Fundamental Shifts for the Recovery of Indonesia's Biodiversity

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Laila Afifa

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  • By: Sunarto, Wildlife Ecologist, WWF-Indonesia & Member of IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Specialist Groups.

    Thanks to a unique combination of geographical location and geological formations, diversity of life is evolving for millions of years and thriving on the Indonesian archipelago. The region represents one of the world’s centers in the biological richness of flora and fauna.

    As we celebrate the National Flora and Fauna Day, in less than two months we will close the United Nations' Decade of Biodiversity 2011-2020. We are evaluating our status regarding Aichi Biodiversity Targets, global country commitments of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). This article reflects on some achievements, challenges, and recommended the way forward beyond 2020.

    There have been many on-going initiatives including some success stories in conserving Indonesian biodiversity. These include stabilization or the rebound of the populations of some species such as the Javan rhinos and Bali starlings. Replication and scaling up of such stories to other threatened wildlife, are unfortunately still hindered by many constraints. To date, the conservation of nature and biodiversity have commonly been contested with other priorities such as economic growth.

    The success or failure of biodiversity conservation in Indonesia will have a significant impact on the life of the people in Indonesia and globally.

    Fundamental shifts at scale are needed to make biodiversity and nature conservation an important component of development. Such changes need to happen from philosophical to the cultural level, allowing political commitment and practical implementation towards biodiversity recovery to follow.

    Defaunation and Empty Forest Phenomena

    Human pressure on wildlife generally takes in three forms: habitat loss or degradation including fragmentation, conflict or intolerance, and unsustainable harvests including poaching and illegal trade.

    These three have driven many wildlife species closer to extinction. In habitats that remain, our wildlife generally becomes scarcer and harder to find, while the forests feel empty. This defaunation and empty forest phenomena are increasingly common in Asia, especially Indochina for the last two decades. It is now happening across Southeast Asia including Indonesia.

    Recent studies have rung a loud alarm about this wildlife crisis.

    First, an assessment of the snaring crisis titled “Silent of the Snares” published in 2020 by WWF. The study reported millions of snares on the ground in protected areas in southeast Asia. Snares, the main tool of wildlife poaching, are indiscriminately impacting over 700 mammal species.

    Second, a serial study conducted by TRAFFIC, featuring the chronic and rampant trade in wildlife particularly songbirds, driven by demand for leisure and status symbols in Indonesia. Titled “On the Market for Extinction”, the report highlights the massive bird trade in Indonesia. A three-day market survey in Jakarta found more than 19,000 birds from 206 species traded. Most of the birds are native to Indonesia and harvested illegally/beyond quota.

    Third, the assessment published in one of the most reputable journals, Science, titled “Defaunation in the Anthropocene” showing the global phenomena of defaunation and massive extinction that is happening before the eyes of this generation. The paper shows that we are now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times compared to the historical rate before humans rule the planet. Now, extinctions occur daily.

    For the sake of human affluence, consumption, and leisure, many wildlife including hornbills, pangolins, elephants, and songbirds have quickly disappeared from our forests and gardens. Not to mention our aquatic, whether freshwater or marine wildlife.

    Another recent study warns that in Indonesia, there are more birds in captivity than in the wild. Empty forest syndrome is indeed becoming more common. Even our gardens and parks that used to be good habitats for native wildlife are now either relatively empty from wildlife or dominated by some invasive alien species.

    Fundamental Shifts Needed

    The extirpation of wildlife is truly worrisome and serious matter. The current condition poses an existential threat for us humans, as wildlife plays such an important role in the ecosystem that our life depends on. Not recognizing or ignoring it and continuing business-as-usual is ecocide.

    Without wildlife and healthy and balanced ecosystems, humans cannot thrive, and civilization is at stake. The need to ensure a healthy ecosystem including a viable wildlife population, therefore, should be obvious for everyone.

    Given the importance of wildlife and yet how threatened they are now, it is extremely urgent to recover their condition. It is obvious that our best efforts and achievements so far are not good enough as our wildlife and environmental condition continue to decline.

    According to the CBD Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 (https://www.cbd.int/gbo5), none of the 20 Aichi targets for biodiversity set in 2010 has been reached. For human existence in the long term, we have no option other than to reverse the trend as soon as possible.

    As CBD is currently working on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), Indonesia needs to urgently reflect and thoroughly evaluate on how to bend the curve of biodiversity trends at the national level. This is the time to take corrective actions for some that can be improved, and scale up things that are proven to work well.

    To do this, fundamental and philosophical corrections are needed at the national level, which hopefully will then also inspire global communities. We need to turn away from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism, recognizing the fact that we are part of nature. We need to highly and more explicitly value the indispensable roles of nature and wildlife for our wellbeing. All of our new practices should overall improve instead of destroying nature and the ecosystem.

    We need to redefine development by proportionately accounting ecology, society, and economy. The economic system also needs to go through an overhaul. It should be based on a circular and sustainable system that will capitalize on nature. The impacts of what we do, and any product that we produced, on the environment, should be accounted for in the price of goods and services. That will allow avoidance and minimization of damage to natures; or when unavoidable, restoration or compensation.

    Incentives for businesses and the overall society should be to improve instead of to destroy nature and wildlife. This needs to be translated into policy, rules and regulations, education system and content, economic system, and social system until a new culture of nature stewardship is fully established.

    If that takes place, we can expect all other necessary changes including political commitment, policy and strategy for biodiversity and nature conservation, as well as technical implementations will follow. Further, all current good practices, successful models and achievements in biodiversity and environmental conservation will have no significant barrier to replicate and scale-up.

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