Prince William have in common? They have all spoken up about the plight of tigers and the urgent need to halt their decline1. Indeed, many personalities – from film stars and song writers to models and other celebrities – are doing their bit to raise awareness about our vanishing wildlife.
But is that what makes a campaign successful? Let’s have a look at some of the campaigns that organisations have put together to save our wildlife!
Protecting the Earth’s lungs, the Amazon forest
There are many projects supporting the Amazon, not least since it is home to one in 10 known species and provides a home for 30 million people. Some of these projects look at individual species or areas but one of the most encompassing ones was the one mounted to create the Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA).
This was no easy task: 150 million acres of rainforest are now protected, turning an expanse of Brazilian rainforest larger than all the US national parks taken together into a combination of sustainable-use and strict protected areas 2.
The success of the programme so far can be attributed in the good planning, financing and management of the programme as well as the support of the local people. In the case of the ARPA, the programme is implemented by the Brazilian government, funded by the World Wildlife Fund (GEF) and managed by the World Bank, with partners like the German government, WWF and several international donors3.
The ARPA has greatly contributed to the great drop in the greenhouse gas emissions of Brazil as well as falling rates of deforestation. But the really big difference was how the ARPA involved and mobilised the local communities making people invested in its success. Even though the ARPA now funds 114 federal and state areas, the local communities always participate in the management and conservation of these areas.
The programme developed an innovative mechanism for managing protected areas which transfers small amounts of money to land managers. This type of systems results in positive effects as regards poverty eradication as well as preventing deforestation. What is more, the biodiversity monitoring system implemented in a few selected areas, directly involves the local populations in data collection3.
Saving Africa’s Rhinos
All five species of rhino are threatened with extinction. When it comes to Africa’s black rhinos, these are critically endangered, with a population of under 5,000 while at around 20,000, the southern white rhino is most numerous, with the vast majority of its populating living in South Africa.
In Africa, the effects of large-scale poaching have been truly devastating bringing down the population to 2,4010 in 1995. Since then, conservationists and governments have put in place reintroduction programmes to repopulate areas – as a result, black rhino numbers rose to over 5,0004,5. But despite this success in Africa, the dangers for rhinos have not been fully thwarted. Poachers are still active, and their techniques are becoming ever more sophisticated.
Unfortunately, this has created a spike in the amount of rhinos that are being poached: in South Africa, home to 80% of the world’s wild rhinos, only 13 were poached in 2007 but by 2015, the number had risen to nearly 1,200 – a truly devastating situation 6.
But through awareness raising campaigns, people from different backgrounds decided to join in the efforts to help rhinos. After all, the responsibility for protecting our planet does not just fall on the shoulders of ecologists, environmental charities or governments. And this is how former military service-men and -women are helping to stop illegal poaching.
An example of such an organisation is Vetpaw, set up by US veteran Ryan Tate who was moved by the plight of rhinos after seeing a documentary about poaching and the deaths of park rangers in Africa. He and his team work across a dozen private game reserves in South Africa. This provides an advantage to the local landowners who benefit from their protection.
The Vetpaw team is also running training courses for local guides and security staff. The initiative, and others similar to Vetpaw, have also been criticised as potentially inciting an arms race with the poachers who are well-funded and part of transnational syndicates. But perhaps this is an example where extreme situations call for extreme measures.
Reviewing Europe’s Birds and Habitats Directives
It is not very often that someone talks about European Union Directives inciting public support and mobilisation. This is not to say that EU legislation is not fundamental to our environment – from clean air and water to climate change and biodiversity – but oftentimes that legislation is seen as too technical.
Well, that was certainly not the case when after several decades of operation, the European Commission decided to open up two key pieces of EU law on birds and habitats.
The EU Birds and Habitats Directives protect the most precious parts of Europe’s nature and form the backbone of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, which covers 18% of Europe’s land and 6% of its seas7.
These two pieces of legislation are therefore historical not only because they were the first EU laws on the environment but also because they introduced core principles of conservation. Fearing that reviewing the laws would lead to them being considerably watered down, environmental charities from across Europe mobilised their substantial networks and citizen support came pouring in.
Over half a million Europeans told the EU to keep these laws in place and improve them so they work better for nature. This was the biggest number ever reached in the history of the EU.
Major awareness campaigns were coordinated by Birdlife Europe, the European Environmental Bureau, Friends of the Earth Europe, WWF Europe and over 120 European NGOs8 and in December 2016 the EU announced that the ambition of the laws will remain intact but that an action plan would be developed to improve the implementation of the laws. The voice of citizens had been heard!
But the story does not end there: it is an important to follow the process and make sure the action plan developed will really deliver environmental protection for Europe’s most vulnerable habitats and species!