When elephants are poached and rhinos are slaughtered, it's frequently asked why the countries in which they live are not doing more to protect their wildlife. However, a new analysis of how committed nations are to conservation has found that less affluent countries are actually doing more to protect their wildlife than richer countries.
Even though Africa has to contend with plenty of serious issues, with many parts fighting poverty and political instability, the continent was actually found to be the region of the world most committed to conservation. In contrast, the report found that around a quarter of countries in Asia and a quarter of European countries are underperforming, and should be doing much more to protect their larger animals.
The team at The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University, in conjunction with the conservation organization Panthera, constructed a Megafauna Conservation Index (MCI) that aims to assess each country on how well they're preserving their largest wildlife. Since a large number of the biggest animals – such as gorillas, elephants, and tigers – face extinction, and the fact that they often play a critical role in ecosystems, the researchers decided to focus primarily on these.
The team used three main measures to assess how much each nation was committed to conservation. Firstly, they looked at how much of the country is occupied by the megafauna. They then assessed what proportion of the large animals' ranges were within protected areas, and then finally they analyzed how much money each nation was spending on conservation – both domestically and internationally – relative to their GDP.
Four of the top five performing countries were found in Africa, with Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe claiming the top spots, while the United States ranked 19th.
The reason for why poorer nations are doing better to protect their larger animals is not simply because they're more likely to have the megafauna survive within their borders, as the index takes into account money spent on international conservation. They suspect it could be because these nations tend to value their wildlife more. Tourism, for example, may make up a larger proportion of their GDP.
So, how can nations boost their ranking? “There are three ways,” explains Dr Peter Lindsey in a statement. “Firstly, they can 're-wild' their landscapes by reintroducing mega-fauna and/or by allowing the distribution of such species to increase. They can also set aside more land as strictly protected areas. And they can invest more in conservation, either at home or abroad.”
The team hope that their score will become an annual measure of what each country is doing to protect their wildlife and that nations will strive to improve each year.