Animal Conservation: Won’t Anyone Think Of The Animals?

Po when he finds out you don’t donate to WWF. (©Dreamworks)

Written by: Edmund Wong, Euan Loh

Occupying our childhood memories, us Gen Z kids are definitely familiar with the bumbling Po and his heroic, yet goofy antics. But thinking about it, one core message that all of them share – from Kung Fu Panda to Winnie the Pooh and Finding Dory – is that all of them subtly promote the vital awareness about the delicate, vulnerable animals that populate the earth. Many have advocated for animal conservation for a long time, considering how many species are becoming endangered (with some going extinct) yearly. However, what puts these animals in endangerment in the first place? 

The common scapegoat for the existence of endangered species are usually humans, and it’s no surprise – we persecute animals without discrimination. Mass deforestation, urbanisation, agriculture and mining in the name of human development has destroyed vast swathes of precious animal habitats like the Amazon and Bornean rainforests. The reason why this is permitted, is because humans seem to prefer a different shade of green to those found on trees. In fact, some people really love that colour, like Jair Bolsonaro. Under his governance, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose by 75.5 percent from the previous decade despite international pushback and condemnation from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and other environmental agencies. 

But it’s not just on land. Even within the offshore depths of the Baltic sea, the incessant humming of oil rigs threaten the adorable harbour porpoises that thrive off the abundance of fish in their breeding grounds. See, even the most harmless of species are brutally cut down by humans in the conquest of… seeing numbers go up on a screen? My, I thought we were better than this.

Just look at the harbour porpoise! It’s so cute! (Photo credit: Wadden Sea World Heritage Site)

Besides the insatiable desire to paint the forests cold and grey with concrete, humans, being the apex predator, also require a lot of sustenance. Simply, we can’t live without food. And because we love food so much (I know I do), some animals that unfortunately reside at the bottom of the food web become powerless insects at the mercy of humanity’s hubris. Let’s look at the devastating collapse of the once iconic Northern Atlantic cod fishery in the early 1990s. ‘Rapid advancements in fishing technology’ was the perfect side dish for ‘overestimations of fishes’ replacement rate’, with an extra ‘lack of legislation’ sprinkled on top – the perfect storm for the destruction of a food source once thought to be infinite. Today, cod populations still remain at low levels, with only a few populations showing signs of slow recovery despite conservation efforts.

Not just that, though, there are other systemic reasons as to why animals are going extinct. Remember how I said animals were especially vulnerable. Some animals cannot survive. We’re talking about the Yunnan lake newt, which went extinct in China in 1979 in part due to exotic fish and frogs in their habitats; the Hawaiian thrush, which went extinct by 1985 in part due to invasive predators; and the Guam broadbill, a bird that went extinct when the brown tree snake was introduced to its habitat in 1983. Of course, I’m neglecting the fact that these new predators were introduced by humans, either accidentally through New World migration, or intentionally as biological control. 

Let’s now talk briefly about the definition and goals of animal conservation. Animal conservation is the practice of protecting and preserving wildlife and their habitats. It aims to minimise threats that animals face in perfectly natural habitats with no protections such as habitat loss, poaching, climate change, pollution, invasive species and inbreeding. Usually, the objective of conservation is to allow species to live in habitats that closely resemble their natural surroundings, albeit with monitoring by rangers and animal specialists.

Why do we care so much about animals, then? And some of them look absolutely adorable, so that’s a plus. On a more serious note, animal conservation is important for maintaining biodiversity and ecological balance, to prevent disruptions in key food chains that can cause way greater harm to multiple species as a whole. It also aims to protect human health and well-being, by ensuring we continue to have nutritious food sources untainted with black tar and microplastics. Finally, animal conservation is also important to preserve cultural heritage and ethical values, which is a fancy way of saying we get to have the moral high ground. Oh, and preserving cute animals means people are willing to pay to see those animals. 

Now, if the teary-eyed tapir on the poster around the street hasn’t convinced you, maybe you’ve been now. So, what can we do to help? While grand schemes like national parks and protected zones seem very ambitious and out of reach, the unfortunate reality is that liking animals more than green paper means you probably won’t get enough green paper to save those animals. However, pooling those pieces of paper together definitely can. That means supporting conservation organisations that work to protect wildlife and their habitats through research, education, advocacy and direct action. Here’s some donation suggestions:

  • The well-known WWF, with its very own branch in Singapore. With targeted protection initiatives for over 150 distinct species in all parts of the world in tandem with local governments, and having constructed millions of square kilometres of nature preserves, they are still in need of funds: their flagship project – the Amazon Region Protected Areas Program. In fact, there are a lot of perks to subscribing to WWF’s donation program, including curated newsletters, magazines and a cute pair of whale socks. Obligatory:
  • re:Wild, formerly known as Global Wildlife Conservation. With a targeted focus on more exotic species like the Zanzibar Red Colobus and the Javan Rhino, their conservation efforts are nothing to scoff at. It’s also recognised as a 4-star charity by Charity Navigator, if accountability and transparency’s what matters to you.
  • Mossy Earth, a relatively new initiative that has more of a focus on restoring habitats for animals than protecting existing ones. Their main selling point is their mobile app, outfitted with live updates and panoramic shots of their current projects, as well as active social media communication channels where progress updates are posted. Of course, that’s if just donating isn’t enough to placate your desire to feel good.

Besides these conservation conglomerates, there are also local initiatives that are worth more than just a passing interest. The National Parks Board’s active efforts to preserve our local species like the Oriental Pied Hornbills and the multiple offshore coral reefs (like the Pulau Semakau Coral Nursery) is definitely the driving force behind the beautiful patches of natural green that seem to weave themselves seamlessly into the heart of our city. And it is no further than our larger neighbour, Malaysia, where we have the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, Sabah as well as a new tapir rehabilitation centre at Kenaboi Forest Reserve, which is a stone’s throw away relative to the various sites that international organisations pledge to aid. Maybe you could pay them a visit sometime.

The long-tailed macaque, a common sighting at the roadside of MacRitchie Park. (Photo credit: National Parks Board, Singapore)

Generally though, whatever falls under the umbrella of green practices is what flies for protecting the cute monkeys you just saw in that picture above. Things like reducing your environmental footprint by using renewable energy sources, recycling, avoiding single-use plastics, choosing sustainable products and eating less meat helps to relieve the pressure on all species as a whole by lessening environmental pollution. And of course, respecting wildlife and their habitats by following ethical guidelines, ie. avoiding feeding or disturbing animals. That’s why we have a $10000 fine for feeding the monkeys. 

Finally, for those who are keen enthusiasts of these fauna, you may consider taking up a more active role to protect them from human greed. Volunteering or donating to wildlife sanctuaries, rehabilitation centres or conservation projects that care for injured or orphaned animals and reintroduce them to the wild are some of the options that are out there, which can be enhanced with technical and professional expertise within these fields. And, they pay well, too, especially amidst the digital transition where organisations like NParks find themselves wanting of those related expertise.

In conclusion, animal conservation is a vital issue that affects not only the biodiversity and ecosystem of our planet, but also our own well-being and future. By taking action to protect endangered species and habitats, we can help preserve the natural balance and beauty of life on Earth. And also, we get to see more cute pandas. That’s what really matters.

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