The Guardian today launched The Age of Extinction, a major multi-media reporting initiative to substantially expand global coverage of species loss and related ecological destruction. A key feature of the series will be to explore the most promising solutions for halting these alarming trends. Support for this ambitious effort is being provided by the BAND and Wyss Foundations through theguardian.org. The series will run through December 2020 when governments will convene to seek consensus on increased measures to protect biodiversity.
The Age of Extinction comes on the heels of a comprehensive UN report warning that the rapid deterioration of the natural world imperils the conditions necessary for human existence and well-being. These include our ability to produce food, energy and medicines and to derive cultural, spiritual and other non-material benefits essential to our quality of life. Among the report’s critical findings is that more than one million species are at grave risk of extinction.
“We are rapidly diminishing nature’s ability to sustain and inspire us,” said Nick Lapham, President of the BAND Foundation. “The Guardian is the global leader in environmental reporting and offers the perfect platform to bring a new level of attention, depth and consistency to coverage of these urgent issues. By explaining the threats we face and profiling the people, organizations and ideas that can lead us out of this crisis, we hope The Age of Extinction will empower policy makers and other key stakeholders to take the bold actions needed to help nature recover and thrive.”
While the term “endangered species” conjures images of rhinos, elephants and great apes, plants are undergoing their own extinction crisis, especially on islands where range-restricted species are under siege from introduced mammals, habitat conversion, climate change and other factors. We still know relatively little about these island plants, including their evolutionary histories, unique chemical properties and interrelationships with local insects and other species.
Perhaps nowhere is the plant extinction crisis more acute than Hawaii where 45% of all plants listed under the Endangered Species Act are found. Fortunately, Hawaii is also the site of one of the world’s most audacious and effective plant conservation programs. The Plant Extinction Prevention Program (PEPP), a BAND grantee, is dedicated to keeping endangered plants—those with 50 or fewer individuals left—from being lost forever. Before PEPP’s establishment in 2003, Hawaii was averaging one plant extinction per year. PEPP’s field botanists have reduced that number to zero, but their work is now under threat from federal funding cuts. Keeping Hawaii’s and other plant species alive is going to require broader public awareness and support for the importance of plants and the work of PEPP and others who dedicate their lives to safeguarding botanic diversity.
Researchers with the BAND-funded Mara Predator Conservation Program (MPCP) have recently discovered an active den of highly endangered wild dogs just inside the northern boundary of Mara North Conservancy. The conservancy is an innovative partnership through which local landowners pool and lease their land to tourism operators in exchange for receiving regular payments and retaining the right to graze their livestock.
The pack’s den is very close to the conservancy border in an area threatened by fencing and agricultural conversion. MPCP is working with the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association and other partners to engage local communities in developing strategies for safeguarding key habitat corridors and reducing human/wildlife conflict. A number of local Maasai landowners recently agreed to remove fencing around their properties, a critical move for the future of wild dogs and other species in this high priority conservation landscape.
As seen below, there appear to be nine young pups at the site. Wild dogs have long been persecuted across their range for predating on livestock and are also highly vulnerable to canine distemper and other diseases. Their presence here is testament to the critical importance of mixed use landscapes outside national parks and protected areas, and their persistence on such landscapes depends entirely on community tolerance. MPCP is urgently working to raise funds to assist in monitoring these dogs and in implementing measures to reduce the risk to local livestock.
Honeyguide is a Tanzanian NGO working to develop successful models of community conservation across over one million acres of critical habitat in northern Tanzania. Honeyguide engages in long-term partnerships with local communities aimed at achieving ecological viability and financial independence in priority sites, including Randilen Wildlife Management Area in a project funded by the BAND Foundation.
Honeyguide’s strategies include reducing human/wildlife conflict; increasing revenue generation from tourism and other sustainable land uses; strengthening management and governance of community wildlife areas; and guiding, training and equipping village game scouts. Two of these village game scouts, Lerumbe Kaay and Shinini Simel, have recently been selected to receive the prestigious 2019 African Ranger of the Year Award from the Paradise Foundation. Lerumbe and Shinini were among 50 winners from 17 countries. These videos briefly tell their stories.
The African Ranger awards seek to recognize the essential role of rangers in conserving Africa’s wildlife. An estimated 20,000-25,000 rangers work across the continent to safeguard elephants, rhinos, gorillas and a host of other species often at great risk to themselves and their families. In addition to highlighting their achievements, the awards provide direct financial support to the rangers.
Epilepsy afflicts more than 10 million Africans. Only 10-25% receive treatment.
