According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global authority that determines species’ conservation status, there are more than 32,000 species threatened with extinction1. That’s a third of all assessed animal and plant species on Earth in need of protection!
We are accustomed to hearing about the conservation of tigers, gorillas, elephants, and even pangolins, but less so about the bog turtle, the short-legged horned toad, or even the basking shark. In fact, studies have revealed that the public places less importance on the conservation of threatened species with name that evokes negative emotions2, with the large, charismatic, terrestrial mammals the most popular3. Even though mammals are proportionally (26%) less threatened than other animals (Classes), compared to 41% of amphibians, 34% selected reptiles, 33% reef-forming corals and 30% sharks and rays.
Species conservation programmes, which are reliant on funding and public support, also tend to focus on those popular, charismatic animals, referring to terms, ‘surrogate’ or ‘flagship’ [species]: implying that less charismatic species benefit too. Although there is plenty of debate suggesting that this is simply not the case, with the less appealing threatened species losing out, even though their protection may be more urgent in ecological terms4. Consider sharks as an example, of the 500 species, 30% are classified as threatened, yet their image remains stigmatised by Hollywood movies.
I invited Dr Erich Ritter from SharkSchool, a member of ANIMONDIAL’s Animal Protection Network, to provide a different insight:
Consider this: one of ecotourism’s last frontiers is to freely interact with sharks. At a time, when swimming with dolphins continues in popularity, sharks still give most people a fright! But the real animal could not be further from the truth. Most of these magnificent species pose little threat to people. In fact, of the known 500 shark species, just a few individuals of 6 to 10 species contribute to 99% of the 60 to 80 incidents per year.
Sharks are the most abundant, top predators on the planet and are vital to maintaining an intact marine ecosystem. Their protection is therefore integral to a healthy marine environment – the largest of all ecosystems. So, we must do everything possible to learn to appreciate these animals, dissolve the stigma, and protect shark species, to protect the oceans.
I am encouraged that more and more scuba divers and snorkelers are starting to interact with sharks, on their own terms, but greater efforts are needed to introduce the general public to sharks and in the right context. For instance, cage-diving, seems counter-productive which it is, if there is no educational value. Include education value, and the experience becomes a lot more interesting and assures people an understanding of these animals and how they live. Unfortunately, however, too many shark tours lack an educational component, sensationalise the experience, and inject further fear into its participants. Sadly, few operators realise the unique position they are in, to spread the word.
Overall, sharks are misunderstood. People mistake their appearance, intelligence, and curiosity as “dangerous” animals. At SharkSchool, we aim to educate people about sharks, to appreciate their natural attributes, and in their environment, how to react around them. Our approach is based on the latest research and my many years of experience interacting with these species. Only when people fully appreciate these beautiful animals will their protection be assured.
At a time when nature conservation and species protection is as important as ever, least for our own survival, can we afford to pick and choose a species for protected, based on how it appears?
In my May blog, I had considered the importance of Nature Conservation, noting nature consists of a fabric of interconnecting relationships of multiple species. Any loss of biodiversity, such as its top predator (such as the shark), destabilises the ecosystem, not only devastating for nature; but equally, for ourselves. Focusing on the ‘popular’ species is clearly not enough, particularly if that skews priority from those environments where put simply, ‘charismatics’ do not reside.
By learning and appreciating more about the different species around us, including those that are perhaps consider less charismatic, could well ensure a more effective approach to Nature Conservation.
- Learn more about SharkSchool and its work to better protect sharks
- Learn more about ANIMONDIAL’s Animal Protection Network, supporting non-profits that protect animals and the natural environment
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ https://www.iucnredlist.org/
- Gregg et al. (2020) Many IUCN red list species have names that evoke negative emotions. Human Dimensions of Wildlife
- Albert et al. (2018) The twenty most charismatic species
- Kontoleon A & Swanson T. (2003) The Willingness to Pay for Property Rights for the Giant Panda: Can a Charismatic Species Be an Instrument for Nature Conservation? Land Econ. 2003;79: 483–499.
