Prof. Edward Wiafe Debrah,
Dean, School of Natural and Environmental Sciences
The University of Environment and Sustainable Development, Somanya
The world celebrates 3rd March every year, to commemorate the day of signature of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) in 1973. The day is set aside to celebrate the beautiful and diversified form of wild fauna and flora and to raise awareness of the multitude of benefits that their conservation provides to human beings. Concurrently, the celebration of World Wildlife Day reminds people of the urgent need to step up the fight against wildlife crime, atrocities, and human-induced reduction of species which have devastating impacts on the economy, society, and the environment.
The theme for this year’s (2022) day’s celebration is ‘Recovering Key Species for Ecosystem Restoration. The theme is timely because it has come at the time when the awareness creation on the state of endangered and critically endangered wildlife is paramount. It also highlights the power of conservation efforts to reverse their fate. Drawing to the status of some critically endangered species and their roles in the ecosystems will send a powerful message to policymakers, practitioners, citizens, students, and the public for urgent commitment.
As of now the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) Red List of Threaten Species estimates that over 8,400 species of wild plants and animals are critically endangered, 30,000 more are understood to be endangered or vulnerable. This indicates that over one million species are threatened with extinction and this can be attributed to the behavior of human beings to utilize wild plants and animals to colour their lives.
Wildlife can be found on land, in the air, underwater, and even underground. It must be pointed out that over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods, yet 30 percent of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited, reaching below the level at which they can produce sustainable yields. In addition, human life depends on land for sustenance and livelihood. Plantlife provides 80 percent of the human diet, and forests cover 30 percent of the Earth’s surface that provides vital habitats for millions of species, and important sources for clean air and water, as well as being crucial for combating climate change. Every year, 13 million hectares of forests are lost, while the persistent degradation of drylands has led to the desertification of 3.6 billion hectares, disproportionately affecting poor communities. While 15 percent of the land is protected, biodiversity is still at risk. Nearly 7,000 species of animals and plants have been illegally traded. Wildlife trafficking not only erodes biodiversity, but creates insecurity, fuels conflict, and feeds corruption.
In Ghana, conservation of biological diversity is very important because many of the species are endemic in the country and this has compelled governments to reserve over 300 pieces of land for conservation of biological diversity. In addition, a national strategy for the conservation of biodiversity has been developed under the framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity. However, there has been an increase in the degradation of these reserved resources in Ghana which manifests inadequate knowledge, skills, poor attitudes towards biodiversity, and lack of willpower to prioritize conservation of wild flora and fauna. Ghana has a long history of managing biological diversity dating back almost a century. However, increasing pressures on land for developmental projects over the past decades have resulted in the depletion of biological resources. This undermines the sustainable production of goods and services derived from biodiversity. The situation has worsened to the extent that Ghana is unable to meet even the domestic demand for goods and services generated from biodiversity although Ghana used to be a net exporter of biological resources. Places that have been reserved for the conservation of biological resources are no more biologically functioning as such.
A recent survey conducted in some protected forest areas in Ghana indicated that not only have these forests become increasingly isolated by the expansion of agricultural activities but have also been seriously degraded through excessive logging, mining, and hunting. A few decades ago, Ghana had greatly witnessed a decline in numbers of Miss Waldron’s red colobus, rollaway monkey, western chimpanzee, and white-naped mangabey throughout south-western Ghana. Elephants used to roam in most parts of the country’s forest but have now been extirpated; even one of the commonest birds, the hooded vulture, has not been spared from the catastrophe and is difficult to find these days. It must be noted that losses of mega-fauna represent a major biodiversity crisis because when large highly vocal and conspicuous animals disappear one cannot help but wonder how many other less-conspicuous and cryptic species had gone extinct before them. Sometimes extinction may mean that we lose the species before its presence is known.
All hope is not lost yet, this year’s theme ‘Recovering Key Species for Ecosystem Restoration’ is empowering us to undertake the various measures to recover the lost species. To this end, a nationwide survey should be embarked on to map the forest reserves which still contain some individuals of mega-fauna. The conservation status of all species should be updated regularly. Some of the species must be promoted as icon species so as to win the attention of the policymakers as well as animal lovers in general.
Wild animals watching tours could be incorporated into the tourism activities to promote the importance of wild animals to the general public. Since some animals have evolved to live with hunting and other human disturbance, group habituation would be a difficult task but possible with time.
Moreover, farmers working around conservation areas should be involved in the conservation of wildlife. They should be educated to develop an interest in the conservation of species, so much that their hunting would be reduced or ceased. Sometimes, these animals are hunted because of crop-raiding activities, which to the animals they have found feed but to the hunter, they are destructive animals and must be eradicated. Alternatively, pay for environmental services scheme (which means farmers who forfeit their farms because of the crop-raiding animals) could be instituted to compensate the farmers whose crops are normally used as feed by the wild animals. Law enforcement agencies must be educated and empowered to effectively enforce the laws of the land that protect wildlife.
In conserving wild fauna and flora, we shall be able to achieve some of the Sustainable Development Goals. Notable among them are SDG 1 (No poverty), SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 4 (Quality education), SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth), SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production), SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 14 (Life below water), SDG 15 (Life on land). Together, let’s conserve wildlife for our heritage.