The focus of all our conservation projects is protecting wilderness areas and conserving biodiversity.
It can be regarded as a stroke of good fortune that the Earth's biodiversity is distributed so unevenly. There are tropical rain forests and coral reefs with the highest species densities, and then there are desert and ice regions with very few species, and areas with large numbers of endemic species, i.e. species that occur only in a strictly defined region. It is not, therefore, necessary to put the entire world under a glass dome in the name of conservation. As a rule of thumb: putting 10% of the land areas under strict protection and making sustainable use of the cultivated areas will preserve much of the planet's biodiversity.
However, the areas need to be carefully chosen, focusing on the centres of biodiversity and endemic species. It is also important to prioritise the protection of particularly vulnerable areas and to include sufficiently large wilderness areas which are left to their own natural devices.
Nowadays climatologists have become adept at developing scenarios for different greenhouse gas concentrations and knowing what action needs to be taken on climate change. Similarly, biologists know which regions and species are particularly at risk and what needs to be done for their protection. These two great challenges facing mankind have something else in common: the cost of carrying out this preventive work is well below what it will be if the present negative trends continue.
Protect nature and you also protect mankind. Prof. Bernhard Grzimek
Protect nature and you also protect mankind: as Bernhard Grzimek said in promoting understanding for the conservation of forests, marchland and threatened species. Some time ago, environmentalists abandoned binoculars and rubber boots in favour of laptops and projectors to get their message across. Together with the local communities, they develop land use plans which effectively reconcile use with conservation for the benefit of all stakeholders. Alternative income generation methods and small loans are used as means of breaking out of the vicious circle of overuse and poverty.
People in the Tropics rely on intact forests, clean lakes and rivers which carry plenty of water - much more so than in the industrialised world. For them, the principle of sustainability is one of long-term survival, particularly as there are also often acute shortages.
Protected areas act as buffers, regulators, and refuges - and species-rich cultural landscapes help minimize risks. Over millions of years the Earth has seen mass extinction, ice ages and interglacial periods, comet impacts and volcanic eruptions leading to drastic climate change. Nature will survive. With or without climate change and the extinction of species. The fundamental global changes caused by humans affect one species in particular: humans themselves.
Nature conservation has never been as complex and as sorely needed as it is today. Diseases transmitted by domestic animals claim more victims among wild animals today than the slings and bullets of poachers. Invasive species threaten entire ecosystems. The hunger for resources and energy is determining the way in which nature is treated. Yet it is also becoming increasingly clear that hunger, war, disease, climate change and loss of species and habitats are closely linked factors which must be addressed together. The preservation of biological diversity is one of the great challenges facing mankind.
In fact we already know what needs to be done. We know the centres of biological diversity, and we are aware of the places where large numbers of endemic species inhabit a small space. We know that we need unexploited national parks to maintain biodiversity and that we need to support the water and climate regulating effects of the ecosystems. We are aware of a whole range of actions which can be taken which effectively reconcile people's needs with the requirements of nature conservation.
The Frankfurt Zoological Society staff know that they cannot save the whole world. They have to concentrate on the "treasures": the large, species-rich wilderness areas. Their aim is to preserve representative systems of savannas, wetlands, forests and mountain regions. At present we still have a tight window of just a few decades in which to achieve this. Once national parks and World Natural Heritage sites become established in the public consciousness, the chances are that they will be appreciated and protected in the same way as buildings, works of art and other cultural achievements have been over the centuries.
Conservation pioneers such as Bernhard Grzimek, George Schaller, and Jane Goodall laid important foundations. Hundreds have followed in their footsteps and are now at the forefront in the battle to protect nature, and to protect us all.