Joshua Powell: Protecting endangered species
Endangered Species Day falls on May 17th and exists as an opportunity to learn about the urgent need to protect species on the brink of extinction, whilst understanding how our everyday actions can help contribute to this.
Joshua Powell, 25, founded Rangers Without Borders and is a champion changemaker in conservation. Here, he shares with us his expert advice on how we can help make a positive impact to our planet and all that depends on it.
My name is Joshua Powell. I'm 25, from the UK and I’m a Conservation Biologist and National Geographic Explorer.
My passion is unreservedly for the environment - both wildlife and wild places. Growing up in the south-east of the British Isles, I was surrounded by a landscape that to me is one of the most beautiful in the world - but which is under immense pressure from human activity and our increasingly damaging lifestyles. I wanted to do something to protect it, because if we can't live alongside wildlife and Nature in the relative comfort of life in the UK, there is little hope for Nature worldwide. I actually started out campaigning for the environment when I was at school, utilising the resources to find an accessible way of helping out. I started out by leading the introduction of recycling plastic cups at my school - a very small scale, but effective local action that anyone could start!
Now, as a Conservation Biologist, I study how people and human societies interact with the natural world and suggest small interventions that are going to have a positive impact. This is important because our species' impact on the planet is now so great that we've entered a new epoch - or period in the Earth's history - known as the Anthropocene. We're driving endangered species to extinction at an unprecedented rate and so the fate of global biodiversity, the very measure of life on Earth, really is in our hands.
Wildlife rangers are the frontline for so much in conservation - they are the men and women who are entrusted with protecting some of the world's rarest species and wildest places - but their work outside of the tropics and a few other countries, like the USA, is very poorly documented. If we do not know how rangers work, or even where they work, it is almost impossible to effectively support them, so I founded Rangers Without Borders - Eurasia, a research programme that looks to study and evaluate the work of wildlife rangers. This allows us to then provide useful recommendations and consulting services with the aim of improving the effectiveness of rangers around the world. Currently, Rangers Without Borders is particularly focused on 6 countries in Europe and Asia, but we are hoping to expand the programme in coming years to other understudied regions! What we're particularly interested in is the approaches or practices which make wildlife rangers more effective at conserving endangered species - whether that's specific technical support, or an approach to running patrols, or the nature of engagement with local communities, just to give a few examples. All of our multi-disciplinary team is under 30 - which is a challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity to show that young people can make a difference for some of the biggest issues in conservation!
When not leading Rangers Without Borders, I work as a policy advisor on environmental policy - and I am also one of the faces of WWF's #WWFVoices campaign, where we try and raise the profile of biodiversity conservation, that's the conservation of all species, around the world, with global audiences. You can find out more using the hashtag: #WWFVoices. I'm honoured to have received the Scientific Exploration Society's Award for Inspiration and Scientific Trail-Blazing for 2019, because inspiring others about endangered species and conservation is so important for the future of our wonderful planet.
With the survival of so many endangered species dependent on our actions, here are key topics at the forefront of their conservation – and some simple steps you can do to help.
Protecting habitat through our lifestyle choices.
The single biggest threat to most of the world's endangered species is habitat loss, even more than climate change! Habitat loss may seem removed from our everyday lives, but it is a result of all of our collective actions and consumption - from the things we buy, to the food we eat - so your choices can make a real difference.
Say no to palm oil. One thing you can do right now is to look out for RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil, or avoid products that have palm oil in all together or. Palm oil is a product that is often found in processed foods - from biscuits, cakes and bread, to soaps and shampoos. Unfortunately, it is also one of the biggest drivers of the destruction of rainforests in South-East Asia, particularly Borneo and Sumatra, which make up one of the world's biodiversity hotspots. That means a disproportionate number of the world's species call it home, including a whole raft of endangered species, like the orangutan, which is found nowhere else on Earth. The orangutan is one of our closest relatives - we are about 97% genetically identical to each other - but human actions, including the clearance of tropical rainforest for new palm oil plantations, is driving this wonderful species towards extinction. Looking for sustainable palm oil, or avoiding it all together, may seem like a small step, but will make a big difference.
Reduce our meat consumption. Making space for endangered species also means reducing the overall impact we have on land, and one of the biggest consumers worldwide is agriculture. It is really impressive when people choose to become vegetarian or vegan, but even if you do not want to go that far, you can definitely still help. For example, I am not vegetarian myself, but I try to reduce the amount of meat I eat by having more vegetarian food, as well as looking for fish from sustainable sources. I've found that this approach is a much easier concept for people to feel encouraged to try (and often succeed), and it still has very positive benefits. (Tip: in North America and Europe, river fish are often well managed, so can be a sustainable choice compared to marine species. Shellfish are another largely sustainable choice, because they can be farmed). Remember, less land used for agriculture and livestock is more space for nature and endangered species!
You can also help by supporting organisations that either conserve land for endangered species or contribute directly to their conservation. There are a lot of good organisations out there, in almost every country in the world, doing some incredibly important work and very much in need of support – whether you are able to help financially, with your time, or with your skills.
Say no to endangered wildlife products.
While the impact of the food we eat everyday could be considered indirect, there are other products, particularly from the illegal wildlife trade, that are even more direct in their impact on endangered species. While young people around the world tend to be highly engaged on these issues, we have a duty to the natural world to make sure there is no place for the use of endangered wildlife products in our societies, whether that is ivory, rhino horn, pangolin, tiger bone, shark fin, the list goes on...Refusing to consume or use it yourself, reporting it to national authorities, there is a role that we can each play. It might seem removed from our everyday lives, but for much of the world, the illegal wildlife trade in endangered species is not far beneath the surface.
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