Major Wildlife Report, Unfortunately, Leaves Big Questions on Human Exploitation of Species Hanging

The questions must feel as infinite as the sands on a beach, which sound of the waves must have also become almost as deafening as the arguments.

A major study was conducted by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which summary was published in July. The full report is expected to be released in two months’ time.

Photo: YouTube/Conservation International

Built on the findings of the 2019 IPBES report which stated that wildlife exploitation is one of the greatest drivers of biodiversity loss, the latest report has sought to “offer a more optimistic message” according to Marla Emery, a co-chair of the assessment.

Behind the authorship of the report were individuals with Indigenous and local knowledge, including scientists nominated by governments. The group reviewed more than 6,200 sources, among them were reports and research papers.

According to the assessment summary, billions of people around the world depend on approximately 50,000 species of wild plants and animals for food, medicines, energy, and income.

Photo: YouTube/Conservation International

Based on their calculations, these are the estimated figures:

  • 33,000 species of plants and fungi
  • 7,500 species of fish and aquatic invertebrates
  • 9,000 species of amphibians, insects, reptiles, birds and mammals.

Nevertheless, according to John Donaldson, another report co-chair, those were conservative numbers.

Moreover, even though the new assessment considers over-exploitation as a threat to some species, the authors also pointed out the significance of numerous examples of wild species being used in sustainable ways. They cited that roughly one-third of the estimated 10,000 species being used by people have stable populations. Hence, the report contains recommendations to provide support to these efficient methods and to replicate them.

Photo: YouTube/Conservation International

But, this latest IPBES report is now under fire. Independent scientists are questioning the accuracy of the findings, data gaps, and issues that have been excluded.

The report “underestimates the harm that exploitation of wildlife does to nature and it exaggerates the benefits,” said Daniela Freyer, biologist and co-founder of the conservation organization Pro Wildlife in Munich, Germany.

Alice Hughes, a conservation biologist at the University of Hong Kong, likewise questioned just how sustainable the use of some species cited in the report actually were. She reasoned out that trade that takes out huge prized animals from an ecosystem could decrease the size of the animals that remain, shrink the gene pool, and make these animals less adaptable to changes in their surroundings.

Photo: YouTube/Conservation International

The exclusion of the link between wildlife overexploitation and disease outbreaks was also raised by researchers. The Covid 19 pandemic has made this an essential topic to deeply explore, considering how present evidence points to a wildlife market in Wuhan, China as the origin of the highly-contagious coronavirus.

“Governments are going to take the exploitation of wild animals more seriously when they realize that there are genuine biosecurity risks,” added Hughes.

Other questioons were about the real number of species being traded and if they are really being traded in sustainable ways since there is inadequate scientific evidence on the matter. It is also unclear which species are being used just for luxury and for human survival in order to determine which are indispensable.

Photo: YouTube/Conservation International

Data was also insufficient concerning the use of wild flora, since many of those who exploit them are not familiar with their species and genus. “As one species gets depleted in the forest, people just move on to the next species,” commented Malin Rivers, who leads conservation efforts at Botanic Gardens Conservation International in London. But she also added that despite the limited information, conclusions could still be drawn from the best pool of knowledge at hand.

Addressing these issues, Emery explained that their group might have missed the latest research since their comprehensive review covered sources available only until April 2021. She also recognized the huge knowledge gaps in species exploitation and sustainability that were in fact also among the findings of their report. But she reasoned that these data gaps should not restrict endeavors in implementing sustainable practices that contribute to ecological equilibrium.

“We want as much science as we can get, but there is already a deep and important source of knowledge that we can use — and this is Indigenous local knowledge,” emphasized Emery.

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