African Epilepsy Congress
This past August the 4th African Epilepsy Congress was held in Entebbe, Uganda. The meeting, organized by the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) and the International Bureau for Epilepsy (IBE), welcomed clinicians, researchers and advocates from across the continent who aim to improve and expand epilepsy care. Participants addressed clinical management issues specific to Africa and discussed the vast challenges to narrowing the epilepsy treatment gap and eliminating the stigma, shame and abuse that impedes care.
This meeting came on the heels of a newly released World Health Organization publication titled “Epilepsy: A Public Health Imperative”. Its key finding: “50 million people worldwide have epilepsy, making it one of the most common neurological diseases globally. Nearly 80% of people with epilepsy live in low- and middle-income countries. It is estimated that up to 70% of people living with epilepsy could live seizure-free if properly diagnosed and treated”.
During the conference, many advocates and patients powerfully described the physical abuse, isolation, shame and denial of educational, social and employment opportunities that can result from epilepsy, which in certain instances is even believed to be contagious. They noted that epilepsy’s social stigma continues to be driven in part by a pervasive belief in witchcraft, with the disease often seen as a curse or retribution on a family. Mainly, epilepsy is viewed as a mental health problem, with traditional healers as the first line of care deploying treatments that can be both dehumanizing and unsafe.
Meeting participants railed against the injustice in epilepsy care, noting that affordable medication could immediately and dramatically improve the lives of the millions not currently receiving treatment. African governments were urged to further integrate epilepsy into existing health care systems. Representatives from Kenya, Zambia, South Africa, Eswatini, Mauritius and Mozambique gathered to discuss the BAND-funded project aimed at making epilepsy a national priority in their nations. sharing challenges and successes. In a letter read to all conference participants, His Royal Highness Prince Bandzile of Eswatini said:
“This is a time to unite and fight epilepsy, the silent killer. I call upon all Kings and Presidents of Africa, First Ladies, Princes, Princesses, traditional authorities and local governments to formulate an alliance to fight epilepsy.”
Media reporting on biodiversity loss often focuses on high-profile animals like elephants, rhinos and tigers. Less well known are the dramatic declines facing a range of other species, many of which play critical ecological roles and have profound importance for human economies, cultures and livelihoods. BAND funded National Geographic to report on some of these stories — including this award-winning piece on the illegal trade in the giant freshwater fish of the Mekong — through Wildlife Watch, its platform dedicated to covering wildlife exploitation.
Prior to European settlement, the landscape of the Southeastern United States was a mosaic of many habitat types, including significant and varied grasslands. These grasslands and the rich biodiversity they contain have been greatly diminished due to development, loss of large herbivores and fire suppression. A new article on Yale Environment 360 describes how a BAND Foundation grantee, the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative (SGI), is working to reverse this trend. Grasslands are one of the world’s most threatened biomes despite their critical importance for biodiversity, carbon sequestration and rural and pastoral communities. In addition to its support of SGI, BAND funds grassland conservation in Kenya, Tanzania and Mongolia.
It has long been understood that seizures can occur in people with Alzheimer’s, and this has been considered a potential factor in the progression of Alzheimer’s dementia. However, the links between Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy are poorly understood. With the BAND Foundation’s support, the Alzheimer’s Association convened scientific and clinical leaders from the epilepsy and Alzheimer’s fields to review current understanding of the biological mechanisms underpinning the respective diseases. The goal of this two-day meeting, held in September 2017, was to plan for future research and catalyze collaborations needed to identify novel diagnostic and treatment strategies. Results of the meeting can be found here.
Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) is the leading cause of epilepsy related mortality, yet remains poorly understood and hidden in the shadows. Despite its significance, health care providers are reluctant to discuss SUDEP and offer strategies that could mitigate this worst outcome of epilepsy. A new article in the American Academy of Pediatrics Journal, Pediatrics, describes elements of a BAND-funded effort to increase understanding and awareness of SUDEP among health care providers and patients at Children’s National Medical Center and the University of Virginia Health System. It underscores the importance of families and providers working in partnership to promote education and SUDEP prevention strategies.
The BAND Foundation supports the Mara Lion Project (MLP), which seeks to answer scientific questions essential to the conservation of lions in Kenya’s Maasai Mara ecosystem and to inform lion conservation more broadly. A fundamental challenge has been to develop an accurate way of measuring the density of lions across the landscape. This information is essential to tracking conservation success, guiding conservation investments and targeting efforts aimed at mitigating human/lion conflict — the latter being a major source of lion decline across the continent. MLP’s project director Nic Elliott has authored a new paper, just accepted for publication in the journal Conservation Biology, that reports on a new methodology for providing accurate assessments of lion numbers. This method, which estimates a total Mara population of 420 lions at a density of 16.85 animals per 100km2, will provide vital information on lion population trends in the years to come.