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The Big Five threats and why wildlife needs your support

When I think about the big issues facing our wildlife today, images of poaching and wildlife trafficking immediately come to mind. Following the recently released WWF wildlife report Connecting South Africa’s wildlife, landscapes and people, I am reminded of the many other human-induced impacts that also affect our country’s special creatures.

© Peter Chadwick/WWF
Wildlife are an indicator of the health of the ecosystems which sustain all life on Earth.

I summed up that there are two prevailing problems affecting wildlife - and five growing threats, which we must address if together we are to turn the tide on the loss of our biodiversity.

Habitat loss

As our human population grows, this puts pressure on the Earth’s limited natural resources. In turn, natural land is converted for agriculture and urban development as well as transport and mining, so the range land of animals is reduced and fragmented. Loss of range leads to smaller isolated wildlife populations which have a higher extinction risk.


Whether done legally or illegally, I discovered that hunting and harvesting at an unsustainable rate is referred to as direct overexploitation, where animals are removed faster than they are born and so populations cannot recover.

As the human population expands and natural habitats shrink, human wildlife-conflict is predicted to increase.

So, what are the Big Five factors threatening wildlife?

Threat 1: Range and land changes

Animals need space to live and roam, yet their natural range is on the decrease as the result of our growing human population, increased demand for resources and related changes in land use. I was not too surprised to learn that more profitable land use can out-compete conservation, particularly in terms of the potential for economic growth and job creation. 

​Threat 2: Rising temperatures, reduced rainfall

It’s getting hot in here. Within most of our lifetimes, in the next 50 years, South Africa is expected to warm between 1°C and 3°C , with reductions in rainfall by 5% to 10%. Changing climatic conditions will impact our local biodiversity. Plus, in the next 30 short years, areas that are currently climatically suited for our terrestrial biomes are estimated to shrink by a whopping 40%!

Threat 3: Reality of human-wildlife conflict

It makes sense that both people and animals have similar needs and are drawn to areas with sources of water, food and shelter. Conflict tends to arise from threats, both real and perceived. These are potential and perceived threats to people, property, livestock and crops - and competition for resources.

I was also saddened to be reminded of intentional poisoning as a response to human-wildlife conflict resulting in the indiscriminate deaths of widespread wildlife species, including elephants, carnivores, vultures. In some cases this has also affected human livelihoods. 

© Mickey Wiswedel/WWF
WWF’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project has recently moved its 200th rhino since it started in 2003.
Threat 4: Rise of new markets for wildlife products

Supply and demand: There is always a risk of new markets emerging for wildlife products which then increase the demand and fuel the illegal trade. Rhino horn, for example, has gone through a variety of uses since the 1960s - from being a prized substance for dagger handles in Yemen to the current South-East Asian market as a status symbol in business relations.

Threat 5: Reduced conservation investment

Ultimately the success of conservation actions depends on both government and the global community having the will to conserve the Earth’s wild places and the species living there!

Hence the essence of this fantastic wildlife information resource is a timely reminder that government investment is fundamental for providing policy frameworks that enable conservation while the ‘global community’ is actually each and every one of us who can contribute and support. There is value in nurturing an ethos of conservation in ourselves, and our society.

Will you support our work to conserve wildlife for the benefit of people and nature?

Sue Northam-Ras Photo
Sue Northam-Ras, Communications Manager

Sue believes in making information valuable by writing and shaping content in a way that gives it meaning. She packages the environmental content for WWF South Africa.

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