Most laws ignore ‘human-wildlife conflict’. This makes us vulnerable to pandemics



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Katie Woolaston, Queensland University of Technology

Never before have we seen how the human use of wildlife can yield such catastrophe, as we have with COVID-19.

The current available evidence indicates COVID-19 was first transmitted in a wildlife market in Wuhan. The disease likely originated in pangolins, bats, or a combination of both and was then transmitted to humans.

While various commentators have blamed pangolins, bats, or even our lack of “mastery” of wildlife, the real cause of this pandemic goes deeper – into the laws, cultures and institutions of most countries.




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Coronavirus is a wake-up call: our war with the environment is leading to pandemics


At the root of the problem is a social phenomenon called “human-wildlife conflict”. This is when the interests of humans and the needs of wildlife overlap in a negative way.

Both the illegal wildlife trade and zoonotic diseases (that is, diseases transmitted from animals to humans) are aspects of human-wildlife conflict.

This ubiquitous phenomenon is poorly addressed in both international and domestic laws. And this grave omission has led to disastrous effects on humanity, as COVID-19 has shown.

A complex international issue

Disease outbreaks stemming from human-wildlife conflict are not new or limited to the Chinese wildlife trade. Ebola, for example, originated in the Western African country of Gabon. It was likely spread from a chimpanzee that was hunted and eaten by local people.

The Ebola virus could be connected to poverty in Gabon.
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Sometimes the disease itself creates the conflict. Hendra, a zoonotic disease confined to Australia, was passed from fruit bats to horses and then to humans. The outbreak prompted calls for fruit bats to be culled.

Research shows environmental destruction is also leading to an increase in zoonotic diseases. For example, clearing forests and destroying habitats can force animals to move closer to urban areas, bringing diseases with them.




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Ebola one year on: the wins, the setbacks, and the way forward


COVID-19 and Ebola can also be connected to poverty, as wildlife hunting is often connected to a basic need for food. Culture, politics, health, issues of gender equality and economics (to name a few), are all connected to human-wildlife conflicts as well.

The widespread impact of these types of viruses that can spread across international borders means that they should be governed as an international issue.

But there are no consistent international or domestic laws to guide governance of the multiple and interacting causes of pandemics.

Laws don’t go far enough

The human-wildlife relationship goes beyond issues of conservation and animal welfare, yet many of the world’s laws designed to tackle these multidimensional problems do not.

A select few laws have sought to implement a whole-systems approach to legal decision-making. For example, the Convention on Biological Diversity, an international treaty, requires ecosystem managers to consider the impact of environmental decision-making on multiple parts of society, including levels of poverty and economics.




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But this holistic approach isn’t reflected in domestic laws around the world that are supposed to enforce international treaties, such as Australia’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which is currently under review by the federal government.

Collaborations, such as between health law and conservation law, must be put in place. For example, while the World Health Organisation works on zoonose (animal-borne disease) prevention, there is little interaction between it and the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species.

No quick fix

Our legal systems – especially in the West and in international law – encourage separation and domination of the environment.

For example, the laws that designate protected areas explicitly separate people from wildlife, and this can drastically change the relationship between them. Laws also continue to encourage domination via implicit means, such as through legalised wildlife hunting and trade.

Don’t blame bats for the spread of Hendra virus.
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Various changes to law have been proposed in light of COVID-19, including closing all wildlife markets and trade.

But these types of fixes don’t address the many ways our health can be affected by wildlife use. Nor do they consider the poverty that often drives the consumption of wildlife, such as in Gabon and the other multiple causal factors.




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Such blanket legal prohibitions are neither appropriate nor adequate. We need legal changes on a larger scale. Laws must acknowledge how all humans are vulnerable to wildlife and broader environment change. If they haven’t even acknowledged this, then they can’t start to address it.

What needs to change?

Changes to the law at both the international and domestic level should focus on two primary areas.

First, increased cooperation is required between systems and areas of law in addressing the source of our vulnerability, instead of waiting for the vulnerability to become catastrophic, such as with COVID-19.

Second, both international and domestic laws must recognise the interdependency between humans and all aspects of the natural environment, in every area of law – from environmental law, to trade law, human rights and corporate law.

Ecuador, for example, integrated this idea into its national constitution so the necessity of environmental protection is linked to the continued existence of its people.




