In the modern world the planet’s land and oceans are divided by national and international boundaries or borders. Humans must follow the rules set by their countries and more often than not need documentation to cross a border into another country. On the other hand, the wildlife on our planet conforms to no such borders, ecosystems can spread over international borders regardless of any lines drawn on a map. This can have many implications when it comes to conservation work trying to protect certain species.
While policy makers and wildlife managers have to respect the borders of their jurisdictions, wild animals do not. Ecosystems across the globe are divided by political boundaries we have imposed. This subjects many species to different policies, legal and institutional structures, management and governance regimes; they are affected by various social, cultural and economic contexts and systems; and are often impacted by complex relations between countries. The conservation of a single species can become very difficult when the species in question has a range spanning many countries.
To start with, the transboundary nature of many species can cause difficulties when it comes to population monitoring and data collection. When neighbouring nations conduct surveys separately but on the same target species, animals be easily become miscounted – leading to inflated population estimates. For example, a bear count in Norway finding 105 bears. 20 female and 54 male bears found by this survey also showed up in Sweden’s surveys, it was estimated 30-49% of the females detected by Norway had centres of activity in other countries. This clearly demonstrates how separate national population estimates could lead to overestimated wider species counts.
Moving on, perhaps the biggest problem with transboundary species is the differing levels of protection the species will face as they wonder through different countries. Where the species starts its journey might be a heavily protected area, but where it ends up could offer the animal very little protection when it comes to such activities as hunting, poaching and transport collisions. This problem is clearly seen in the case of the African elephant.
Around ¾ of Africa’s elephants cross country borders, traveling up to 50 miles a day. An elephant that starts its evening in Botswana may be in Angola by the morning. The issue here is that in Angola elephants have much greater protection under international law than they do in Botswana. In fact more than half of Africa’s elephants live in border regions where as soon as they cross that arbitrary line, the level of protection they have changes. Poaching groups across Africa don’t care about national borders, they operate across the continent. Conservationists need to be more coordinated transnationally and push for protection to be spread across as much of the elephants range as possible.
Furthermore, the conflict between conservation and national borders is perhaps most pronounced in the marine world. Many of the worlds fish stocks and marine mammals and reptiles have vast migratory paths. As these species pass through the seas they cross over many boundaries. Each country has very different legislation when it comes to managing their marine environment, whether it is concerning tourisms, fishing, shipping traffic or marine pollution. Sea turtles a fine example of this problem. They may be high levels of beach protection, encouraging female mothers to nest in some countries, but as these turtles remain to their feeding grounds (often in other countries) unregulated fishing practices could lead to high adult mortality. In order to conserve migratory species like marine turtles, the whole life cycle and range must be protected, across international borders.
Moreover, as our planets climate is changing at a rapid rate, many of the world’s species are having to undergo massive range shifts. Species populations are relocating to find more suitable climates as their habitat begins to change. For example, as the arctic ice move more poleward, species that used to be secluded from the north are now being able to expand their ranges. This puts pressure on the artic species, like brown bears moving into the habitat and competing with polar bears. Some protected areas will be able to maintain a business-as-usual management regime, whilst others will need a new way of working, often across international borders to conserve different species as their ranges move.
Policy action to encourage practices that will make it easier for species to move through the wider landscape will be critical, such as conservation-friendly farming and agroforestry as well as protected corridors, to ensure species can reach newly climatically suitable areas as climate changes. Monitoring the changes in climate and range shifts will lead to new management strategies when it comes to protected areas. National parks will have to be managed across borders to safeguard species.
This idea of transboundary conservation can also be used to bridge relationships between different countries. Pursuing the creation of cooperative “peace parks” makes a lot of sense for ensuring the security of both wildlife and people. For example, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe all work together to protect large areas of protected land across their corresponding boundaries. Conservation can be used not only to protect animals but can be used to protect indigenous lands and help encourage sustainable development across nations.
In order for transboundary conservation to work smoothly, all those involved should be at the same scientific and perhaps finical level. Those who have knowledge and equipment must help those that don’t in order to successful work together towards protecting species. A great showcase example of this comes from South American Baird Tapir conservation. The largest terrestrial mammal in the Americas ranges from Mexico to Colombia spreading across many different habitat types. Projects from Nicaragua and Costa Rica are working together on a GPS telemetry project across the species range, training local organisations how to participate and help the study. Enhanced collaboration in terms of capacity development, technology transfer, community engagement will help in the creation of an enabling policy environment to contribute to global biodiversity conservation.
Transboundary conservation efforts are absolutely necessary to help protect many of the planets struggling species. Cross-border perambulations, by Tapirs and other species, have so far prompted the creation of several transboundary conservation initiatives. One of the most encouraging it that between India, Nepal and Bhutan. This project covers five interconnected protected areas across the 810 kilometre-long Terai Arc Landscape, in the bio-diverse Himalayan foothills. This area covers the home range of many threatened species such as the Asian one-horned Rhino, the Asian elephant, the red panda and the tiger. Its initiatives like this one that give hope to these species.
Poachers, climate change, disease and indeed nature does not conform to international boundaries, so why should conservation. If we truly want to protect our planets dwindling natural areas and with them the species they hold, conservation most become more inter-connected internationally. National conservation organisations should be encouraged to share research, resources and experience with each other to help similar projects. Our planets species need all the help they can get, and for this to happen humans must work together, in the same direction. Building walls will not save species, only by building bridges can they be saved.