World Wildlife Day is a global observance day designated by the UN as a day dedicated to celebrating and raising awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants on the brink of extinction. This year’s theme is ‘Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet’.

It’s World Wildlife Day today, the 3rd March 2021, and the theme this year is ‘Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet’. The aim is to highlight the central role of forests, forest wildlife species and ecosystems in sustaining the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people globally, but especially the Indigenous people of those forests and the local communities with historic ties to forested and forest-adjacent areas.

Every year I use World Wildlife Day as an excuse to spend some time researching and reflecting upon the theme as much as the state of the world’s wildlife generally, the rapidly diminishing wildlife populations around the planet, and what we can do about the dire situation of wildlife on Earth as travellers, writers and publishers.

This year I find myself reflecting on all wildlife habitats, not only forests, because I’ve been acutely aware over the last year of the impact of humans and climate change on the whole gamut of environments and eco-systems, from rainforest and mangrove forests to savannahs and deserts. I’ll use today to do more research and consider what we can do to help in the coming year. What about you?

World Wildlife Day – A Day to Reflect Upon the Value of the World’s Wildlife and Wildlife Habitats

There are few things that have brought us greater pleasure on our travels over the years than wildlife encounters – from closely observing lionesses and their cubs, above, at Sarova Salt Lick at Tsavo West in Kenya and koala spotting on Kangaroo Island in South Australia to nature walks, mangrove cruises and birdwatching in places as diverse as Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National ParkS’Albufera Nature Park in Spain’s Mallorca, and Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory.

There were few experiences more enriching or more fun than the hours we spent watching wildlife from our room at Sarova Salt Lick in Tsavo West, Kenya, where the accommodation, lobby, restaurant, and bar, in addition to the wildlife safaris, all offered unparalleled wildlife spotting opportunities.

Over three days we surveyed elephants, gazelles, zebras, buffaloes, baboons, monkeys, warthogs, and an array of birds come to drink from a waterhole and small moat separating them from the lodge, observing their interactions, getting to know their personalities, and delighting in the little dramas that played out between them each day. I’d do that again in a heartbeat.

At Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, we spent a week in a house open to the elements overlooking the jungle canopy. The first thing we’d do after making coffee each morning was see how far the sloth had moved on his branch overnight. Around mid-morning and again in the afternoon we’d wait for the rustling leaves, creaking branches and swaying trees that signalled the arrival of a family of capuchin monkeys who would pass through our home twice a day.

Though I have to confess that wildlife watching has brought heartbreak as well as happiness. While I’ll always treasure the moments of joy we experienced seeing ‘the big five’ in the wild for the first time on our inaugural wildlife‘safari’ (ie. the drive from the airport to our lodge) in the Masai Mara, I’ll never forget the intense sadness I felt seeing a mother giraffe, grief-stricken and in shock, running back and forth and around in circles, as the lioness who had just killed her baby calmly looked on.

Every opportunity, as painful or as pleasurable as it was, has confirmed to us that wildlife watching is enough. There’s no need to ride (mistreated) elephants or pose for photos with (drugged) tigers or bears. A circus doesn’t need animals to entertain, as the incredibly talented Cambodian performers prove night after night here under the big top in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

But our interactions with wild animals have also brought a different kind of pain – a pain from knowing that those opportunities to enjoy observing them are greatly diminishing – so much so that in the future my niece and nephews, and your children and grandchildren, might not have the chances to see animals in the wild as we have.

While it’s difficult for an animal lover to observe kills in the wild for the first time, the trauma is lessened by knowing that this is nature and her way of taking and giving back to earth in the form of the circle of life – something that dies gives life to another – but I can never accept what is not natural.

I’m talking about the pointless deaths of wild animals at the hands of humans – whether from trophy hunting, loss of forest habitat, poaching for the illegal trade of ivory or for the luxuriant fur and skins, or for the so-called ‘medicinal’ properties of animal bile, bones, claws, and other body parts.

While governments, park rangers, enforcement officers, and customs officials around the world have been increasing their efforts to protect wildlife, we – you and I – as travellers, publishers, writers, and readers can also do our bit to protect the world’s wildlife and their natural habitats, especially the forests. Because it’s not only wildlife that depend on those forests but indigenous communities, as this year’s theme of World Wildlife Day hopes to highlight.

Our collective efforts can make a difference – and could be the difference between a species disappearing or surviving. Wherever you are reading from on the planet, please click through to the World Wildlife Day website via the link above.

You’ll also find ideas here for things you can do to help save the world’s wildlife from extinction any day of the year, not only on World Wildlife Day, along with links to the websites of more reputable wildlife organisations.

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