Conservation is an endangered activity

Growing understanding of the world's environmental challenges means activists face more competition for scarce resources.

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The country's decision to help global conservation initiatives has come at a time when the efforts of conservationists are being restricted by financial constraints, according to a UAE conservationist. Razan al Mubarak, managing director of the Emirates Wildlife Society, said humanity's understanding of environmental challenges was reaching new levels of sophistication.

But this also meant conservationists had to compete for scarce resources with campaigners for other sustainability causes. Speaking in Barcelona at a congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) earlier this week, Ms Mubarak announced the launch of a ?25 million (Dh125m) conservation fund by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

"In our vision, it is not just species but species conservation as a whole that is under threat and endangered," Ms Mubarak said, explaining the rationale behind the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, a private initiative of the Crown Prince. "As higher-profile and larger priorities emerge, the funding... for conservation efforts across the board is not sufficient. Too often, species conservation is expected to benefit from the trickle down of our efforts to address the world's 'bigger picture' environmental issues - and it is not being addressed in its own right."

The announcement of the initiative came in a paper highlighting the challenges, including climate change, facing those working to save threatened species. "More recently the meagre funds available globally for environmental protection are even further [stretched] with the realisation of climate change as the major environmental threat of our time," said the paper, available on the fund's www.mbzspeciesconservation.org website.

It said the growing need for conservationists to focus on policy and lobbying stretched further the resources available to people on the front lines of conservation initiatives. Reduced funding was forcing them to choose their priorities carefully, and challenges seen as too hard to tackle were avoided. "A worrying trend has started to emerge where some critically threatened species are being dismissed as beyond help and condemned to premature extinction," the paper said.

To reverse this trend, the fund will support "the on-the-ground champions of species conservation, the individuals in the villages, field stations, laboratories and homes that are dedicated to conserving their local threatened species". IUCN keeps track of rare animals and plants via its "Red List" of endangered species. It has records of 41,000 species, of which more than a third are threatened. Its updated list showed that some species recover with the right conservation efforts.

The Arabian oryx, for example, could soon be downgraded from endangered to vulnerable to extinction thanks to breeding and conservation. Some extinct animals could have given scientists vital clues for developing medicines for humans. The Southern Gastric Brooding Frog in the Australian rainforest, which became extinct in the 1990s, may have held vital clues for researchers looking for a cure for peptic ulcers, for example. The reasons for the disappearance of the frog are unknown.

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