Last week I set about drafting the monthly blog for ANIMONDIAL with a focus on “Endangered Species Day” (15 May), to acknowledge its 15th Year Anniversary, but it wasn’t working for me. As I pondered how to bring together so many interconnecting streams of thought, I soon became embroiled in a complexity of message – as opposed to practical application. The protection of threatened species, ecosystems, and global biodiversity sounds good on paper, but advice and guidance to help the spectrum of different businesses to fulfil such broad objectives is often lacking.
In the travel and tourism sector, various policy incentives exist, but few include supportive guidance and viable actions that would be applicable to small to medium-sized businesses. I hope that this blog will go some way in helping travel businesses play their part.
On “Endangered Species Day”, we are reminded of the importance of protecting species, particularly those classified as ‘endangered’. These are species whose population has declined between 50 and 70% with the decline measured over 10 years or three generations of the species, whichever is longer. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global authority that determines species’ conservation status, there are more than 31,000 species threatened with extinction1. That’s almost a third of all assessed animal and plant species on Earth! Moreover, with each species having relevance within a wider fabric of interconnecting relationships (commonly referred to as ‘Nature’), a loss of a species could well result in a greater loss of biodiversity. Since the inauguration of “Endangered Species Day” (2006), the number of threatened species has doubled!
Biodiversity loss is primarily a result of two factors: the loss of natural habitat and a loss in genetic variance. Both occur naturally, but it is the relentless intensity of human activity that continues to have the greatest impact. The removal of vast areas of native habitat for industry, housing and agricultural development, soil degradation from overuse and pollution, to the overhunting and poaching of wildlife, are all considered major drivers in species displacement and extinction.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) ranks biodiversity loss in the top five threats humanity will have to face in the next ten years. In a recently published report2, it acknowledges that “Nature underpins our prosperity and wellbeing by providing economic value and security, supporting human development and equality, and increasing our resilience to climate change.” In economic terms, Nature is believed to have an estimated economic value generation of US$44 trillion (that’s over half of the world’s total GDP). However, despite this, humanity’s negative impact on other species, ecosystems, and global biodiversity is not only contributing to the Climate Change Crisis but, also increasing the occurrence of animal-to-human (zoonotic) infectious disease (e.g. COVID-19)3. This demonstrable connection between the health of animals, natural ecosystems and the health and welfare of humans was a focus of my March 2020 blog.
Humanity appears to be destroying the very resource we should value the most. We must therefore act now to save nature; to save ourselves.
Many people are wondering when life will get back to ‘normal’ after the COVID-19 crisis. Can we not use this opportunity to learn from our mistakes and build something better?
I realise these are already difficult times for the travel and tourism sector but, perhaps there is no better time to take stock and review previous operations – to return more efficient and effective. Importantly, ‘sustainability’ can no longer be regarded as an ‘aim to have’, but an integral component of all that we do. Tourism needs to review its relationship with animals and nature. Specifically, to identify, measure and better manage (or even to minimise) negative impact.
Simply adopting an in-office policy to “recycle, reuse and reduce” should no longer be considered enough to reverse nature’s demise and ensure our future security. Instead, this kind of initiative must be one of many within a multifaceted, strategic approach to optimise output. Involving all departments within your business as well as stakeholders across the supply chain.
Knowing that something needs to be done is the first step towards success, but knowing what to do and how to do it, is often the issue. ANIMONDIAL, the global tourism consultancy specialising in responsible animal tourism, is here to help cut through the complexity to identify tangible actions that are right for your business.
What can I do to better manage my impact on animals and the natural world?
Reduce your company’s negative impact on nature
- Adopt animal welfare and protection principles, advocated by ANIMONDIAL and the ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines4, and offer only responsible tourism activities with animals and respectful wildlife viewing practices that uphold good welfare standards. Receive a bespoke service from ANIMONDIAL.
- Evaluate all your tourism activities / experiences that involve animals to identify and measure risk, end inappropriate activity, and seek to improve standards in animal welfare.
