The SDG goals were first created in 2012 in Rio de Janeiro during a UN conference that focused on worldwide sustainable development. The purpose of the conference was to come up with goals to address the economical, political, and environmental issues worldwide. The goals replace the MDG goals formed in 2000 that aimed to significantly reduce world poverty. Although the MDGs were successful, managing to lift more than 1 billion people out of extreme poverty, since 1990 (United Nations Development Programme), the SDG’sSDGs was formed to encompass a broader range of issues around the globe.
One of these issues was Life on Land, which is an attempt to maintain and support biodiversity. Today, species all over the world are fighting a losing battle against the spread of human civilization and technology, the effects of which have effectively started the beginning of the “sixth mass extinction on Earth” (also known as the Holocene extinction). The Holocene is attributed to human encroachment on local habitats, deforestation, industrial runoff, poaching, illegal trafficking, pollution, and much more.
The toll on the planet from these activities has resulted in extreme deforestation leading to the extinction of millions of species worldwide. The United Nations recently reported that every year, 18 million acres (7.3 million hectares) of forest are lost to deforestation, a significant threat to biodiversity when up to 80% of Earth’s plants and animals live in forests around the globe (NatGeo). Scientists also report that the extinction rates for vertebrates have been 20 times the expected rates from 1990 and that the entire vertebrate population has gone down 52% in the last 45 years, reaching rates abnormally high, even compared to past mass extinctions (mother nature network).
Although maintaining biodiversity is the primary goal of the Life on Land SDG, the wildlife crisis directly affects humans as well. More than 1.6 billion people are supported financially or are sustained by the rainforest (United Nations). Forests also benefit the planet. The Amazon alone holds more than ⅕ of the world’s freshwater and provides up to 20% of the O2 in the atmosphere.
Although the problems are severe in countries that support forests, different biomes all over the world are facing similar problems. For example, Kenya faces severe poaching and trafficking problems every year, which are of concern, as it is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. The Life on Land goal aims to take urgent action to end poaching and trafficking of protected species of flora and fauna and address both demand and supply of illegal wildlife products in areas such as Kenya. “Kenya is not among the richest nations in terms of total species, but ten of the world’s fourteen biogeographical regions are found within its borders.” (Kenya Natural Atlas). Additionally, the wildlife industry supports over 70% of all local Katenyans and accounts for more than 10% of the country’s GDP. However, poaching is quickly affecting local wildlife. Statistics show that Kenya has lost 25% of its elephant and rhino populations in the last five years alone. An even more startling wake-up call occurred on March 1can9, 2018, when the last male northern white rhino, Sudan, died. Only two females are left and, since none of them are able to carry a fetus to term, the world may be witnessing the extinction of this iconic species. However, the local population and the government have been taking steps to increase conservation.
The United Nations have started powerful initiatives to begin dealing with the decrease in biodiversity in Kenya. For example, on June 27, 2016, the United Nations met in a conference with the Government of the Republic of Kenya to talk about protecting biodiversity in the region. The “United Nations/Kenya Conference on Space Technology and Applications for Wildlife Management and Protecting Biodiversity” lasted three days and discussed the use of space technology to monitor and assess the biodiversity in Kenya in support of maintaining a stable ecosystem. Although great progress has been made by initiatives that closely monitor Kenya’s biomes, greater efforts are also being made to prevent and fix problems caused by wildlife encroachment, mostly by local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). For instance Reteti Elephant Sanctuary Community United for Elephants (R.E.S.C.U.E), rescues and rehabilitates elephant calves. These calves have been orphaned for several reasons, one of which is abandonment.
Local pastoralists herding their goat’s hands dig wells for the Kenyansorganization of their animals, which are often collapsed by elephants passing through villages. Local warriors used to resort to lethal methods to protect their wells, and even worse, elephant calves can easily fall in and are left behind as the herd is forced to move on in the morning (or risk human conflict). R.E.S.C.U.E has been influential in aiding with the problem, providing job opportunities for locals, and, showing them how to make a profit while supporting endangered wildlife such as elephants. R.E.S.C.U.E has an aerial response team that flies to the scene of abandonment and stastaysy with the calf for 48 hours to see if the herd returns. If not, the calf is flown to the sanctuary and given 24/7 care by local keepers until it is old enough to be returned to the wild. An expert nutritional staff provides a formula for the calves and each calf is fed 2-liter bottles around the clock. The care that wildlife receives from isorganizations like this is influential in helping protect wildlife and save the estimated 5-10 calves that are orphaned each year out of an estimated 87,000 total in Kenya (R.E.S.C.U.E). As of now, 12.36% of Kenya is protected, but an increase of funds to the Wildlife Foundation aims to increase the coverage. TWF pays locals to keep their lands open to wildlife and unfenced. The plan has been a success and up to now, 50,000 acres have been added to 23,000 acres of Nairobi National Park (Council on Foreign Relations). Overall, the work put in by NGOs and local institutions is and hopefully will continue to be influential in Kenyan-based maintaining biodiversity in the region.
