Connected landscapes: the future of wildlife conservation

A new system needed that integrates landscape wide planning to benefit threatened and iconic wildlife species amidst the global pandemic

→ The deeply interconnected challenges of our planet's unprecedented warming, rapid loss of its biodiversity and the global pandemic have laid bare our fraught relationship with nature.

There has never been a point in time that the interplay between the intactness of ecosystems, unchecked development and economic growth, and the impacts of these changes on human health have been so apparent.

Governments around the world are actively preparing stimulus packages expected to pour trillions of dollars into initiatives to help revive their economies and recover from the impacts of COVID-19. These efforts offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance to embrace an economic model that resets our relationship with nature and to find the critically-needed solutions to help forest landscapes and the most threatened habitats to remain intact and to continue providing benefits in a responsible and sustainable way. With the backdrop of the global COVID-19 pandemic recover efforts, the hope is to build back better through a sustainable bridge between environmental and economic activities, by ensuring that going forward, multi-use landscape planning not only takes wildlife needs and their habitats into account, but prioritizes it.

Primates, such as the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti) shown here, are known connectors of habitats and most likely to adapt to modified environments. Different forms of land-use from human induced change and extractive industry pushes biodiversity further into human-modified landscapes, where native habitats are surrounded by modified land covers. Recent research suggests that the ability of species to use these emerging changed landscapes remains poorly understood and that primates are good indicators and proxies of how different species, including threatened wildlife, adapt and the risks posed by widespread landscape change.

A recent article from the journal Nature this week calls for a deeper integration of strategic parts of the world’s farmlands to nature help mitigate both climate change and biodiversity loss. Another study from Nature suggests that a landscape approach to conservation efforts, which include both protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, are likely to extend and diversify going forward and remain key to meeting global protected area targets as part of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework to be agreed upon at the fifteenth conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

GEF Consulting Inc. is excited to be designing a flagship project for COP 15 in Kunming, Yunnan Province in concert with the State Forestry and Grassland Administration of the People's Republic of China and the UNDP China Country Office to safeguard key threatened and iconic wildlife in China through cross-sectoral engagement, community participation and innovative management technologies across landscapes.

The global pandemic is the result of a degradation in the relationships between human systems and wildlife. It has added an extra dimension of urgency to efforts at tackling global challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss. Recognizing that the pandemic is the result of a breakdown in the relationship between human systems and natural systems, the focus of responses to it should not be limited to strengthening public health systems and propping up economies with status quo mindset, but should also encompass the protection of ecosystems and contiguity of landscapes and the maintenance of their functions.

At its core, the project being formulated by GEF Consulting, through its newly formed International Development and Conservation Practice, is aimed at showing that effective landscape approaches is an investment in human health and the emergence of zoonoses must be viewed through a multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral lens, as well as to define limits to human encroachment into ecologically sensitive and vulnerable areas.