WWF-Pacific joins the global community in celebrating World Wildlife Day
“Fiji like other parts of the world is unique in terms of wildlife biodiversity but having this wildlife also comes with responsibility, we need to protect them from abuse and ensure that these wildlife continue to perpetuate in numbers through adequate size and quality of habitat for successive generations of Fijians to continue to appreciate, and derive the multiple benefits they provide through their existence,” highlights WWF-Pacific’s Conservation Director, Francis Areki.
This year’s World Wildlife Day theme falls on the protection and awareness of the world’s ‘Big Cats - Predators under Threat’. These creatures include species such as lions, tigers, cheetahs, jaguars, pumas and leopards that are found in Africa to Asia and the Americas.
“We might not have large animal species like lions, tigers or even elephants but Fiji is home to unique terrestrial wild species found nowhere else in the world such as the Fiji Banded Iguana, endemic birds such as the Gau Petrel and assorted endemic plant species as well.”
“Fiji is also a major migratory route for marine species such as whales, turtles, sharks and rays and their global populations are tending towards decline as they suffer from overharvest, destruction of their breeding grounds and a false general perception that they will continue to be abundant,” said Mr. Areki.
WWF-Pacific has been present in the South Pacific since 1995 working with stakeholders and governments on conservation works in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
These Pacific areas are a priority for WWF not only because they contain one of the world’s most pristine natural environments, but home to six of the seven species of marine turtles, whales, sharks and rays and a magnificent array of reef fish species that includes the endangered humphead wrasse.
Additionally, many of these species are also dependent on Fiji’s Great Sea Reef, which is the third longest continuous reef system in the Southern Hemisphere and WWF-Pacific’s Fiji office priority focus site.
In a snap shot, Fiji boasts the richest avifauna (bird species) in Western Polynesia and is home to endemic living animal treasures. The Collared Lory (Phigys solitaries), Crimson Shining (Prosopeia splendens) parrots and the Orange Dove (Chrysoena victor) are just some of the 25 bird species endemic to Fiji. The monkey faced bat is only found in Fiji along with the Fiji Crested (Brachylophus vitiensis) and Banded iguanas (Brachylophus bulabula). Fiji also is home to two amphibians; the Fiji Tree Frog (Platymantis vitiensis) and the Fiji Ground Frog (Platymantis vitianus).
“WWF Pacific has evolved gradually with the support of its conservation partners in Fiji from project specific work isolated to particular areas around Fiji to now larger seascape-landscape initiatives, one being the effort to establish networks of marine protected areas across Fiji’s Great Sea Reef, which covers the regions of four provinces of Macuata, Bua, Ba and Ra.”
“Our work continues to be focused on protecting biodiversity especially marine ecosystems- mangroves and coral reefs and ensuring effective connections with community livelihoods and development. Fiji has been gradually moving toward promoting sustainable development and WWF and its partners continue to support this movement. Fiji cannot develop without its natural resources and likewise our natural resources cannot exist if we do not manage and use them sustainably,” revealed Mr. Areki.
However, the Pacific region continues to be challenged in its efforts to effectively and sustainably address issues relating to our wild animals and plants. Tuna stock, turtles, sharks, and dolphins to name a few are continuously faced with illegal and unsustainable harvest and trade practices, poaching to even unsustainable consumption through demand. This is further compounded by the Pacific’s heavy reliance on such resources for livelihoods and development.
“The major challenge in my opinion continues to be a lack of awareness and understanding on why we need to protect wildlife such as turtles. It is a common perception that because some of these species were abundant in the past, they will continuously be as such. This is a false assumption, even turtles need time and a good habitat to feed and breed. Especially so, in times of disaster, they need time and space to recover, their food source restored and their life cycle build up to the normal pattern”
“It is the same for any species, in order for them to increase their numbers they need time to breed, grow and multiply. So if we continuously harvest them indiscriminately and continuously how can any species really increase in numbers.”
“With the lack of proper management and control, climate change makes the situation worse, by impacting the ideal conditions of their habitats and again their survival. One of the biggest issue is changing mindset, and WWF and its partners are committed to ensuring we aggressively raise awareness and issues relating to the environment and wildlife, so that every citizen in the country which is the dream where everyone becomes a steward for nature, whether you are a housewife, businessman, politician or taxi driver you take an active responsibility to care for the environment and wildlife,” added Mr. Areki.
WWF-Pacific’s Conservation Director adds WWF-Pacific strives to work on building partnerships and strengthening capacity with the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), national governments who are parties to the Convention, international and regional organizations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (SPC), Pacific Islands Forums Fisheries Agency (FFA) and locally based conservation groups to support action to address threats and challenges to the conservation and sustainable management of our wildlife.
“Government is the machinery that enables the protection of wildlife under law and partners play a supportive role to provide grounded information for government to utilize in its decision making processes relating to wildlife and the environment,” added Mr. Areki.