How Can Wildlife Conservation Support Human Development?

By Joanne Lu

Snow Leopard cub

Photo provided by The Snow Leopard Trust.

Conservation and human development are often presented as two separate issues with little overlap: one promotes the wellbeing of our planet and other species, while the other cares for people. But a new UN assessment is warning that a million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction within decades – and it’s threatening human life, as well.

Regardless of whether we live in wealthy or poor countries, our fates as humans are inextricably tied to those of other species. Together, we inhabit ecosystems that supply us with basic services such as food, water and air. Just in the Americas alone, natural ecosystems provide humans an estimated $24 trillion worth of economic value every year, equivalent to the region’s entire gross domestic product.

But even though the earth is supplying people with more food, energy and materials than ever, the UN report says that the activity of more than 7 billion people is altering our natural world at a rate that is “unprecedented in human history.” Increasingly, our farming, fishing, poaching, logging and mining are undermining nature’s ability to continue to provide those very things for us in the future, in addition to other services like water quality regulation.

At the same time, global warming caused by our activities is further driving some wildlife toward extinction. Already the world is 1 degree Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels. If that increases to 2 degrees, the report estimates that about 5 percent of species globally are at risk of climate-related extinction. If temperatures continue to rise to 4.3 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the existence of 16 percent of species will be threatened.

As cohabitants of our environment, it is our human responsibility to respect and protect wildlife. But we also need them to thrive in order for us to thrive. We depend on them as food supplies, pest control, pollinators, medicine, genetic resources and centers of tourism. Our fates are so entwined with wildlife and their habitats that the UN report estimates that the current negative trends will “undermine progress towards 80 percent” of the Sustainable Development Goals relating to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land.

“Our wildlife is not an optional extra, but the basis upon which all our livelihoods and progress depend,” the late Bradnee Chambers, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species, said in 2017. “Only by integrating wildlife conservation with sustainable development will we be able to protect the remaining species on Earth, species from which we benefit in so many different ways.”

That’s why organizations like Vulcan support work in Zambia to protect wildlife from poaching, trafficking, and loss of habitat, as well as to prevent human-animal conflicts. As the human population around South Luangwa National Park increases with development of the area, so, too, there’s been an increase in community conflicts with elephants that are raiding crops and damaging properties. By engaging with the local communities, Vulcan and its partners are finding ways to mitigate these conflicts in ways that protect both the elephants and the farmers. Interventions include elephant restraining fences, chili peppers as a deterrence, watch towers and elephant-safe grain stores. In addition, Vulcan used its technology to help compile the Great Elephant Census, the first aerial survey in 40 years of African savanna elephants across the continent.

Similarly, the Snow Leopard Trust works closely with local communities to protect the endangered and elusive snow leopard and its mountain habitat. Established in 1981 by a staff member of Woodland Park Zoo, the Trust was one of the first conservation organizations to make the economic and social needs of communities in the snow leopard’s habitat part of their conservation solution.

The Snow Leopard Enterprises program, for example, creates economic opportunities (handicraft businesses) for herder women in snow leopard habitats. This financial boost makes families more economically resilient to the occasional loss of livestock to snow leopards. In turn, herders are less inclined to retaliate against the snow leopards. Additional cash bonuses are also awarded to communities if they uphold their conservation commitments.

Woodland Park Zoo continues to partner with the Snow Leopard Trust and supports its conservation programs in Kyrgyzstan. The Zoo carries out other conservation work, as well. Its flagship program works to protect tree kangaroos in Papua New Guinea (PNG) using a community-based strategy similar to what the Snow Leopard Trust employs. In 2009, the Zoo celebrated the PNG government’s approval of a tree-kangaroo habitat as a conservation area with the highest level of protection, including against any form of resource extraction. Since then, the program has been empowering indigenous communities to take on the long-term, sustainable management of the area.

 ecki tree kangaroo

Ecki, a young Matschie’s Tree Kangaroo born at Woodland Park Zoo. The zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program preserves tree kangaroos’ natural habitat in Papua New Guinea’s Huon Peninsula and supports livelihoods of the indigenous people there. (Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo).

Ecki, a young Matschie’s Tree Kangaroo born at Woodland Park Zoo. The zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program preserves tree kangaroos’ natural habitat in Papua New Guinea’s Huon Peninsula and supports livelihoods of the indigenous people there. (Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo).[/caption]

This vision of human development alongside conservation has birthed some unlikely partnerships. Recently Americares, an organization best known for its donations of medicine and medical supplies, launched a partnership with African Parks to provide comprehensive health care for the communities that live in and around conservation areas. African Parks manages 15 wildlife parks in nine countries, but the partnership will begin by serving nearly 100,000 people near two of Malawi’s most important conservation areas.

Conservation efforts are also required thousands of miles away from the habitats of endangered and threatened species. Organizations like Fair Trade USA and Earthworm (formerly The Forest Trust) work with companies to ensure that their sourcing and production don’t harm wildlife habitats. Among its other efforts to promote environmental sustainability, Fair Trade USA partners with Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, which provides businesses expertise and tools for furthering their commitments to sustainable seafood.

Earthworm uses tools like High Conservation Value (HCV) and High Carbon Stock (HCS) forest assessments to help guide activities away from important wildlife areas. It also carries out work on the ground to help mitigate human-animal conflicts in Malaysia, for example, or to teach palm oil plantation companies how to protect orangutan habitats.

These organizations are all taking important steps toward protecting the biodiversity of our planet. Still, the UN assessment warns that the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 may only be achieved through widespread “transformative changes” in the ways we produce and consume everything from energy to food to water to materials.

