The 40th Earth Day was celebrated on 22 April 2010. The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), which turns 37 years old this year, reflected on its own impact on the health of the planet.
One of the major problems facing earth is biodiversity loss. We are losing biodiversity at 100 times the rates documented in fossil records. However, the EWT has made many inroads into reducing this loss of biodiversity.
- Conflict between predators and livestock is a key problem and many farmers use environmentally destructive methods to kill predators, such as poisoning, gin trapping and hunting. The EWT works with farmers to better understand the problem and prevent livestock losses. Its Livestock Guardian Dog Project promotes the use of the Anatolian Shepherd, a breed of dog used to guard free-ranging sheep on farms where they are vulnerable to predators. This project has been extremely successful as a non-lethal predator control method and farmers with Anatolians have reported a reduction in predation losses of between 95% and 100%.
- Up until 13 years ago, vultures and other large birds, in particular storks, cranes and Ludwig’s Bustards Neotis ludwigii, were often killed on powerlines, either when flying into the cables or being electrocuted when perching on the conductors. The EWT, together with national energy utility Eskom, began working on developing solutions and today powerlines that have been identified as particularly dangerous to birds are fitted with ‘flappers’, devices that mark the lines to make them more visible to birds. Furthermore, the exposed conductors are insulated so that the perching birds are not directly exposed to the live electricity. The EWT also advises on the placement of new powerlines to avoid bird flight paths and in some instances Eskom has even moved existing lines based on this advice, thus reducing the number of birds being killed by electrical infrastructure in South Africa.
- Poisoning was once a major cause of South African crane mortality. This threat has recently declined, largely as a result of the work undertaken by the EWT’s African Crane Conservation Programme and its partners. Over the last two decades these organisations have worked closely with landowners in the major crane regions, helping them to find viable solutions to the crop damage that cranes sometimes cause, without killing or disturbing the birds. Today farmers use agrochemicals more responsibly than they did in the past and are far more tolerant of cranes living on their properties.
- Honey Badgers Mellivora capensis often come into conflict with beekeepers when they feed on bee larvae and destroy beehives. To address this, the EWT runs a project that helps beekeepers prevent losses, using badger-friendly practices such as raising beehives above the reach of the badgers. Beekeepers who successfully implement these practices may display the official ‘Badger Friendly Honey’ label on their products. The project recently assessed its contribution to Honey Badger conservation and found no change in badger distribution, suggesting that there has not been a decline in the Honey Badger population. The lack of reports on badgers being persecuted by beekeepers also indicates that the programme has been effective in addressing and solving the issue of badger killing.
“While we have achieved these and many other successes, the threats to our planet remain pressing and new problems arise constantly,” says Hayley Komen, communications manager of the EWT.
The EWT has been involved in a number of applications for species uplistings on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red Data List. This shows that many species still face a serious threat of extinction and even more needs to be done to protect them.
“Our natural habitats are also under serious threat. Mining, particularly in Mpumalanga and the Limpopo provinces, is placing heavy pressure on these areas and projects such as a suite of coal mines planned for development on the doorstep of the Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site, and several new mines in the Waterberg and on the Eastern Highveld will destroy large areas of habitat for many species and impact on important ecosystem services such as water quality and quantity.”
“As such, the work undertaken by organisations such as the EWT remains critical. However, we cannot do it alone. Every individual can make a difference to the health of our planet. Every individual is responsible for the health of our planet.”