Malthus was far ahead of his time when he published the essay, Principle of Population in 1798, wherein he wrote:

“The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.”

It’s hard to believe that Malthus saw all that as far back as 1798. Even harder to believe is that his predictions have not yet come true. The only two things preventing a “Malthusian catastrophe” are technology and mechanization—neither of which I have much faith in. Now, before you go accusing me of being negative, a pessimist or worse, a misanthropist, at least give me credit for seeing the silver lining in every instance. Why, just today I spotted the following article sharing the uplifting news that “Bird flu brings windfall for businesses”…

BEIJING, April 22 (Xinhua) — A new strain of bird flu that has been spotted across China has brought vegetable dealer Xu Jialiang mixed feelings.

For Xu, who has been selling veggies for 20 years in Wuhan, capital of central China’s Hubei Province, the virus is a cause for concern, but also a commercial opportunity.

“Cabbage that was once left to rot has become a hit,” said Xu, adding that he recently sold more than 50 tonnes of cabbage in a single day, double the amount he was selling just two months ago.

“People have become more reluctant to eat poultry, so vegetables have become much more popular,” he said.

The Wuhan municipal bureau of commodity pricing said vegetable prices have surged since the end of March.

The first human H7N9 infection was reported in late March. A total of 102 cases have been reported to date, resulting in 20 deaths.

The poultry-raising industry, restaurants that sell poultry and even producers of shuttlecocks, which are made using bird feathers, have been impacted by the virus.

Figures from the China Animal Agriculture Association showed that direct economic losses for broiler chicken breeders have exceeded 3.7 billion (593 million U.S. dollars).

However, other sectors have been boosted by the virus’s arrival. In addition to vegetable vendors, sellers of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) have also profited.

At the Zhangshu TCM Wholesale Market, a major TCM market in east China’s Jiangxi Province, the purchase price of processed isatis root surged from 13 yuan per kilo to 22 yuan after health experts claimed that the root can prevent infection.

Lei Da, head of the purchase department at Zhangshu Tianqitang TCM Co., Ltd., said processed honeysuckle, which some have claimed can prevent bird flu, sold out after the infections were reported.

Lei said the company is watching the status of the epidemic closely to decide whether it will increase its stores of the two items.

Insurance companies are also using the virus as an opportunity to boost income. Ping An Insurance, one of China’s largest insurance companies, is selling bird flu insurance that offers 20,000 yuan in compensation if an insurant is confirmed to have become infected. Other companies, such as Taikang Life and Sinosafe Insurance, are also offering bird flu insurance.

However, health experts say poultry products are still safe to eat as long as they are purchased through regulated channels and are thoroughly cooked.

Li Lanjuan, an academic with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said the virus is sensitive to high temperatures, ultraviolet rays and several kinds of sanitizer.

She ate chicken meat in front of reporters last week to dispel public worries.

“The virus will be killed in two minutes after the temperature reaches 100 degrees Celsius or half an hour if the temperature is 60 degrees Celsius,” said Li.

If Mr. Malthus were here today I’m sure he’d agree that the act of eating Chinese chicken (even if purchased through regulated channels) is one of those “vices of mankind” and an active and able minister of depopulation. …

Consider this the first installment of a new series which will chronicle the ways in which humans are instigating their own undoing. I’m considering starting a new blog and/or book “Chronicling the End,” depending on the feedback I receive. If you like the idea, “Like” this page, or leave a comment below…

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved