"Every daily act can be an act of conservation. (...) Conservationists protect life; they do not stalk it and kill it in cowardice to feel a sense of domination. True conservationists work to protect wilderness for perpetuity, for future generations. Instead of a collection of trophies of the dead, a legacy of protected wild habitats, and future generations and dynasties of wild species, is the true legacy—a measure of reverence for life.
The sadness and darkness of hunting and trapping cannot compare to either the exhilaration of protecting life, so precious and rewarding to witness in full bloom, or of sharing it with future generations through the sanctity of conserved lands. In order to have a place in an Age of Union, one should actively work against these impending extinctions and become a vocal and active leader in local and international conservations." (Dax Dasilva)
Who doesn't love seeing photos on National Geographic or watching documentaries about bears and wolves, but also elephants, lions, frogs, parrots or whales...right? Wild animals are fascinating, mysterious and inspiring. They inhabit our childhood dreams and games but are also an irreplaceable part of our heritage as inhabitants of earth. This is why we must protect them!
May 15th was the annual endangered species awareness day, a great occasion to remember the importance of taking care of earth’s wildlife and ecosystems. Many of us ask ourselves: “How can we actually make an impact?”, particularly if we are living in a city or travelling in foreign countries. In order to make some sense of all this, we have asked two changemakers, Justine Philippon and Paul Rosolie, to share their tips and inspiring words with us.
"When you are faced with a wild animal in its habitat, it is like an emotional ecstasy beyond logic or understanding. It is an experience without comparison that one can never forget."
Justine Philippon, Peru
Justine has been passionate about animals for as long as she can remember. Following a bachelor's degree in psychology, she specialized in ethology (science of animal behaviour), biology conservation and primatology. Since 2008, she has gained experience on the field with the French NGO Ikamaperu, one of the major wildlife conservation centers and the only rehabilitation center for primates in Peru. She started off as a volunteer and now runs the organization as scientific manager while simultaneously finishing her doctorate thesis.
She explains that there are two major causes to wildlife endangerment: poaching (illegal wildlife trade and hunting) and habitat destruction. In this article, we will particularly focus on illegal animal trafficking and how to prevent it.
Ikamaperu is a French NGO established in the Peruvian Amazon since 1997 by the initiative of Hélène Collongues. It is dedicated to the in situ conservation of endangered species, and more particularly to the protection of woolly and spider monkeys.
Woolly and spider monkeys are both classified as endangered species by the IUCN (International union for conservation of nature).
Age Of Union: Since you started working at Ikamaperu, you have been relentlessly fighting against illegal wildlife trade in the Amazon Rainforest. Could you tell us more?
Justine Philippon: Our wildlife conservation and rehabilitation center is located in a small town in the heart of the Amazon rainforest called Lagunas. This is one of the areas where wildlife illegal trade originates. Worldwide speaking, more than 1000 species are captured not only to be sold as pets, but also as ornaments, bushmeat, and for making souvenirs and medicine (source SERFOR 2018).
Unfortunately, many uninformed tourists contribute to this massacre by buying living or dead animals, as well as by fueling the operation of establishments (hotels, restaurants, tourist agencies, illegal zoos ...) which exhibit wild animals for tourists and allow them to take photos with them. A wild animal’s place is in its natural environment and not in contact with humans.
In the case of primates, adults are generally sold as bushmeat and the babies as pets. Sadly, for every monkey sold on the market, many others are killed through the process. One can easily imagine the devastating impact on the reproductive capacity for this species who already suffers from a slow reproductive rate. For example, a female of the woolly monkey species will have her first infant at 8 years old, then 1 infant every 3 years. The consequences of illegal animal trafficking on their populations is disastrous.
In the case of a baby monkey found for sale, the mother was killed, as well as an important part of the group.
It is also estimated that nine other baby monkeys died during their transportation or their detention between the natural habitat and the sale location (SERFOR, Servicio Nacional Forestal y Silvestre Peruano, 2019).
Safeguards and conservation centers are trying to remedy to the extinction of these animals, but it is not so simple. First, some species are more sensitive than others. Woolly monkeys, for example, are very emotional and fragile. The reintroduction process in natural habitat is long and complex and can take up to 8 years, if ever possible.
In addition, food, veterinary care, the space they need, the maintenance of infrastructure, the team on site, are all necessities to care for each individual between the time they arrives at the center and when they are released. The funds required for these centers almost exclusively come from private funding and must be constantly renewed from year to year, without any guarantee for the future. The challenges are many and unforeseen. Today, the COVID 19 situation is causing sponsors to withdraw their funds from NGOs. Ecotourism is on hold. Many organizations, therefore, end up stuck with their animals without knowing how to provide for their needs in the upcoming months.
Despite the precariousness of the resources surrounding the rescue centers, we believe that our mission of protection, conservation and rehabilitation is a duty that we must continue. Trying everything for the protection of these endangered species is the least we can do.