That’s why organizations like the Seattle Aquarium and Woodland Park Zoo are so committed to inspiring conservation at home. By providing visceral experiences, education, and tools for the public to participate in conservation, as well as their own commitment to conservation principles, these organizations aim to transform how the broader Seattle community views and interacts with life all around us. Changing that perspective is the first step to making conscious choices that move us toward sustainable development – not only for humans, but for our whole world.

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The following Global Washington members are working at the intersection of conservation and human development.


Americares understands that the health of humans and the health of the natural environment are inextricably linked. In May 2019, Americares announced it would be teaming up with wildlife conservation organization, African Parks, to strengthen the capacity of local health centers providing care to people living in and around Africa’s protected areas. The partnership launched in Malawi, where Americares and African Parks will improve access to health care at four health centers, serving nearly 100,000 people near two of Malawi’s most important conservation areas—Liwonde National Park and the Majete Wildlife Reserve—both of which are managed by African Parks on behalf of the Malawian Government. The new partnership will allow the organization to carry out its mission with vulnerable populations living in close proximity to wildlife while advancing conservation efforts that protect ecosystems and benefit communities.


Earthworm is a global non-profit organization that works with companies and other stakeholders to make value chains an engine of prosperity for communities and ecosystems. Active in key commodity producing regions around the world, Earthworm helps companies to ensure that their sourcing and production does not impact wildlife habitat, including that of endangered and threatened species. Tools such as High Conservation Value (HCV) and High Carbon Stock (HCS) forest assessments help guide development activities away from areas that are important for wildlife. In several regions, Earthworm works directly on specific wildlife management challenges. For example, in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, Earthworm staff have trained palm oil plantation companies and others on how to better protect orangutan habitat. In Sabah, Malaysia, Earthworm is working with farmers, plantations, and government authorities to find solutions for mitigating human-elephant conflict in areas where elephants roam beyond the boundaries of protected areas.

Fair Trade USA

Fair Trade USA is a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable livelihoods for farmers and workers, protects fragile ecosystems, and builds strong, transparent supply chains through independent, third-party certification. Its trusted Fair Trade Certified™ seal signifies that rigorous standards have been met in the production, trade and promotion of Fair Trade products from over 50 countries across the globe. FairTrade partners with Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, a leading conservation group, with the goal of improving ocean health and ensuring a long-term supply of seafood.

Global Family Travels

In partnership with non-profit organizations and schools, Global Family Travels provides sustainable travel itineraries that foster cross-cultural understanding and align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 15: Life on Land, SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, and SDG 4: Quality Education. For example, families might elect to travel to Zimbabwe in support of conservation of the African Painted Dog.

The Snow Leopard Trust

The Snow Leopard Trust aims to better understand the endangered snow leopard, and to protect the cat in partnership with the communities that share its habitat. The organization has programs and staff in the five countries in Central Asia that together contain over 75% of the world’s population of wild snow leopards. With support from around the world, the Snow Leopard Trust encourages and empowers people who live in the cat’s habitat to help protect their local wildlife and ecosystems.


Resonance is a global development consultancy that harnesses the power of collaboration to enable communities, companies and governments to drive market-based solutions to global challenges, including in natural resources conservation. In East Africa, Resonance worked with conservation stakeholders on two key partnerships: One was designed to reduce illegal wildlife poaching and trafficking through a reporting and enforcement technology platform; the other helped tourist lodges and hotels source food and services locally. Additionally, Resonance worked in SE Asia to mobilize private-sector resources and investment to strengthen sustainable fishing practices and diversify economies in coastal communities. In the Philippines, Resonance developed a national enforcement partnership between a telco, Microsoft, maritime law enforcement, and fishing communities to reduce illegal fishing, resulting in 10,000 reports, and a seizure of more than 4,000 pieces of contraband. 

Seattle Aquarium

The Seattle Aquarium is a respected authority on the Salish Sea, Washington Coast and greater Pacific Ocean, and serves as the largest platform for ocean conservation and engagement in the Pacific Northwest. Through emerging partnerships and community programming the Aquarium is fostering an emerging ocean ethic, increasing awareness and taking action to help preserve and protect our marine environment. The Aquarium offers a unique window into ocean conservation by offering: compelling exhibits and event experiences; education programs for people of all ages and backgrounds; community outreach to underserved communities; conservation research that advances understanding and improves management of marine species; advocacy and policy work; an award-winning volunteer program; and more. Guided by our mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment, the Aquarium has reached over 27 million visitors, two million school children and is taking on the awesome responsibility of protecting our one world ocean and the amazing creatures that call it home.


Vulcan Inc. pursues initiatives and projects that seek to change the trajectory of some of the world’s most difficult challenges. Vulcan works to improve our planet and support our communities through catalytic technology, philanthropy, scientific research, story-telling and commercial ventures. Founded by technologist and philanthropist Paul G. Allen, Vulcan continues to develop and grow the ideas about which he was passionate.

Woodland Park Zoo

Woodland Park Zoo saves species and works to inspire everyone to make conservation a priority in their lives. The Zoo supports conservation programs in over 30 landscapes around the world, with a strategy aimed at habitat and species conservation, research, education, local capacity building and community management. This includes multiple conservation projects here in the Pacific Northwest, from monitoring wolverine recovery in the Cascades to bringing back the northwestern pond turtle from near extinction. Internationally, Woodland Park Zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program has worked with indigenous communities in Papua New Guinea since 1996 to protect the endangered tree kangaroo and its rain forest habitat. In 2009, the Zoo partnered with 50 communities to create the country’s first-ever community managed Conservation Area. The program is successfully working with community members on scientific research, land-use mapping, education, health, and directly improving livelihoods through the international sale of conservation YUS coffee, which can be purchased right here in Seattle.