Act for Conservation on World Environment Day

The following is a press release issued by The Endangered Wildlife Trust of South Africa

World Environment Day is celebrated on 5 June every year. It aims to focus global awareness on the importance of the environment and to stimulate political attention and action for a healthy planet. It was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.

The theme for World Environment Day 2010 is ‘Many Species. One Planet. One Future.’ This theme supports the International Year of Biodiversity 2010, a global campaign designed to encourage worldwide action to safeguard biodiversity, the intricate network of life.

Biodiversity loss affects ecosystem functioning, which affects not only wildlife, but also human well-being. At least 34 000 plant and 5 200 animal species face extinction today and this will increase dramatically if current trends continue. In the less than 400 years following the industrial revolution at least 484 animal and 654 plant species have gone extinct. This is primarily as a result of human activities. There are five main and ongoing pressures preventing a meaningful reduction in rate of biodiversity loss: habitat loss and degradation; climate change; excessive nutrient load and other forms of pollution; over-exploitation and unsustainable use; and invasive alien species.

Urgent action is required to slow the escalating rate of biodiversity loss, and every individual is part of the solution.

Here’s how you can Act for Conservation on World Environment Day and the other 364 days of the year:

  • Stop using pesticides and other chemicals, or switch to natural alternatives . Why not try living with the ants and beetles? In this way you allow natural symbiotic relationships to develop, and allow nature to take care of your garden. In South Africa, oxpeckers have become locally extinct in some areas due to environmentally harmful wildlife and livestock dips. Oxpeckers feed on the ticks that in turn feed on the dipped animals, so causing oxpecker mortalities. By simply using environmentally responsible dips, farmers allow oxpeckers to help rid their animals of these parasites.

  • Participate in the EWT’s Saddle-billed Stork photographic census. The last Saddle-billed Stork Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis survey conducted in the Kruger National Park in 1993 suggested that there were less than 60 of these birds left in the Park. The species is classified as Endangered in South Africa. If you see one of these birds, please photograph both sides its face and bill and record the date, time, location, name of nearby water source, bird’s gender, juveniles present and any other notes that might be relevant. Please send all sighting details and photographs to storks@ewt.org.za.

  • Report colour-marked raptors and cranes. T he EWT’s Sasol Vulture Monitoring Project implements wing-tagging as a colour-marking method for vultures. To date, more than 1 600 vultures have been tagged, and over 4 100 resightings have been recorded. This data have revealed the extent to which vultures travel and this has fundamentally altered our approach to vulture conservation, resulting in our inclusion of the entire southern African subregion in our activities. Similarly, cranes are fitted with a unique colour combination of leg rings, visible from a distance to allow conservationists to monitor movements of individual birds and gather important information on their breeding and longevity. Please report ringed crane sightings to crane@ewt.org.za and tagged vulture sightings to andreb@ewt.org.za.

  • Report wildlife-power line mortalities. Common wildlife interactions with power lines include electrocutions and collisions. Large terrestrial and water dependent bird species are prone to collisions with overhead electrical cables. The physical impact with the line results in the bird being injured (i.e. broken leg or wing) or killed. Because of their large wingspans, eagles and vultures are particularly vulnerable to electrocution when they perch or roost on electrical infrastructure. Other animals affected by electrocution include primates, genets and Meerkats Suricata suricatt. Please contact the Eskom-EWT Strategic Partnership (core project of the EWT-Wildlife & Energy Programme) on 0860 111 535 or wep@ewt.org.za to report birds or animal mortalities related to power lines. More on this project on the EWT website

  • Report wildlife poisoning incidents. Poisoning affects many species and is currently one of the leading causes of raptor deaths in South Africa. An increasing threat to vultures is their illegal harvesting for use in the muthi trade, and poisoning is commonly used to kill these birds. What’s more, people who eat poisoned wildlife are at risk of being poisoned themselves. Help the EWT put a stop to this practice by reporting wildlife poisoning incidents on our Wildlife Poisoning Report Line: 011 486 1102.