- Discourage your suppliers from sourcing animals from the wild; unless there is a demonstrable and justifiable conservation need. If in doubt, contact the national CITES Management Authority5.
- De-list tourism activities / experiences that involve the hunting of wild-born or captive-bred animals for the purposes of sport, trophy, or entertainment.
- Request that your suppliers do not commercially trade, breed or exploit their animals (this includes zoos, aquaria, animal sanctuaries, rescue centres and orphanages6).
- Product procurement teams and Destination Management Companies should inform all suppliers to ensure they do not sell or promote the sale of any of these unsustainable wildlife products. Refer to the European Commission’s Wildlife Souvenir’s Guide7 and use tools to identify threatened species7,8.
- Ask your customers not to pick up, collect or buy animals or parts of animals (including corals, sponges, shells, etc.) or plants (including orchids, seeds, seedlings, etc.) from the wild. Use online tools to identify the conservation status of the species involved1,7,8.
- Ask your airline partners not to transport live animals, trophies or products derived from animal or plant species that are listed under CITES Appendix I or classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ or ‘Endangered’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.
Invest in protecting and restoring nature
- Audit all of your tourism activities / experiences that involve animals or that take place in Nature to mitigate risk and ensure compliance with your adopted animal welfare and protection principles. ANIMONDIAL partner, Preverisk9, provides endorsed animal protection auditing.
- Adopt a fresh approach to managing associated risk and addressing persistent challenges by investing in solutions as an alternative to the ‘stop sale’ that modify product and tackle poor animal welfare standards. Contact ANIMONDIAL if you are interested in supporting our initiatives to better protect Asian elephants, cetaceans, turtles, and more in tourism.
- Support financially or in-kind projects and organisations that genuinely protect animals and or Nature. Contact ANIMONDIAL to access its list of trusted, community-based animal protection initiatives10.
Collaborate with others to make a difference
- Sign up and contribute to the United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce11; the WTTC BA Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade; and the IWT Zero Tolerance Policy12, and work with ROUTES’13 support to implement your commitments.
- Sign up to the World Economic Forum’s Business For Nature initiative, working with governments to reverse nature loss by 2030.
Changing our relationship with nature is too great an issue to be left to the scientists and policymakers. We must all take responsibility, end destructive activity, and strive to return what we have lost. Business (no matter the size) has a crucial role to play, by putting nature at the core of their activity and decision-making, assessing, mitigating, and managing animal and nature-related risk.
ANIMONDIAL is here to help you identify tangible actions that are right for your business.
To help ANIMONDIAL help your business better protect threatened species, ecosystems, and global biodiversity, we want to hear from you! Please complete this 2 minute survey and receive a FREE Animal Protection Health Check. Looking forward to hearing from you.
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ https://www.iucnredlist.org/
- World Economic Forum (2020) Global Risk Report https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2020
- World Economic Forum (2020) COVID-19 and nature are linked. So should be the recovery.
- ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines 2019 https://www.abta.com
- UNEP-WCMC & CITES Secretariat, providing information on C US Fish and Wildlife Service, CITES permits and certificates https://www.fws.gov/international/pdf/factsheet-cites-permits-and-certificates-2013.pdf
- ANIMONDIAL (2019) Animal sanctuaries: more than just a name
- European Commission, The Wildlife Souvenirs Guide https://ec.europa.eu/environment/cites/info_souvenirs_en.htm
- CITES-listed species https://speciesplus.net/
- ANIMONDIAL (2020) Preverisk https://animondial.com/partners
- ANIMONDIAL (2020) Animal Protection Network https://animondial.com/animal-protection-network
- United for Wildlife Declaration https://www.unitedforwildlife.org/the-buckingham-palace-declaration/
- WTTC (2018) BA Declaration on illegal wildlife trade https://wttc.org/Initiatives/Sustainable-Growth/illegal-wildlife-trade
- The USAID Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) Partnership https://routespartnership.org/