We are losing the diversity of life

“Biodiversity” is a portmanteau of the words “biological” and “diversity”, which is the sum of all living organisms on planet Earth. But as with other ecological crises, biodiversity is also impacted by human activities. Actually, approximately one million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction. This urgent crisis is propelled by the loss of populations of living organisms vital to healthy ecosystems, otherwise known as biodiversity loss.

Biodiversity loss and climate change are seen as two sides of the same coin. We cannot treat biodiversity loss as an independent disease. For example, forest loss exacerbates both climate change and biodiversity loss. The deforestation of forest habitats is an accelerating factor for these two phenomena. At a time when human activities have shaped and reshaped 75% of the Earth’s surface, natural spaces for wildlife are shrinking day by day and we are limiting them to a tight corner. We must relearn how to co-exist with other species and let wild habitats flourish in order to reverse the vandalism of nature.

Factors leading to biodiversity loss

Biodiversity loss has two main components; one is habitat specific and the other species specific. The habitat-specific component is easier to guess and includes habitat fragmentation, loss and degradation. The species-specific component includes factors such as wildlife trafficking and poaching.

When we introduce habitat-related factors into the discourse, it involves the degradation of terrestrial, aquatic, and hybrid habitats such as swamps, mangroves, and cave systems, among others. Forests and oceans are facing the brunt of the human bulldozer due to unsustainable farming and fishing practices respectively. According to the UN, forests are home to almost 80% of all terrestrial plant and animal species, and around 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods, including 70 million indigenous people.

amazon rainforest biodiversity hotspot
Forests serve as a refuge for almost 80% of terrestrial animal and plant species. (Photo (c)Flickr)

These are staggering numbers and you will be shocked to know the cause of this forest massacre. Everything is done so that the food arrives on our plates. Our global agricultural system is the biggest contributor to deforestation, ecosystem degradation and habitat loss. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, it is the main driver of biodiversity loss, with agriculture alone being a direct danger to 24,000 of the 28,000 species threatened with extinction.

Amazon deforestation wikimedia commons biodiversity loss
Our global agricultural system is the primary driver of deforestation, with the livestock and meat industry accounting for the highest proportion. (Picture (c) Wikimedia Commons)

According to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2021, humans have decimated 69% of the populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, fish and reptiles all over the world in the past 50 years! It is certainly not something humanity should be proud of. This has been mainly propelled by deforestation for various anthropogenic activities, introduction of invasive species, pollution, wildlife poaching and trafficking, and illegal hunting, to name a few.

The vicious loop

At a United Nations biodiversity conference in 2010, it was reported that the world’s wildlife was rapidly declining at a rate of 2.5%. Today, that rate has not diminished, making human inaction even more visible than ever. We may have discussed the main reasons for biodiversity loss, but there is another cause before our eyes. The threat of climate change is worsening the situation and making life for non-human organisms more difficult than ever.

As we see more and more extreme weather events such as severe droughts, flash floods, erratic cyclones and hurricanes, warmer temperatures, extreme heat waves, melting glaciers, sea ice and sea level rise, these have an impact on natural habitats and biological diversity which is to face it first. While heat waves and droughts cause untold losses to wildlife populations around the world, cyclones are sure to leave natural habitats devastated.

Shikra bird climate change Kunal
Due to climate change-induced heat waves, birds suffered the most during the summer season. (Photo (c) SOS Wildlife/Kunal Malhotra)

The wildfire phenomenon leaves a trail of destruction as it burns millions of acres of forests, killing both the trees and the animals that depend on those trees for food and shelter. Rising temperatures in the oceans due to climate change are making warm-water corals vulnerable, and corals are at risk of perishing in a process called coral bleaching. With bleaching events, it is not only the reefs that are likely to die, but the allied marine diversity of life is also negatively affected.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has reached its highest level in 12 years under the current government
Deforestation and forest fires are further aggravating biodiversity loss and the climate change crisis. (Picture (c) Wikimedia Commons)

Similarly, biodiversity loss also exacerbates climate change and the clearest example is carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation. Since the start of the 21st century, the world has lost tropical forests roughly the size of Europe, according to the Food Organization’s Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) 2020 report. and agriculture. From 2001 to 2021, a total of 437 million hectares of tree cover were lost globally, an 11% decrease in tree cover since 2000, resulting in 176 gigatonnes of CO₂ emissions. This whole mechanism operates on a feedback loop where biodiversity loss worsens climate change and vice versa.

