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New EU Asia wildlife strategy in preparation

The EU is preparing to publish its new strategic approach to wildlife conservation in Asia. This follows its related 2015 publication on Africa: ‘Larger than Elephants’.

 Kalyan Varma)Asian tiger (photo: Kalyan Varma)

Asia has the largest concentration of globally threatened terrestrial species –iconic species such as the snow leopard, Asian tiger, bear and orang-utan and many more lesser-known creatures. It also has the greatest marine biodiversity, with 70% of the world’s coral species found in the ‘Coral Triangle’, in the western Pacific Ocean.

At the same time, Asia is the most densely populated region on Earth and the global centre of economic growth; and these trends are placing increased pressure on habitats and fuelling the illegal trade in wildlife products (ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales) for use in traditional medicine, ornament carving and cuisine. Pangolins – ‘scaly anteaters’ - are now the world’s most trafficked mammal.

The forthcoming publication – ‘Larger than Tigers’ – was commissioned by EU International Cooperation and Development to inform its response to the global wildlife crisis and biodiversity loss, and to contribute to building a consensus with other donors and regional experts on conservation priorities for Asia.

Study coordinator Tom Clements and lead author Pete Wood presented the work-in-progress in Brussels in late September. To prepare the study, they undertook an extensive consultation with conservation specialists in the region.

One of the key points to emerge from their work is that the pressure on land and natural resources in Asia has accelerated so rapidly in recent decades that the most intact assemblages of wildlife are now largely confined to protected areas.  Protected areas therefore have to be at the heart of any strategic approach to wildlife conservation. A second key point is that people living in wildlife-rich areas need to perceive tangible benefits from the preservation of wildlife and ecosystems in order to bring about an end to its current unsustainable use.

The main threats to wildlife in Asia are identified as overexploitation (overhunting and trade – both legal and illegal – in wildlife products) and the degradation and conversion of ecosystems (uncontrolled expansion of agriculture and industry; infrastructure development, and oil, gas and mining settlements). These threats also make species and ecosystems more vulnerable to climate change, by weakening their resilience to changes in the environment. The principal drivers of these threats have been the emphasis in recent years on economic expansion to the exclusion of long-term sustainability; population pressures, corruption, land tenure insecurity and greenhouse gas emissions.

The publication will recommend the following strategic approaches: tackle wildlife crime, enhance protected areas and landscape-scale conservation, and place a stronger emphasis on green accounting, which links biodiversity, economy and livelihoods. It will be published in 2017.

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Katharine Mill
10 November 2016

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