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Another way is to integrate nature into the objectives of each piece of law. This includes all international treaties and domestic pieces of legislation, even those that do not expressly deal with matters of the environment, such as health law, where a healthy environment is directly linked to human health.

No, this is not a small undertaking. But as the catastrophe of COVID-19 has demonstrated, the problems we face if we don’t change are far more onerous in all aspects of our lives.The Conversation

Katie Woolaston, Lawyer, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Kangaroos (and other herbivores) are eating away at national parks across Australia



Grazing from kangaroos affects vulnerable native species.
Tom Hunt, Author provided

Patrick O’Connor, University of Adelaide; Stuart Collard, University of Adelaide, and Thomas Prowse, University of Adelaide

Protected land, including national parks, are a cornerstone of conservation. Once an area is legally protected, it is tempting to assume that it is shielded from further degradation.

However, our research, published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation, has found Australia’s national parks are under serious threat of overgrazing. Significantly, native kangaroos are major contributors to the problem.

In some places we looked at, the effect of overgrazing in protected areas was just as pronounced as on private land with no legal protection at all.

In the public debate over culling and otherwise managing kangaroo populations, attention is typically divided between their economic impact on people versus welfare concerns. But there’s a third unwilling participant in this dilemma: the thousands of other native species affected when native grazer populations grow out of control.

Native birds like the diamond firetail are threatened when abundant grazing animals eat the plants the birds depend on.
Tom Hunt

Protected from what?

National parks and other protected areas can be safeguarded in a variety of legal ways. Activities such as grazing of domestic stock, building, cropping and some recreational activities (hunting, fishing, dogs) are usually restricted in protected areas. However, previous research has found protected areas continue to face intense pressure from agriculture, urbanisation, mining, road construction, and climate change.

Less conspicuously, the loss of predators from many Australian ecosystems has let herbivore populations grow wildly. Overgrazing, or grazing that leads to changes in habitat, is now a key threat to biodiversity.

Overgrazing by herbivores affects native species such as the diamond firetail, which is declining in southeastern Australia due to loss of habitat and the replacement of native grasses with exotic species after overgrazing and fire. Overgrazing has also been shown to reduce the abundance and diversity of ground-dwelling reptiles.

In the face of a global extinction crisis, we need good evidence that national parks and reserves are serving their purpose.




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To determine whether protected areas are being overgrazed, we assessed grazing impact on native vegetation at 1,192 sites across the entire agricultural region of South Australia. We looked at more than 600 plant species in woodlands, forests, shrublands, and grasslands.

The data were collected by monitoring programs, some of which included citizen scientists, aimed at tracking change in the condition of native vegetation.

Researchers looked at hundreds of sites across Southern Australia to check how grazing animals were affecting the environment.
Tom Hunt

We found that grazing pressure was already high on unprotected land when we began monitoring around 2005, and grazing impact has grown since then. On protected land, three things are happening as a consequence of inadequate management of grazing by native and introduced animals:

  1. grazing impact in protected areas has substantially increased,

  2. protected areas in some regions now show equally severe effects from grazing as seen on private land without any conservation protections, and

  3. the character of our landscapes, including national parks, is set to change as the next generation of edible seedlings is lost from protected and unprotected ecosystems.

The increased severity of grazing in protected areas paints a dire picture. This threat adds to the rising pressure on protected areas for recreational access (and other uses).

The grass is not greener

It’s well accepted that introduced species such as deer, goats, horses, camels and rabbits badly affect Australia’s native vegetation. There are a variety of control measures to keep their populations in check, including culls and strong incentives for control on farmland. Control of feral animals is normally less contentious than control of endemic species like kangaroos, because we feel a custodial responsibility for native species.

But the numbers of native kangaroos and wallabies has also increased dramatically since 2011 as populations across Australia responded to an increase in feed at the end of the Millennium drought and reduced culling in settled areas due to changes in regulation and growing opposition to culls on animal welfare grounds.




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Plants are going extinct up to 350 times faster than the historical norm


Managing kangaroo populations, on the other hand, is a polarising issue. Arguments about culling kangaroos can be bitter and personal, and create perceptions of an urban-rural divide.

However, a few species – even if they are native – should not be allowed to compromise the existence of other native plants and animals, especially not where we have dedicated the land to holistic protection of biodiversity.