  • Pick up litter. While the aesthetic pollution that litter creates is obvious, few people realise that littered cigarette butts leach dangerous toxins into the ground and our water resources or start potentially life threatening fires, or that decomposing food can breed bacterial diseases in dams, which in turn kills wildlife. For example, African Grass Owls Tyto capensis , a species classified as Vulnerable in South Africa, nest on the ground amongst tall grass during winter. In a natural ecosystem, fires would only be possible in the spring, when storms bring lightning that can burn the very dry grass. At this time the owl chicks have already fledged. Unnatural fires caused by littered cigarettes or pieces of glass can kill nestlings. Diminishing Grass Owl populations mean that their rodent prey species reproduce to numbers that are unhealthy for the ecosystem, and could become a health risk for humans.

  • Make the right choices in your daily life. Consumers have enormous power and can change environmentally destructive development by not supporting mass consumerism and overuse. Don’t buy property on environmentally unsound golf estates, don’t support shopping centres that have been built in wetlands and grasslands, don’t buy fuel-heavy cars and choose products with minimal packaging.

These are just some of the actions you can take. We invite you to send us more inspired ideas on how you can Act for Conservation – e-mail media@ewt.org.za and we’ll post your ideas on our website for others to put into action.


The Global Biodiversity Outlook is published every four years and is the product of close collaboration between the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

The third edition (GBO-3), released in May this year and available for download here, demonstrates that the target set by world governments in 2002, “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level,” has not been met. The consequences will be severe if we do not quickly correct this state of affairs. The services and goods that nature provides such as the food we eat, the water we drink and the air that we breathe, will be lost if the current rate of biodiversity loss continues, with drastic impacts on livelihoods, human health, economies and our way of life.

GBO-3 will be a key to discussions by world leaders and heads of state at a special high level segment of the United Nations General Assembly on 22 September 2010. It will also most likely form the basis for discussions on the strategic plan being considered for the next decade of the CBD, to be agreed at the 10th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the CBD in Nagoya, Japan in October 2010.

Some sobering facts on biodiversity loss as extracted from the GBO-3:

  • On average, assessed species risk are moving closer to extinction. Amphibians face the greatest risk, while corals are deteriorating most rapidly in status. Nearly a quarter of plants are threatened with extinction.
  • The wild vertebrate population fell by an average of 31% globally between 1970 and 2006.
  • Farmland bird populations in Europe have declined by on average 50% since 1980.

  • Of the 1 200 waterbird populations with known trends, 44% are in decline.

  • While significant progress has been made in slowing the rate of loss for tropical forests and mangroves in some regions, freshwater wetlands, sea ice habitats, salt marshes, coral reefs, seagrass beds and shellfish reefs are all showing serious declines in extent and integrity.

  • Crop and livestock genetic diversity in agricultural systems is still declining.

  • By 1985 between 56% and 65% of inland water systems suitable for use in intensive agriculture in Europe and North America had been drained. Figures for Asia and South America were 27% and 6% respectively.

  • 73% of marshes in northern Greece have been drained since 1930.

  • 60% of the original wetland area of Spain has been lost.

  • Iraq’s Mesopotamian marshes lost more than 90% of their original extent between the 1970s and 2002, following a massive and systematic drainage project. Following the fall of the former Iraqi regime in 2003 many drainage structures have been dismantled, and the marshes were reflooded to approximately 58% of their former extent by the end of 2006, with a significant recovery of marsh vegetation.

  • About 80% of the world marine fish stocks for which assessment information is available are fully exploited or overexploited.

The economic value of biodiversity:

  • The southern Africa tourism industry was estimated to be worth US$ 3.6 billion in 2000. This is mostly through wildlife viewing, and shows the importance of protecting areas capable of sustaining wildlife.

  • Insects that carry pollen between crops are worth an estimated US$ 200 billion per year to the global food economy. Yet these insects are threatened by pesticides, habitat loss and invasive species, amongst others.

  • Water catchment services to New Zealand’s Otago region provided by tussock grass habitats in the 22 000 hectare Te Papanui Conservation Park are valued at more than US$ 95 million, based on the cost of providing water by other means.

  • The Muthurajawela Marsh, a coastal wetland located in a densely populated area of Northern Sri Lanka, is estimated to be worth US$ 150 per hectare for its services related to agriculture, fishing and firewood, US$ 1,907 per hectare for preventing flood damage, and US$ 654 per hectare for industrial and domestic waste-water treatment.

  • Southern Africa’s Okavango Delta generates about US$ 32 million per year to local households in Botswana through use of its natural resources, sales and income from the tourism industry. The total economic output of activities associated with the delta is estimated at more than US$ 145 million, or some 2.6% of Botswana’s Gross National Product.




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