A new paper shows that indigenous lands have a significant role to play in protecting endangered wildlife. The paper, published in Conservation Biology, shows that Indigenous lands cover one-quarter of the world, and a large portion of these lands remain untouched by industrial-level human impact.
“As a result, indigenous peoples and their lands are crucial for the long-term persistence of the planet’s biodiversity and ecosystem services,” says Chris O’Bryan of University of Queensland, and the research team’s leader. “Despite this, we know relatively little about what animals, including highly imperilled species, may reside in or depend on these lands.”
O’Bryan and his team conducted a comprehensive analysis of the number and diversity of land mammals that inhabit indigenous lands.
“We discovered that 2,175 mammal species – about half of the total species tracked – have at least 10% of their ranges in Indigenous peoples’ lands,” says O’Bryan.
“And 646 species – or 14% – have more than half of their ranges within these lands.”
The paper shows that this applies to indigenous lands in several continents.
“The endangered red panda (Ailurus fulgens) and the tiger (Panthera tigris) of Southeast Asia have more than half their habitat within such land,” says O’Bryan. “In Australia, the critically endangered northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii) has 100% of its habitat in these lands.”
The team compared the range and habitat data of 4,460 species of land mammals against maps of indigenous lands, assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and estimated how they overlapped.
For threatened species, 47% occurred on indigenous lands, and a quarter of that number had at least 50% of their habitat here.
“We picked mammals as a bellwether indicator of biodiversity protection,” says O’Bryan. “This is because there’s more data about the suitable habitat of mammals and there is evidence to suggest that patterns observed in mammals may reflect other forms of biodiversity.
“In other words, if mammals are absent, other animals are likely to be absent as well.”
The vastness of these lands and high number of reliant species means indigenous peoples need to be factored into scientific research and policy, the team urge.
“Representatives of indigenous peoples are engaging in global environmental forums and national and local collaboration frameworks, which are critical for equitable and effective cross-cultural conservation activities to be negotiated,” says O’Bryan.
“Greater recognition and support for indigenous people’s rights to, and relationships with, their lands needs to continue, and this pressing imperative needs to balance indigenous self-determination and biodiversity conservation.
“Only through rights-based, equitable and respectful partnerships with indigenous peoples, will it be possible to ensure the long-term and equitable conservation of biodiversity.”
Deborah Devis is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (Honours) in biology and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in plant molecular genetics from the University of Adelaide.
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