Extinction rates in Australia are extremely high, especially among plants. Research has also found conservation funding is disproportionately aimed at individual species rather than crucial ecosystems. We must address our reluctance to manage threats to biodiversity at the scale on which they operate.

Protected areas must be managed to meet clear biodiversity targets and control overgrazing, including from native species.




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Welfare concerns for conspicuous native species need to be weighed against the concern for the many other less obvious native plant and animal species. If our national parks and reserves are not managed properly, they will fail to meet the conservation need for which they were established.The Conversation

Patrick O’Connor, Associate Professor, University of Adelaide; Stuart Collard, Research Fellow, The Centre for Global Food and Resources, University of Adelaide, and Thomas Prowse, Postdoctoral research fellow, School of Mathematical Sciences, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Honeybees hog the limelight, yet wild insects are the most important and vulnerable pollinators



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Szefei / http://www.shutterstock.com

Philip Donkersley, Lancaster University

Pollinating insects like bees, butterflies and flies have had a rough time of late. A broad library of evidence suggests there has been a widespread decline in their abundance and diversity since the 1950s. This matters because such insects are critical both for the reproduction of wild plants and for agricultural food production.

The decline of these pollinators is linked with destruction of natural habitats like forests and meadows, the spread of pests such as Varroa mite and diseases like foulbrood, and the increasing use of agrochemicals by farmers. Although there have been well documented declines in managed honeybees, non-Apis (non-honeybee) pollinators such as bumblebees and solitary bees have also become endangered.

There are more than 800 wild (non-honey) bee species in Europe alone. Seven are classified by the IUCN Redlist as critically endangered, 46 are endangered, 24 are vulnerable and 101 are near threatened. Collectively, losing such species would have a significant impact on global pollination.

Though much of the media focus is on honeybees, they are responsible for only a third of the crop pollination in Britain and a very small proportion of wild plant pollination. A range of other insects including butterflies, bumblebees and small flies make up for this pollination deficit.

Butterfly pollinating during monsoon season.
Hitesh Chhetri / http://www.shutterstock.com

Not all pollinators are created equal

Pollinators also vary in their effectiveness due to their behaviour around flowers and their capacity to hold pollen. Bigger and hairier insects can carry more pollen, while those that groom themselves less tend to be able to transfer pollen more effectively. Bumblebees, for example, make excellent pollinators (far superior to honeybees) as they are big, hairy and do not groom themselves as often.

Where they are in decline, honeybees suffer primarily from pests and diseases, a consequence of poor nutrition and artificially high population density. This differs from other pollinators, where the decline is mainly down to habitat destruction. It seems pesticides affect all pollinators.

An ashy mining-bee (Andrena cineraria) settles in for a snack.
Philip Donkersley, Author provided

Save (all) the bees

Curiously, the issues facing non-Apis pollinators may be exacerbated by commercial beekeeping, and attempts to help honeybees may even harm efforts to conserve wild pollinators.

The problem is that there are only so many flowers and places to nest. And once the numbers of honeybees have been artificially inflated (commercial-scale beekeeping wouldn’t exist without humans) the increased competition for these resources can push native non-Apis pollinators out of their natural habitats. Honeybees also spread exotic plants and transmit pathogens, both of which have been shown to harm other pollinators.

The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is the most common species of honey bee.
Philip Donkersley, Author provided

Over the coming decades, farmers and those who regulate them are faced with a tough challenge. Agricultural output must be increased to feed a growing human population, but simultaneously the environmental impact must be reduced.

The agriculture sector has tried to address the need to feed a growing population through conventional farming practices such as mechanisation, larger fields or the use of pesticides and fertiliser. Yet these have contributed to widespread destruction of natural landscapes and loss of natural capital.

Limited resources and land use pressure require conservation strategies to become more efficient, producing greater outcomes from increasingly limited input.

A mosaic of different flowers: these sorts of landscapes are paradise for bees.
Philip Donkersley, Author provided

Cooperative conservation

So-called agri-environment schemes represent the best way to help insect pollinators. That means diversifying crops, avoiding an ecologically-fragile monoculture and ensuring that the insects can jump between different food sources. It also means protecting natural habitats and establishing ecological focus areas such as wildflower strips, while limiting the use of pesticides and fertilisers.

As pollinating insects need a surprisingly large area of land to forage, linking up restored habitats on a larger scale provides far more evident and immediate benefits. However, so far, connections between protected areas have not been a priority, leading to inefficient conservation.

