Covid-19 and a prolonged lockdown in most countries during the pandemic gave us unlimited free time to look back on our planet earth, our nature and the wildlife. The pandemic startled us, and we couldn't believe that it would happen in our lifetime; a pathogen shut down almost the whole world and compelled us to take voluntary confinement at home. Scientists have been working to identify the exact source of this virus, but the animal marketplace at Wuhan in China is believed to be the primary source of this novel virus where the disease was transmitted from animal to people.
From plague to coronavirus, zoonotic diseases like MERS, SARS (Cov-2), Ebola, African Swine Fever and Nipah - every one of these have been transmitted through animals. All the cases point to the illegal and divergent human interference over wildlife, but nothing stopped people.
Paula Cannon, a distinguished Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology of the Keck School of Medicine of USC believes that the recent widespread pandemic was the reminder for humankind from nature. She noted, "Humans are increasing the odds of diseases happening as we move into wild areas and catch wild animals. We are creating circumstances where it is only a matter of time when this was going to happen, and it will only be a matter of time before it happens again."
Since human beings are the supreme predator over non-human creatures, many atrocities like habitat destruction, deforestation, overhunting, poaching, illegal trade of wild animals, pollution, etc driven by human actions are always growing threats to ecosystems, biodiversity, and wildlife. With the growth of the world population, with the expansion of the global economy and the extensive rise of developmental infrastructure, more and more wildlife habitats are being shrunk and more species are becoming endangered or extinct.
Back in 2008, the Red List of IUCN included more than 25,000 threatened species and 85 percent of those were endangered because of losing their habitats.
Ecologists have tried to identify the current rate of species extinction. They think that the extinction rate is 1,000 times greater than it was before 1800. The Passenger Pigeon is the perfect instance of how humankind interacted with their habitat and destroyed it.
Once, the Passenger Pigeon was the most common bird species in North America, covering 40 percent of the continent's total bird population. Even at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the flocks of this bird species were so large that they blackened the whole sky along their route. In her book 'The Passenger Pigeon' the author Errol Fuller said, "When shooting birds flying overhead, it was often unnecessary even to aim. Dozens of individuals could be brought down with a single shot from a gun simply pointed skyward."
But the ultimate fate of the Passenger Pigeon was tragic. The tragic doom of the species started when Europe started to colonise North America. And gradually, the growth of technological men on the continent with their expansion into the wildlife territory quickened the ultimate destruction of the bird species. At the beginning of the twentieth century, this bird species totally vanished from the planet, except one - Martha. Martha was in a cage at the Cincinnati Zoo, in Ohio, USA, and she died in September 1914.
Biologists have identified three key reasons for the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon; and the first two of these points to arbitrary human actions- 1) sheer ferocity of the human onslaught for its low-cost meat, 2) the wholesale destruction of the forests and nesting ground that the Passenger Pigeon relied on for food and shelter.
The English environmentalist Norman Myers once perfectly pointed out, "We are into the opening stages of a human-caused biotic holocaust—a wholesale elimination of species—that could leave the planet impoverished for at least five million years."
Now in the 21st century, people are widely concerned about the massive destruction and degradation of the environment, the wildlife, and the potential threats due to global climate changes. But human invasion over wildlife and environment is still prevailing on earth. Hence some new challenges have been added as the consequence of human actions - like global warming, oil damping, excessive poaching, and illegal trafficking of wild animals.
A study on poaching of rhinoceros in South Africa found only 13 animals in 2014 from 1,215 in 2007. The study concluded that the poaching level has increased by 9000 percent! (excerpt from Daan P. van Uhm. "The Illegal Wildlife Trade" 2016). If we fail to stop this trend, rhinoceros and other iconic species like tigers, elephants, giraffes, etc will become extinct from the earth within a couple of years.
For this reason, the international community must do something to prevent the ecological crises that occurred due to human activities and invasions. And we still can do something about it. According to Edward O. Wilson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author noted in his book "The Meaning of Human Existence' "… human beings can know all that needs to be known, and in knowing understand, and in understanding gain the power to choose more wisely than ever before."
Plants are an integral part of wildlife since animals and plants become better adapted to the particular habitat conditions that suited them best. By broad habitat types, wildlife can be categorised into different ecoregions like the forest, grassland, wetland, desert, polar zones, etc. But the reality is that wildlife of all ecoregions is at risk either due to the natural catastrophe or to the catastrophic impacts on human development.
But the most devastating factor for the rapid disappearance of wild species is the illegal trading of wildlife. This trade has been running from the early age of human civilization, since there is always a big market for wild animals worldwide. And different species of both the animal and plant have been used for different purposes like food, clothing, medicine, circus show, pet, health care, furniture, housing, fashion, and so on. So over time, highly organised criminal and violent groups have formed behind illegal wildlife trading, who are connected across the international borders. They are a common threat to national and international security.
Consequently, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was signed by the 183 Parties (182 countries + the European Union) on 3 March, 1973. After entering into force on 1 July 1975, it became the most powerful tool for wildlife conservation through international trade regulation for over 38,000 species of wild animals and plants.
CITES seeks to ensure that international trade in such species is sustainable, legal, and traceable. It also works to ensure and contribute to both the livelihoods of the communities that live closest to them and to national economies, for a healthy planet and the prosperity of the people, in support of UN Sustainable Development Goals.
On 20 December 2013, at its 68th session, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) proclaimed 3 March – the day of the signature of the CITES in 1973 – as UN World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world's wild animals and plants.
This year, under the theme "Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet", World Wildlife Day is being celebrated worldwide.
The Covid-19 pandemic warned us that human beings are not a super creature and must understand that we need to coexist with nature, not rule it uncontrollably. We are also not alienated from nature and wildlife. Therefore, we must focus on the sustainable conservation of our environment and all the species of our mother earth. A long ago, Norman Myers perfectly said: "Our welfare is intimately tied up with the welfare of wildlife ... by saving the lives of wild species, we may be saving our own."