World Wildlife Day Highlights Importance of Wildlife Protection to Human Health and Livelihood


The Philippines held the 8th World Wildlife Day celebration virtually on March 3 via a Zoom conference attended by officers from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), the Philippine Operations Group on Ivory and Illegal Wildlife Trade (POGI), environmental warriors and protectors, non-profit organizations, senators Miguel Zubiri and Cynthia Villar, along with members of the media. 

Held annually every March 3 to celebrate biodiversity initiatives around the globe, this year's World Wildlife Day celebration bannered the theme "Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet." The event also highlighted the ill effects of wildlife habitat exploitation to human life and livelihood. 

One of these detrimental effects is the spread of infectious diseases such as Ebola, HIV, Swine Fever, Avian Flu, and COVID-19 which have been linked to the exploitation of wild fauna and their habitats. 

Studies show that more than two-thirds of human infectious diseases originate from animals and that about 70% of these so-called zoonotic diseases come from wild animals.

The Wildlife Conservation Society said that habitat loss forces animals to move to places where people live, and this exposes humans to animal pathogens that lead to the spread of viruses. The Nipah virus outbreak in Malaysia in 1998-1999 is an example of how deforestation drove fruit bats to transfer to trees in pig farms, where the pigs that came in contact with bat droppings became infected and eventually infected the farmers.

This is said to be  a similar case with the spread of COVID-19, which some studies link to the traders in the bat meat business who subsequently visited the Hunan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China where the virus spread was first traced.

In her speech, Senator Cynthia Villar stressed the importance of wildlife protection and how it can stop another virus outbreak or even a pandemic. "That is more than an encouragement or incentive for us to do our part. Now, more than ever, there is a great real need to strengthen our policies on wildlife conservation and protection," she said.

Just in time for the observance of World Wildlife Day, Senator Villar had filed Senate Bill No. 2078, an act strengthening the wildlife conservation and protection mechanism in the Philippines, amending for this purpose Republic Act No. 41947, otherwise known as the Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act of 2001.

It was also announced during the event that Senator Miguel Zubiri had filed Senate Bill No. 2079, an act providing for a revised Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, appropriating funds for such and other purposes.

The Philippines is one of the world's 17 mega diverse or biodiversity-rich countries, housing two-thirds of the earth's biodiversity and about 70% to 80% of the world's plants and animal species. Sadly, the country is also among the world's biodiversity hotpots experiencing high rates of habitat loss. Biodiversity hotspots have lost about 86% of their origingal habitat and are also considered to be significantly threatened by extinction induced by climate change.

With the information shared during the World Wildlife Day event came a louder battlecry to implement stricter measures to combat the growing illegal wildlife trade (IWT). 

"Wildlife crimes have also evolved, violators have become more equipped, organized, and syndicated or with international connections. Likewise, the trade and transport of wildlife species have become wide-scale and transnational in nature. Thus we need more 'teeth' so to speak to existing policies and laws to help enforcement authorities," Senator Villar said.

In the Philippines, IWT is reportedly valued at about P50 million per year and has become a syndicated trade that has been depleting the country's biodiversity preservation efforts.

To help wildlife enforcement officers and increase awareness on IWT, the DENR-BMB with the Global Environment Facility and the Asian Development Bank launched during the World Wildlife Day event the first-ever Wildlife Law Enforcement Online Training course. The first e-learning tool in the country on Philippine wildlife law enforcement, the course has seven modules and 19 topics that wildlife law enforcers and other stakeholders can access on demand anytime they need the information to better perform their duties in protecting wildlife, preserving their habitats, and in turn sustaining people's life and livelihood.

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