The ConversationWe need a substantial shift in how we think about pollinators. Encouraging land managers to work cooperatively will help create bigger, more impactful areas to support pollinators. In future, conservation efforts will need to address declines in all pollinators by developing landscapes to support pollinator communities and not just honeybees.

Philip Donkersley, Senior Research Associate in Entomology, Lancaster University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Delaying action on car emissions will make Australia more vulnerable


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We don’t know what the car of the future will look like – but that’s no excuse to delay transport reform.
www.twin-loc.fr/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Bonnie McBain, University of Newcastle

France has set its car manufacturers the goal of halting sales of diesel and petrol cars by 2040. The announcement last week came a day after the Swedish manufacturer Volvo declared it will build only hybrid and electric cars from 2019.

Moving away from highly polluting cars is an urgent global priority. Worldwide, transport accounts for 26% of humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions and, of these emissions, 81% comes from road transport.

Our latest research, published in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, shows that car ownership and the total distance travelled by cars are both likely to keep growing, globally and in Australia.

But just because there will be more cars, covering more ground, that doesn’t necessarily mean CO₂ emissions will continue to rise. It depends on a complex mix of population trends, income growth and the impacts of new policies and technologies.

It might therefore seem sensible to delay policy decisions until we can see what type of future emerges. However, our research found that a “wait and see” approach will dramatically increase our economic, social and environmental vulnerability.

Lower-income Australians are particularly at risk. This is because transport accounts for a greater proportion of their household income and they tend to live on the urban fringe where daily travel distances are necessarily higher.

Future-proofing our transport policy means we must engage with uncertainty, not ignore it. That means choosing policies that allow us to adapt to a range of technological or social developments.

We modelled different policy options in Western Australia, looking for options that reduced CO₂ emissions without creating social vulnerabilities. The most effective approach requires simultaneously improving fuel standards, making cars more efficient, and increasing city density to reduce both car ownership and the total distance we need to travel in cars.

However, CO₂ emissions alone don’t provide the full picture. Our model found that encouraging biofuels, for example, could mean increasing our agricultural footprint to grow feedstock.

Similarly, electric and hydrogen-fuelled vehicles require energy supplied by the electricity sector. As this sector itself decarbonises, technologies such as solar, hydro and wind will require greater areas of land than coal and gas technologies.

However, managing carbon dioxide emissions and demand on land is not necessarily mutually exclusive. Wind turbines can co-exist with grazing, and decentralised solar panels are already common on existing buildings. Offshore wind farms and solar installed on otherwise unproductive land can lessen impact. Targeted investment in technological efficiency can further reduce this impact.

Using land for both agriculture and energy production could actually give farmers greater economic resilience. Alternative fuels that use waste products or are low-impact (such as biofuel made from algae) are also promising avenues.

The economic case for expensive changes

Although the implementation of stringent transport policy will be costly – it requires massive changes in capital infrastructure and behaviour – it will open up other benefits and saving.

Vehicle emissions are recognised as the source of more air pollution than any other single human activity. These emissions cause hundreds of preventable deaths in Australia every year. (As well as saving lives, we’d also save billions of dollars in related costs.)

Well-designed, more compact urban spaces encourage more biking and walking. This, in turn, reduces chronic diseases that also cost Australians billions every year.


J G/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Research shows that compact cities reduce infrastructure costs by 11%; a 2015 report found gridlock alone could cost Australia A$53 billion by 2031. Curbing urban sprawl can reduce the clearing of native vegetation, which benefits the rivers and animals that live around our cities.

Changing the type of fuel used by cars, improving vehicle efficiency and increasing city density are all policy levers that can reduce the footprint of urban cars, but these must occur in tandem. To minimise costs and realise the potential savings, policymakers need to collaborate on finding policies that are flexible enough to adapt to an uncertain future.

The ConversationShould we have the leadership to implement such sophisticated policy, we might accidentally design a future in which we are healthier and happier too.

Bonnie McBain, Tutor in Sustainability Science, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Chile: Bottom Trawling Banned in Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems


The link below is to an article that reports on Chile’s banning of bottom trawling in all vulnerable marine ecosystems.

For more visit:
http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/01/14/chile-becomes-first-country-to-protect-all-seamounts-from-bottom-trawling/