31 July 2014 | Interview by Craig Kasnoff
Jean-Christophe Vié photo by Michel Gunther
This is Part 2 of an interview with Jean-Christophe Vié on Saving Threatened Species from Extinction. Jean-Christophe Vié is the Director of IUCN’s Global Species Programme and Director of SOS – Save Our Species. Vié joined the IUCN Global Species Programme in 2001 as its Deputy Director. He oversees many diverse aspects of the Programme, including regional and global biodiversity assessments and the Red List of Threatened Species, the assessment of climate change impact on biodiversity.
Part 2 of Saving Threatened Species From Extinction
CK: What do you see as the ‘leading’ cause of species extinction? Is there one?
Jean-Christophe Vié: The leading cause is habitat destruction, and whether we like it or not, man-made impacts.It could be forest destruction, or it could be dam building where you completely destroy the rivers and the habitats in the rivers. It could be coastal building where you basically destroy the mangroves and coral reefs.
The second one is over harvesting; hunting, fishing and logging. Another one is invasive species; where, in the new place, the introduced species takes advantage of native species which are not used to a new predator or competitor.
We have others like disease and pollution, but a big one where we don’t really know all the impacts it will have, is climate change. And its impacts will be on top of all the other impacts. The scale of this one will largely depend on our future decisions.
CK: What do you think is the most promising solution to saving species from extinction?
Jean-Christophe Vié: The most promising solution is for all governments to say “we need to do it”; for them to say “we need to stop biodiversity loss”. And governments are starting to say this and that is good. But it needs to be implemented and mainstreamed in all sectors of the economy. People need to realize that to make the economy work, nature is part of the solution; we need fish to make the fisheries work. Nature is also of paramount importance for food security for the population.
Now whether governments mean it or not is a different question.
But, there is not a ‘single’ response. Every species is a special case. So it depends on the threats and it depends on the location.
For sure one thing you can do in some regions is develop ecotourism. Ecotourism works, it brings big money. You pay to see whales. You pay to go on safari in Africa. You pay to go and dive in oceans where you can marvel at fishes and corals. But ecotourism does not have the same potential and return everywhere.
The good thing is we have plenty of successes when we tackle a very specific threat like an invasive species. We have managed to eradicate a number of invasive species on islands where, for example, birds were threatened by cats and rats, or goats and pigs would destroy the habitat.
There are many similar successes.
And sometimes the successes come from policies. The humpback whale is doing much better because there was a moratorium on whaling.
Sometimes it’s because we improve the quality of the rivers so you have salmon coming. This has happened in Europe where the quality of the river has increased and some species have benefited from that.
It is important to note that success never comes from one person doing it in isolation. You need a leader for sure. You need someone who people want to help. But these people need to work with countries and they need to work with people. If you don’t work with the people living with the species, if you don’t have the backup from the countries’ authorities, who can designate protected areas or support important legislation it’s not going to work in the long term.
You also need to educate people and you need to raise awareness.
So, there is no magic response unfortunately, even though I would like to have one.
CK: What is your organization –SOS Save Our Species- doing to help save threatened species from extinction?
Jean-Christophe Vié: SOS – Save Our Species is not an independent organization, it is a programme implemented by IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature. IUCN is the largest conservation network in the world, and certainly the one which has the most experience and expertise in species conservation.
SOS is a partnership we want to grow. It was created with the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank and we now want to bring many partners from the private sector, from governments, from foundations and even individuals who can help as well.
What we try to do is three things.
First, we want to bring more money to the issues. That’s something which is part of the Global Plan for Biodiversity and we need to increase the funding for species conservation and for nature conservation at large.
And to do that, we have capitalized on the ‘attraction’ power of species. People know they can identify themselves with species, so we can simplify a very complicated conservation message by telling stories around species.
So we don’t say species in isolation, we fund conservation projects. Species are the ‘entry’ point.
We work with local populations where we create jobs such as in protected areas so we pay guards. We fund NGO’s around the world, where people are dedicated to actually saving a patch of forest or are trying to save the last population of one species. There are many heroes around the world that deserve to be helped. We have a large reach and can identify the most promising projects.
And we want to raise awareness. So what we are trying to do is ‘pass the word’ about conservation saying let’s be united, let’s talk about wildlife and the need to protect wildlife. But instead of doing that in complete isolation, let’s do that in a more coordinated way. That’s what we try to do with SOS.
SOS gives grants to NGO’s. We don’t do grants ourselves, but we are backed by very big and knowledgeable organizations. So we want to make the most of that.
We are not competing with others. We actually raise money for the conservation community. So we hope by being neutral like that, and by trying to make efforts on behalf of the conservation community, that more people will come and join us.
We are facilitators in two ways. First, I believe that many people want to do something good, including, for example, companies using animals for their logo as part of their brand. And I think that many people want to do something, but they don’t know where to start.
There are so many NGO’s. IUCN has well over one thousand members including eight hundred NGO’s. So it is very difficult to pick the right one knowing they all have a very specific interest.
We are very familiar with this world and the people and organizations willing to help or not. So we can be sort of an intermediary that acts as a ‘filter’ by taking into account the desire of the donors or partners, in an effort to find the right person, or organization, to carry out their intention.
So usually what we do is say “we can write a corporate proposal for you, we’ll look at a variety of projects we think is the best for you, we’ll evaluate them for you using the necessary experts to make sure they are up to good standards.”
THURSDAY – MAY 23, 2013: Part 3 of the three-part interview with Jean-Christophe Vié on Saving Threatened Species From Extinction.
Find organizations saving endangered tigers at Saving Endangered Tigers.