Today, the world faces many challenges, biodiversity is being lost at an accelerating rate, with current extinction rates approximately 1000 times higher than background rates observed in the fossil record. Recent estimates suggest that 11,000–58,000 species are lost annually and that extant vertebrate species have declined in abundance by approximately 25% since 1970. Most of this loss is occurring in the tropics, and the world is demanding that this loss must stop. All of the causal factors interact on a global scale; timber and bushmeat from the tropics are sold to markets in Europe and Canada, and climate changes are caused by actions everywhere. Between 2000 and 2012, an estimated 2.3 million km2 of forest was lost globally and in the tropics forest loss increased each year. To put this in perspective, an area approximately the size of Mexico was lost in this period. The loss in tropical countries corresponds with an increase in agriculture, which expanded by 48,000 km2 per year between 1999 and 2008, largely at the expense of forest. One estimate suggests that approximately 1 billion hectares of additional land - an area larger than Canada - primarily in developing countries, will need to be converted to agriculture by 2050 to meet the demands of the growing human population. The extent of wildlife over-exploitation is generally under-estimated, however, the estimated weight of bushmeat extracted each year from the Congo basin alone is equivalent to 4.5 million cows – in the whole of Canada there are 6.5 million cattle.
With respect to climate change, temperature increase is projected to exceed 1.5°C by 2010. With this warming 75% of all tropical forests present in 2000 will experience higher temperatures than currently support closed canopy forests. With these sorts of statistics, Canadians are eager to see change. In fact, most Canadians (57% for all Canadians and 70% of millennials) think the country should be doing more to address climate change (Vancouver Sun March 17, 2017). And there is great potential to slow climate change by taking actions in the tropics. For instance, deforestation in the tropics release 861,000,000 metric tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere a year, which is approximately 6 times the amount released by all of the cars and trucks on Canadian roads in a year.
I am trying to make a difference. My post-docs, students, colleagues, friends, and I are engaged in the following:
· Conducting solid scientific research so that it can be used to construct informed conservation plans
· Training the next generation of conservation scientists in Uganda
· Promoting conservation by making a union between health and conservation through a mobile clinic, a bricks and mortar clinic, and a health and conservation education program.
· Developing and testing conservation strategies by asking “What is the value to wildlife and people of….
providing health care as a conservation incentive
very small scale local ecotourism
providing family planning through education (including a radio soap opera)
developing conservation policy with the Uganda Wildlife Authority
establishing wildlife patrols and snare removal programs
carbon offset reforestation programs
using Art to motivate and Science to inform conservation action