SANTIAGO – This year, nature grabbed us by the labels and all but made us stop. The global pandemic has awakened a sense of urgency where shrinking biodiversity and climate change failed to do so. As Chile now restarts its economy, wildlife conservation should be front and center, because the conditions in our country are worrisome.
Wildlife populations around the world are crashing at an unprecedented rate. The Living Planet Report 2020 released two weeks ago by the World Wide Fund for Nature, formerly the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) revealed that an average of 68 percent of the world’s wildlife populations have plummeted in the last four decades, mostly due to human activity. Latin America is the most affected region, with a decline rate of 94 percent since 1970.
The report cites a vast list of facts that proves once again that humanity’s increasing destruction is not only harming our planet’s biodiversity, but also our own health. We are destroying the natural world that supports us in an accelerated way.
Endangered Species in Chile
Chile is known for its variety of natural ecosystems, each one with its own flora and fauna. Nevertheless, wildlife populations here are suffering, too. Among them, are the following we must strive to protect.
- Blue Whales: These are the biggest animals in the world – up to 27 meters long and between 100 and 120 tons. Every summer they return to northern Patagonia to feed. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the blue whales are at risk of extinction. Currently there are approximately 12,000. This low number is primarily a result of the fact that it was legal to hunt them through the 20th century. An estimated 400,000 were killed in that period. Currently, the vulnerabilities are ocean contamination, overfishing that affects their food source, high noise exposure from marine activity, and ship strikes.
- Ruil Trees: This species is considered rare. It has a small native range and can be found in the El Maule region. It’s one of the forest species that have diminished the most in the last four decades. The area of occupancy is estimated to have decreased by 60 percent between 1981 and 1998. Since then, it has decreased another 20 percent. The main causes of their decline are land use changes, including the expansions of forest plantations.
- Loa´s Water Frogs: This small frog lives only in one place: a single stream located in the Atacama Desert. With the stream dried up, they are nearly extinct, with only 14 known specimens still alive. Experts removed them from their natural home to see if they could save the species. The original cause of their decline was illegal water extraction.
- Huemul: This iconic species is dying. It represents the “reason” on Chile’s emblem (A condor also appears next to the huemul, representing the force). It dwells in the Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia. Experts estimate there are only 1,500 left. Their numbers have plummeted because of destruction of their habitat, attacks from wild dogs, and cattle diseases.
- Arica’s Hummingbird: This beautiful bird is endemic to Chile. It is the smallest of the Chilean species. Principally, it lives in the Vitor, Camarones, and Azapa valleys. In the last 40 years it went from being the most common bird to the scarcest. It was declared to be at risk for extinction in 2012. Climate change and the destruction of their habitat are the main drivers.
- Native Bumblebee: Native bumblebees are also in danger of disappearing. They are located mainly in the Chilean Patagonia. It is estimated that 90 percent have disappeared. Their decline is provoked by invasive species: insects brought from Europe that are killing and using their food resources.
- Darwin’s Fox: As the name suggests, it was first described by the scientist Charles Darwin. It lives in two different areas in southern Chile: Chiloé Island and Nahuelbuta National Park. In Chiloé, the estimated number is only 88 and in the national park, approximately 500. Habitat destruction is the main reason Darwin Foxes are disappearing.
Among the previous examples, are common patterns, destruction of habitat and climate change.
In the 2020 WWF Report, the organization takes aim at five different issues that threaten wildlife biodiversity: Changes in land and sea use, including habitat loss and degradation; species overexploitation; invasive species and disease; pollution; and climate change.
WWF Strategies in Chile
WWF Chile was first established in 2002. Its top priority is to protect species in our country, but with special focus on our southern region as it represents one of the 35 most important places for the conservation of biodiversity, at the same level as Galapagos and Madagascar.
Rodrigo Catalán, the Conservation Director of WWF Chile, outlined for Chile Today the importance of creating a law that could protect biodiversity in our country: “There is a [proposed] law that landed a long time ago in the Congress. We need it right away, it’s the most important step.”
Catalán also expressed concern about fishing practices: “Some enterprises and local fishermen are involuntarily catching seabirds and other marine species. We must stop this. WWF wants to work on the issue by modifying their fishing operations to diminish the impact on these species.”
Another strategy is known as “rewilding.” It consists of reintroducing wildlife to its natural environment. For example, Tompkins Conservation in collaboration with Chile’s National Forestry Corporation (Conaf), re-introduced the ñandú in the Patagonia National Park, seeking to strengthen the diminished wild population of these birds in the area.
Referring to the most important goals the organization has, Catalán affirmed, “We are aiming to have 30 percent of our ocean protected, not only by a decree but truly protected and well represented, and for that we need inversion. As for the land, we expect the same percentage.”
On WWF’s future plans, the Director of Biodiversity said he is looking forward to the Summit of Biodiversity of the United Nations, on 30 September 2020, where Chile will have to explain its progress in these matters.