Rich countries are underperforming on conservation, Oxford study finds

Research shows that LEDCs outperform their richer counterparts on a range of conservation factors

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A new Oxford University research project has found that poorer nations are more active with regards to wildlife conservation than their better economically-developed counterparts.

Researchers from Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) partnered with Panthera, the world’s only organisation dedicated to protecting wild cats, to assess the level of commitment of individual countries to protecting wildlife.

The team created a Mega-Fauna Conservation Index (MCI) of 152 countries to assess their conservation footprint and created a benchmarking system which evaluated three key measures: a) the proportion of the country occupied by each mega-fauna species; b) the proportion of mega-fauna species range that is protected; and c) the amount of money spent on conservation relative to GDP.

African countries topped the list, with Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe leading.

The United States found itself at nineteenth, and a quarter of countries in Asia and Europe were classed as significantly underperforming.

Panthera research associate Dr Peter Lindsey, who led the collaboration, told Cherwell: “This is the first attempt to try to compare the conservation efforts of different countries. We need to be able to compare efforts to create a floating benchmark so that the average effort is pulled up, especially as mega-fauna populations are dropping.”

He added: “Mega-fauna act as a proxy for conservation efforts in general, hopefully in the future the study might be expanded to monitor marine conservation efforts.”

Professor David Macdonald, Director of WildCRU and co-author of the paper said: “Every country should strive to do more to protect its wildlife. “Our index provides a measure of how well each country is doing, and sets a benchmark for nations that are performing below the average level, to understand the kind of contributions they need to make as a minimum.”

The study also explains the reasons for this disparity in contributions to conservation. Mega-fauna are valuable assets and to many less affluent countries their existence provides both a national identity and an economic lifeline in the form of tourism, which provides a high proportion of the GDP of some African nations: for example in 2014, tourism contributed 17 per cent of Tanzania’s GDP.

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Dr Dawn Burnham, also of WildCRU, said “What really matters is the idea we have developed, rather than the detail: countries can be ranked in their commitment to conservation, and each country can and should strive to climb the rankings—the details of how the rank is calculated can surely be refined in future, but the idea of the ranking will endure”.

Speaking about the future of the project, Dr Lindsey said: “We will be generally improving the study and making it as fair as possible. Our goal is to have an index that is published annually and the performance of countries regularly assessed.”

At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, developed nations promised to allocate at least $2 billion (USD) per year towards conservation in developing nations.

However, current contributions from developed nations are just half of the proposed amount, $1.1 billion (USD) per year.