Interconnected impacts

These calamitous situations hold wildlife firmly by the grip of its jaws. As mentioned earlier, biodiversity loss also has a species-specific component. An estimated 15 billion trees are felled every year, and with this we not only lose species belonging to different genera of different families, but we also lose the animals that mutually depend on these trees for food, food, roosting and reproduction. Cutting down even a single tree means harming an animal’s habitat.

For example, the spotted owl (Athena brama) usually roosts in groups in tree cavities or on branches. This provides them with insulation and protection against extreme environmental conditions, and helps them save energy. This species of owl is known to build nests in tree cavities during the breeding season, which lasts from January to April. Some trees commonly inhabited by spotted owls are Indian banyan, rain tree, neem, coconut, mango, and tamarind. The survival of a species like the Spotted Owl therefore depends on the survival of habitable trees.

Spotted Owlet Bird Akash 2
Perch in tree cavities or on the branches provides the Spotted Owls with the necessary insulation. (Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Akash Dolas)

Similarly, the Indian giant flying squirrel (Petaurista philippensis) can be found in the Deodar forests of the Himalayas and being an arboreal (arboreal) mammal, it spends most of its time in the canopy. The active loss of canopies can steal the shelter of these, as well as many other animal species that depend on them. These are just a few examples of how cutting down trees can create a domino effect for dependent animal species.

Wildlife SOS Prevention of biodiversity loss

Our organization is on the front line to prevent the loss of biodiversity at both species and habitat level. At the habitat level, Wildlife SOS is committed to the conservation and management of natural landscapes through habitat restoration. The Ramdurga Valley project in Koppal district of Karnataka was initiated for the rejuvenation of a degraded area spanning 40 acres. The work has led to the restoration of valuable sloth bear habitat and other endangered species such as turtles, leopards and pangolins, to name a few. It is a conservation bulwark that aligns with the need to regenerate the natural world.

cashew fruit at ramdurga
Young trees planted in consultation with horticultural experts are bearing fruit in the Ramdurga Valley. (Photo (C) Wildlife SOS/Samad Kottur)

In April 2012, the project was expanded to an additional 10 acres. In consultation with horticultural experts, saplings of the most appropriate tree and shrub species for the region were selected and nearly 10,000 saplings were planted. We planted mahua, neem, arjuna, mango, amla, Indian beech, bamboo, custard apple, Indian laburnum, fig, banyan, jamun, bohenia, bodhi and others within the 10 acre area.

At the species level, Wildlife SOS has set up 24×7 emergency helplines across the country in four regions – Delhi-NCR (+91 9871963535), Agra (+91 9917109666), Vadodara (+ +91 9825011117) and Jammu and Kashmir (+91 7006692300, +91 9419778280) – to save wildlife in distress in urban, semi-urban and rural areas. From mammals such as canines, felines, antelopes, bovidae, bats and rodents, to reptiles such as crocodiles, snakes, turtles and lizards, as well as many birds, the Intervention Unit The NGO Rapid is constantly on the move to save endangered wild animals.

October2022 rescues delhi Python Kunal 1
The Wildlife SOS Rapid Response Unit peaked in October 2022, saving a total of 711 lives. (Photo (c) SOS Wildlife/Kunal Malhotra)

In 2021, Wildlife SOS rescued over 4,800 animals with over 2,000 birds and nearly 1,800 reptiles rescued in its name. In 2022, the numbers are higher and our team has almost matched the total figure of the previous year with already two months remaining in the year. October hit a peak this year, with the Wildlife SOS Agra team saving the lives of 302 animals. Reptile rescues dominated the month with their numbers reaching 191. These numbers were the highest of any month in 2022 for the Agra rescue team.

The numbers indicate that these animals might otherwise have faced a more tragic fate had they not been rescued. Wildlife SOS is therefore doing its best to stem the biodiversity crisis. You can support our efforts by calling our hotline numbers if you ever see a wild animal in distress. You can also consider becoming a monthly Wildlife SOS donor.

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