In response to the severity of wildlife poaching in Kenya, represented by the alarming loss of biodiversity in the region, both government and local institutions have been working to stop the problem. In 2014, the government enacted the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, which aims to improve the “…protection, conservation, sustainable use and management of the country’s wildlife resources.” (WWF Global). The act increased funds to the Kenya Wildlife Service and enacted stricter laws that increased the fines and jail time for poachers. Following the crackdown on the ivory trade, Kenya’s president hosted the Giant’s Club Summit in Kenya, which brought together African leaders to discuss the poaching crisis. The club was initially formed by a local Kenyan-based elephant-protection charity Space for Giants but has managed to bring worldwide awareness through backing from political leaders all over the country. After the summit, a stockpile of 120 tonnes of ivory was burned, the largest ever, which sent out a clear global message.
The Space for Giants’ director of wildlife protection states, “Kenya, like many African countries now, refuses to accept any leeway when it comes to wildlife crimes…they are sending strong messages to everyone in Africa that there is no benefit from the trade.” (Independent). Positively, a crackdown onsuitsuit the anti-poaching law has led to an increase in wildlife in the region, and recent statistics show that only 60 elephants were killed in 2017, compared to the 97 in 2016 and even more significantly, down from the 302 in 2013. The positive results from efforts to fix the poaching crisis show hope that the same can be achieved all over the world, and stand as a powerful example of cooperation between both government institutions and NGOs. Kenya’s government actions have not gone unnoticed, and countries all over the world are following suit. In the past year alone, China, the world’s largest importer of ivory declared a ban on all ivory trade at the end of 2017 and announced the closure of all 172 of its ivory carving factories (ES magazine). supporting through the poaching crisis has significantly decreased, but habitat encroachment is still restricting access to natural resources needed to maintain and support biodiversity in the country.
For many people, the struggles happening in other parts of the world are nothing more than an occasional nagging worry. As long as the issue doesn’t affect them directly, most people are willing to simply ignore the problem. Statistics show that only 4% of charitable contributions are made to support international causes (80,000 hours), much of which is attributed to the fact that international awareness is often useless in the face of local accounts and news that detail local problems. For example, many of us would much rather donate to a charity that raises funds for a local hospital, especially after hearing an account by a friend of the degraded state of the medical facilities, than donate to a cause halfway around the world that asks for more medical supplies. So if you are dedicated to supporting an international cause, you are posed with a challenging question. What can you do to raise awareness? For starters, when advocating for your cause, make sure to have visuals. Scientists have long since studied the effects of images vs. words on their abilities to trigger emotion. Images have proven to be substantially better than words because words are processed by short-term memory, which can only retain about seven pieces of information. However, images are processed directly into long-term memory, which is located in the same part of the brain that processes and creates emotions (LinkedIn-“Visual Cues Trigger Emotion”).
However, images alone are useless without the proper channel that makes them available to a larger spread of population. For this, social media is almost always the way to go. Charities and NGOs all over the world have turned to social media to reach a far greater number of people than could ever be reached by word of mouth. A powerful way for you to help is to share the images published by these institutions on your social media. It may seem like a small action but too often, images that “go viral” are often because of one post that is then viewed by millions worldwide. Additionally, as an individual, raising money for an NGO that addresses the problem you want to help fix is always useful. Many NGOs and nonprofits have a “donate now” button as one of their website subpages. People are more often convinced to make donations if they know exactly how their money will be put to use. Therefore, if you are trying to convince a friend to donate to your cause, you want to direct them towards a website that seems the most likely to “make your donation count”. An example is the “Donate Now” page on the R.E.S.C.U.E website that rescues orphaned elephant calves in Kenya. When you donate, you have the option to receive emails that inform you on the progress in the sanctuary, and Instagrampopulation posts often thank the donors and provide examples of how donations were used to buy formula to feed the calves. This information makes it seem like you, as an individual, made a difference and helps breach the geographical gap that separates you from the conflict. Overall, you can make a difference by raising money for organizations that are actively working to fix the problem and raise awareness through the power of images and other visual aids.