Collective actions key to recovering wildlife species
Approximately 20 per cent of the planet’s vertebrate and plant species are found only in the ASEAN region and nowhere else in the world. Home to four biodiversity hotspots and three of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world, the ASEAN has extraordinarily high levels of species richness and endemism. And these numbers could keep growing. According to experts, the region is in an “age of discovery,” with more than 2,200 new species described between 1997 and 2014 alone.
For a region that is home to a diversity of wildlife, this year’s World Wildlife Day theme: Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration resonates strongly with the ASEAN. Some of the region’s economic prosperity is underpinned by the healthy wildlife that thrives within us.
Our agri– and floricultural industries continue to flourish, thanks to almost 5,000 species of economically important crops including food crops, medicinal and ornamental plants, bamboo, timber and other tree species in our region. This is further enhanced by the presence of key species such as pollinators and seed dispersers that make it possible to naturally propagate and expand our vegetative cover. The ASEAN is home to a diversity of birds, bats, and insects like honey bees––with eight out of the nine known species of honey bees native to and present in the region.
Native wildlife is an intrinsic part of the ASEAN culture and identity. Our intimate connection with nature inspires a common understanding of shared responsibility to care and protect not only vital sources of traditional foods such as grains, yams, and beans; but also resources that inspire our many rituals and ceremonies. The presence of wildlife voyagers on seas (such as dolphins, marine turtles, whale sharks, and humpback whales) and on air (such as native and migratory birds) that forage, breed, and traverse our healthy ecosystems symbolise our trademark ASEAN hospitality.
However, increasing threats put these important species and their habitats under severe pressure. The 2019 collaborative report Halting Species Extinctions in the ASEAN region by the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission’s Asian Species Action Partnership (ASAP), observed that many species are more threatened here than in other regions.
According to the report, initiatives to save wildlife are currently being done at the national level. However, there is still about 45 per cent of critically endangered land and freshwater vertebrate species in Southeast Asia that also require conservation prioritisation––and to scale up efforts to halt the extinction of these key species also means ensuring cross-sectoral and cross-boundary cooperation.
A number of recommendations on recovering key species in the region based on a comprehensive review of threats, area-based conservation measures, ongoing conservation efforts, and policy context in the ASEAN are listed in the report.
First is protecting the ecosystems that serve as wildlife habitats. By strengthening area-based conservation measures, particularly protected areas and ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHPs), threatened species that inhabit these remaining biodiversity-rich places can be recovered. This strategy would entail ensuring effective management and governance of these protected areas, which the AHP Programme is currently undertaking. The ASEAN flagship programme supports the management and capacity development of the ‘best among the best’ protected areas through various activities such as training programs in taxonomy, monitoring, enhanced database management, ranger and patrolling activities, equipment support, and development of communication, education and public awareness (CEPA) strategies, among others. There are currently 50 AHPs and more than 2000 protected areas across the 10 ASEAN Member States.
National, regional, and international policies and frameworks on protecting wildlife are already in place and in fact already operationalised. The report recommends further strengthening of legislation, particularly on wildlife trafficking and improving compliance to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It should be emphasised, however, that protecting key wildlife requires further investments and research in field-based protection, combating wildlife trafficking, and reducing demand for wildlife products.
Finally, we are reminded by this year’s ASEAN theme, ASEAN ACT: Addressing Challenges Together, that recovering key species needs robust, collaborative actions among stakeholders across the 10 ASEAN Member States (AMS) and beyond. Wildlife knows no boundaries – they roam, they grow, and they thrive across areas within their habitat range that often transcend physical and political divides. Thus, transboundary cooperation is particularly essential to ensure that different policy, legal, and institutional mechanisms, as well as management and governance regimes, respond to diverse social, cultural, and economic contexts.
Happy World Wildlife Day!
THERESA MUNDITA S. LIM
Executive Director, ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity