I have been country hopping quite a bit lately, and I got to wondering about wildlife/environmental conservation efforts in different countries. Through some googling, I learned about the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). The EPI is a method that researchers at Yale developed to try to quantify the performance of different countries based on certain environmental factors (e.g. air quality, climate and energy, biodiversity, water quality, sanitation, etc.). They have released results every two years since 2006. The results for 2016 can be found HERE.
The top ten countries were:
(United States #26)
There is also a good blog article by Scientific American (Which Countries are the Best and Worst Stewards of the Planet?) if you want a more in-depth run down on the top 5 and bottom 5 of the 2016 EPI. The article also includes a nice summary video. Although the EPI is helpful for looking at the “big picture” environmental health status of a country, I was also curious about how countries specifically fared with wildlife conservation. Lonely Planet put together a good summary article about wildlife conservation (The top 10 countries in the world for conservation have been revealed) that was based on a recent publication in Global Ecology and Conservation (Relative efforts of countries to conserve world’s megafauna).
The top 10 wildlife-conscious countries were:
7.The Central African Republic
The take home message was that countries that have a lot of wildlife tourism tended to be at the top of the list. My favorite fun fact was that Bhutan’s constitution states that 60% of the nation’s land must remain forest covered! How awesome is it that they included that in their constitution?! I wish more countries had thought about that… The Lonely Planet’s article title is a little misleading as the research article only focuses on conservation efforts related to megafauna or larger animals (e.g. lions, seals, elephants, pandas). However, I still enjoyed learning about these rankings because megafauna frequently function as “umbrella species.” By being cute and adorable, these umbrella species gain more popularity than say salamanders and insects. Consequently, when people pour their money into saving roly-poly pandas, they also contribute to protecting the habitat of those equally important, albeit more unconventionally appealing, creatures. Which brings me to the final article that I want to bring up, Seeking freshwater pandas: Endangered freshwater species need comprehensive protection.The idea of umbrella species protection is great. However, there is a distinct lack of umbrella species in certain habitats. This is a major problem for species living in the world’s freshwater lakes and rivers. The aforementioned article is a step by researchers at the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries to increase awareness for these crucial habitats. According to the World Wildlife Fund, populations of freshwater species have dwindled by 81% between 1970 and 2012. Hence, researchers are calling for “Freshwater pandas” to help ignite conservation efforts for endangered freshwater species. The main article from Conservation Biology lists some of the most promising candidates, including baiji dolphins, European sturgeons, and Siberian cranes. I would think that baiji dolphins would be great candidates. However, they are considered functionally extinct, so it seems like they are having enough problems of their own. I hope that freshwater pandas, as well as real pandas, continue to motivate people to care about biodiversity conservation and put their money towards it. Sadly, I also found an article showing that “affluent countries contribute less to wildlife conservation than the rest of the world.” So put your money where your mouth is! If you are a biologist, it is probably not much money, but try nonetheless. 😉