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Humans: The Stewards of Wildlife

March 3 is World Wildlife Day / Poster art by Xavi Reñé courtesy CITES

“Going the way of the Dodo” is a euphemism for the end of something, that something becomes irrelevant and obsolete. It becomes extinct.

The Dodo isn’t just a metaphor, nor a character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It’s commonly regarded as the first animal — a bird — to be driven to extinction by humans. The last Dodo died in the Mauritius Islands, off Africa’s southeast coast, at the end of the 1600s as a result of human expansion and colonization. Apart from an asteroid hitting Earth millions of years ago, there is no greater threat to animal or plant species’ survival than humans.

In a report from NBC News, 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever,” said Robert Watson, professor of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia in the report. “We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

Recognizing that humans need to be better stewards, the United Nations in 2013 designated March 3 as World Wildlife Day, choosing the date for the day the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was born. CITES is an international agreement between nations ensuring the survival of animal and plant species isn’t threatened by trade. But since that agreement was drafted in 1973, extinction rates have only increased. The World Wildlife Fund published a list of animals classified as vulnerable to critically endangered.

“We are failing at protecting diversity on the planet and we are failing wildlife,” said Mary Warwick, executive director of the Houston Humane Society TWRC Wildlife Center. “We are amid the sixth mass extinction. It is hard to pin down numbers, but we are losing thousands of species a year, globally. If you think about genetic diversity of species, we are failing at that as well as habitat fragmentation causing less genetic diversity by keeping wildlife from moving to new territory.”

The TWRC Wildlife Center is just one of the many local organizations and centers that help with wildlife protection and reversing human failure. The Houston SPCA Wildlife Center of Texas, Houston Audubon, the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory and the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary are also strong proponents of protecting the animals and plants around us. They’re even more important for a city that keeps growing outwardly and encroaching on native wildlife.

“[We help] maintain the balance of our Houston area ecosystem by offering rehabilitation and release to injured and orphaned wild animals,” said Shae Bolton, from the Wildlife Center of Texas. “On a larger scale, we provide public education to children and adults to spread helpful information about how to help our ecosystem’s residents. While we do actively help our animal patients, it is most important that we are inspiring a thirst for maintaining our Houston environment.”

This year’s World Wildlife Day theme is “partnership for wildlife conservation,” the idea that realizing mistakes isn’t enough to do something. It’s important that environmental stewards work with local governments, various industries, and construction projects, to promote the protection of wildlife habitats. Actions such as volunteering, donating, or sharing information from local organizations can also have a major impact.

“The best way to support our mission is to volunteer anywhere that works to rehabilitate wildlife, conserve natural habitat, restore natural habitat, protect our watershed, or protect our air,” Warwick said. “It is all important work that is vital to protecting our wildlife.”

The ecosystem is delicately balanced, and not protecting wildlife can do irreparable harm to it. As with any day, the hope is that its message carries on throughout the year. And don’t let it go the way of the Dodo.