Even if a single wildlife species gets extinct, it may disturb the whole food chain ultimately leading to disastrous results
By Bashir Hangi
There has been a debate in the public domain about the protection humans and wildlife. Such debates usually come up in relation to human-wildlife conflicts, especially in cases where people lose property or life to wildlife. The debates are similar to mother is better than father or water is better than fire and should be treated as such.
The term ‘wildlife’ not only caters for wild animals but also takes into account all undomesticated life forms including birds, insects, plants, fungi and even microscopic organisms. Animals, plants and marine species are as important as humans in maintaining a healthy ecological balance on the earth. Each organism has a unique place in the food chain that helps to contribute to the ecosystem in its own special way.
It is sad to note that today; many of the animals and birds are getting endangered. The natural habitats of animals and plants are being destroyed for development and farming. Poaching and hunting of animals for fur, jewellery, meat and leather are some of the factors contributing to wildlife extinction.
This calls for urgent stringent measures to save wildlife otherwise the human race will find itself working towards a dangerous situation that will lead into a catastrophe. The extinction of wildlife species will have a fatal impact on the human race. Therefore, it is a strategically managed co-existence of humans and wildlife by striking a balance of survival between the two that has kept us going since the creation of the world. This bestows on humans a greater responsibility to protect wildlife, the planet and ourselves. Protecting wildlife is for our own survival.
Even if a single wildlife species gets extinct, it may disturb the whole food chain ultimately leading to disastrous results. For example, insects such as bees aid cross-pollination in crops. If they get reduced, this has an impact on crop yields. Similarly, increase in population of wildlife can have a negative effect on the ecological balance. A case in point is the reduced numbers of carnivores due to human hunting and poaching.
This leads to increased number of herbivores, which, if unchecked, could potentially lead to cases, where forage will no longer be enough. The animals will go out of the parks and destroy crops leading to conflict and potential famine. Some birds on the other hand are important in pollination as well as playing a role in controlling pests by feeding on them. Therefore, saving wildlife plays a great role in ensuring a check on the ecological balance thereby, maintaining a healthy eco-system.
Many plants and animal species are used in the manufacture of medicine and food supplements in Uganda, tourists come to see the endemic and rare species, participate in game safaris, nature walks, birding tours, trekking, fishing and river rafting among others. Our protected areas such national parks, wildlife reserves and forests greatly contribute to the inflow of foreign exchange, thereby increasing our GDP. Furthermore, the cost of
tourist’s travel, local transportation, food and accommodation contributes a significant amount to our economy. During peak seasons, seasonal job opportunities for local communities also increases significantly which enhances their wellbeing. Therefore, for many, wildlife is the source of income and provides them with their daily bread.
Many animal and plant species represent the cultural identities and strengths of our communities. In some communities, certain animals are often symbolic of a deity’s power. For example, a number of animals are used as totems for clans in Africa while in places like India; a cow holds a significant religious value because it is revered as mother by the Hindus. Therefore, wildlife has a significant contribution to cultural heritage.
In Uganda, we are currently facing acts of poaching and killing of animals by poachers for skins, tusks and horns. Those indulging in these activities are earning big fortunes at the expense of both the present and future generations. Fortunately, Uganda Wildlife Authority working with other stakeholders has over the last 25 years been working to reduce poaching incidences which has resulted in increase in the population of all wildlife species in protected areas.
Transforming the recovery of our wildlife numbers into benefit to communities and landowners is one way of addressing the poaching and smuggling challenge because when individuals share on the benefit, they attach value to wildlife. The argument of whether wildlife is more important than humans does arise as everyone realises that the two need to live in harmony for mutual benefit.
We must wake up to this reality and do something collectively and individually for the continual of these beautiful aesthetics on the planet. Without forests, rivers and animals or birds, the earth would be a barren land with no traces of life. If we don’t protect wildlife today, a time will come when the entire human race will be in great danger.
Writer is the communications manager of the Uganda Wildlife Authority