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Updated: Mar 13

...the extinction of Bramble Cay melomys (Melomys rubicola), a small rodent species endemic to a tiny island in the Great Barrier the first tracked extinction of a mammalian species.

The world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the adoption of CITES on 3 March, 2023. CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Adopted in 1973, CITES is a multilateral treaty to protect endangered species of plants and animals from international trades. Incidentally, March 3 is the day when the world celebrates the World Wildlife Day, which is a United Nations international day to highlight the contributions that wild plants and animals make to our lives and the health of the planet. On 20 December, 2013, at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, a resolution was approved to proclaim March 3 — the day when the CITES was adopted — as the World Wildlife Day. Since 2014, this day has been celebrated to raise awareness about the issues of conservation of wild flora and fauna of the world.

Wild flora and fauna by their interactions with the environment — that constitutes the ecosystem — provide a large number of services and benefits to mankind, such as providing food, water, regulating climate, purification and filtration of water and air, pollinations that aid in crop productivity, recycling of materials, recreation, aesthetic delight, etc. In this sense, these wild flora and fauna directly and indirectly affects the entire human population. However, the growing impact of anthropogenic activities has threatened to break these ecosystem services of which wild plants and animals are integral parts.

With each newer research findings about the present state of the biosphere — the life supporting layer of the earth— the picture looks grimmer. The world is currently battling with climate change due to global warming, rising sea level, disappearing glaciers, desertification, etc., extinction and extinction risk of wildlife, food security, and man-animal conflicts. Accentuating these further are the direct human interventions like mining and construction activities, deforestations and unsustainable farming practices that are destroying the environment.

As per a 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services — a UN backed organization — up to one million species of plants and animals might go extinct within a few decades. The worst fear came true in 2019 when the Australian Government announced the extinction of Bramble Cay melomys (Melomys rubicola), a small rodent species endemic to a tiny island in the Great Barrier Reef. Due to the rising sea level, which is directly linked to the effects of global warming, most of the habitable areas of this island have sunk below the oceanic water leading to the first tracked extinction of a mammalian species. Among animals, IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red list has recorded a total of 882 species as already extinct with further 77 species as extinct in the wild, which in all probability is just the tip of the iceberg. With an estimated 42,100 species currently under the risk of immediate extinction, these instances must serve as an alarming bell for mankind to pursue a course correction path for sustainable development.

To counter the threat of extinctions, a lot of steps are initiated at various multilateral and international fora. However, the most promising among them, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) appears to be a viable solution.

In 2015, the UN had envisioned 17 SDGs under 2030 Agenda, that includes ending poverty, hunger, combat climate change, conservation and sustainable use of marine and terrestrial resources, among other goals. In a globalised world, every aspect of mankind – economy, financial wellbeing, sustainable exploitation of natural resources, businesses, governance, welfare activities, conservation initiatives, etc. – are intricately interlinked. So for a holistic success of conservation and resolution of man-animal conflicts, it is essential that communities interacting directly with the natural world must have ways and avenues for their sustainability. This is why the SDGs assume significance in the success of any conservation initiatives.

At the national level, India, too, has initiated an ambitious program to sensitize the masses for the need to protect the environment. On 1 November, 2021, at COP26 meet held in Glasgow, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has advocated about the need for a global movement of pro-planet people behaviour. Taking this initiative a step further, in 2022, the Indian PM has launched Mission LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment) with the objective of creating an ecosystem of individuals and communities to implement measures and actions that will help to combat climate change and protect the environment. Mission LiFE envisions mobilising at least one billion Indians and other global citizens between 2022-2027 to sensitise the masses on actions at individual level that can endorse sustainable living, like promoting preferences for environment-friendly goods and services and coerces businesses to adopt a cyclical economy instead of the current use-and-dispose economy.

So, what can us as individuals do to celebrate the World Wildlife Day and contribute our bit to conserve the wild flora and fauna? Can our individual efforts have a magnifying impact?

In 2000, the Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell authored a book called ‘The Tipping Point’ where he explained how some products or ideas suddenly become viral and garner social acceptance. The central theme of his book revolved around connectors (which can be equated to today's social media influencers) that can accelerate the pace of acceptance or rejection of an idea or a product. It is this aspect of our modern-day social life where we need to connect and create our local ecosystems so that concerns can be raised on issues detrimental to the sustainability of the environment and biodiversity. We can use the social media not just to voice our concerns but also to raise funds for local conservation efforts. As a step further, we can petition to the government to include spending on conservation initiatives as part of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities. Currently, as per section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013, it is mandatory for companies in India to spend 2% of their profit in the next three years under CSR activities; so why can’t there be a specific spending clause on conservation initiatives instead being an option under Schedule VII of the Companies Act, 2013?

The theme of this year’s celebration of the World Wildlife Day is ‘Partnerships for Wildlife Conservation’. Let us all come together to partner in conserving the wild flora and fauna with which we have shared a common past and a shared common future. Let us be the connector of the pro-planet people and steer the future of mankind into a sustainable economy of zero waste and abundant wildlife. The future of mankind must be a vibrant earth!

An abridged version of this blog was published in The Shillong Times on 12th March, 2023

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