Wildlife animal trafficking is the third most lucrative illegal activity after the drug and weapon trade.
Age of Union: Not everyone can be studying in this field of conservation and/or running an NGO. Yet, anyone can help with their own means and capacities. Could you share with us some tips?
Justine Philippon: Each individual can become an ambassador for the protection of endangered wildlife. Protecting wild animals is everyone's concern. By simply talking about it to people around you, and sharing general information, together everyone can create awareness and have an impact.
1 / Be informed and report
It is illegal and forbidden to have an animal at home who is usually living in a wild state. Wild animals are not pets. If you see a wild animal in captivity (tethered or not), whether mistreated, sick, injured or not, try to collect visual evidence and notify the authorities of the country you are in.
Do not buy a living wild animal, even if you see it is suffering and you want to save it. The purchase of a wild animal contributes to poaching and trafficking; as soon as the animal is sold, the traffickers reactivate their network of hunters to replace it. If you happen to find yourself with a wild animal in your care, do not take the initiative to release it on your own. The release of a wild animal must follow a very specific process (ensuring its health so that it does not contaminate other wild populations, ensuring that it is able to survive alone, etc).
Do not buy dead "animal parts": shark teeth, turtle shells, ivory jewelry, monkey hands, parrot feathers, snake or feline skins among others.
Do not eat bushmeat, resist the urge to taste monkey or snake meat to impress your friends back at home, especially if you travel to Asian countries where all possible species are offered for consumption. And remember the risks linked to the consumption of wild animals which is at the origin of several world famous epidemics ...
Each country has an environmental authority service empowered to make seizures and redirect animals to rescue centers, as well as an online whistleblowing system.
2 / Avoid selfies with wild animals
Selfies with wild animals are a real threat to the species and their ecosystem. Often uninformed, tourists are not aware that they are directly contributing to the traffic of protected animals. Many of us do not realize where they come from and what it implies to take a photo with a boa on the arms, a parrot or a monkey on the shoulder. Think about the behind the scene. On a general base, avoid establishments (hostels, restaurants, bars, etc) that exhibit or offer activities with wild animals in order to attract tourists. Within the framework of the safeguard centers which have wild animals in their charge, the message is to interact as little as possible with the animals intended to be released. As Ikamaperu founder Hélène Collongue says: "You have to be aware of your role in this affair." As a professional in the rehabilitation center, humans are "momentary surrogate parents" whose role "aims only at one thing: the autonomy of the animal."
Since 2014, the number of selfies with wild animals posted on Instagram has exploded by 292% according to sources from the NGO World Animal Protection.
In 2017, Instagram bans certain hashtags such as "animal selfie" to protect endangered species.
3 / Choose ecotourism
Ecotourism is a great way for the traveller to educate themselves, gain a unique experience while knowing that their presence contributes to helping restore the communities and ecosystem. Against the classic touristic system which is about consuming, ecotourism is a responsible model based on exchange. It implements the idea and sustainable travelling. The philosophy behind it is to respect wildlife, the ecosystems and local populations.
Think that your guides must not disturb the ecosystem to satisfy your curiosity. For example, in the Amazon forest we still find activities such as the tortoise egg omelet, cutting a tree to catch the lazy and put them in your arms, grabbing young caimans to make you touch them, feeding monkeys, etc. Some practices are still common and should not be bonded.
Choose touristic companies that respect flora, fauna and communities as a whole.
4 / Support an NGO
As simple as that: if you see an initiative that inspires you, support it! A punctual or regular donation, even $10 can make a big difference!
If you prefer to opt for non-financial support, make your resources and talent available. If you can travel to the field, volunteering your time to offer help, take photos to help update their visual. But also think that you can help support remotely. NGOs often sorely lack the means regarding the visibility of their project and technologies: help refresh their website, manage their social networks or create content. In other words, think about what you know how to do, and put your talents at their disposal.
Another way to help: mobilize those around you, make noise, find other partners who could also get involved. Word of mouth has not gone out of fashion!
Make sure that you support smaller NGOs that are acting directly on the field with a small team of dedicated and passionate people. Those are the ones having the biggest impact and need more help.
5 / Become a patron
Investing in a project already in place with a regular donation can make a huge difference for an NGO. Do not forget that the key events of an organization (such as missions to intercept poachers, or the release program of a group of primates back to the forest) can only be supported if the basic needs of the NGO are met. The most important is to sustain the structure that makes those events possible to happen, meaning the basic needs which are less brilliant but represent the bare necessities, such as the food for the animals, veterinarians cares and workers wages.
Want to create a protection initiative yourself? Go for it! Remember that creating an NGO or any project raises many challenges of which the financial aspect is only a small part. Most importantly, make sure you surround yourself with a competent team of diverse talents so that your project is credible and sustainable in the long term.