Wildlife expert talks about biodiversity, conservation and public health
- Malaika Vaz is a 24-year-old National Geographic explorer, television presenter and wildlife filmmaker.
- His work has highlighted the relationship between environmental conservation and public health.
- Vaz spoke with Insider about supporting biodiversity to achieve peaceful coexistence.
- Subscribe to Insider Sustainability.
Malaika Vaz, National Geographic explorer, TV presenter and wildlife filmmaker, understood why conserving ecosystems is crucial for all species on Earth. The 24-year-old windsurfer and free diver, who is also the founder and creative director of documentary production company Untamed Planet, swam alongside tiger sharks in the Maldives and studied the enduring leaf-nosed bat Kolar. disappearance in a cave of Kolar. , in the Indian state of Karnataka.
“We live in an interconnected world,” Vaz told Insider. “No matter what sector you work in, your actions have a direct impact on wildlife conservation.”
Ahead of the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22, Vaz gave Insider an overview of his travels around the world and why environmental protection and sustainability are keys to peaceful biological coexistence and of a healthier planet.
Can you explain what you learned about bat conservation by filming your segment on Al Jazeera’s “Savage Recovery”?
Bats, although vilified, are among the most important animals for our ecosystems. They reduce insect populations and are plant pollinators, helping global agricultural systems through the dispersal of seeds. However, nearly 200 species of bats are now threatened with extinction. Humans and bats can be both vectors and victims of each other, whether it’s COVID-19 or the white-nose syndrome that is devastating bat populations. So while their protection is important for ecological reasons, it is also essential from a public health perspective, as we have learned from this pandemic.
The location where my team and I filmed this episode was one of the few conservation reserves in the world created to conserve a small, less popular species like the Kolar leaf-nosed bat. One aspect that I would have liked to explore further in the program was the ripple effect that protecting these bats had on the ecosystem. Once the granite mining stopped and the reserve had a chance to rebound under these pressures, the vegetation began to grow again, the birds returned, and recently the forestry department spotted larger ones. predators like leopards returning to the area. The fact that a tiny bat can be an umbrella species for a host of other besieged biodiversity is incredible.
How could other forms of conservation and environmental protection save us from future global public health crises?
We must phase out the wildlife trade. Since eating wild animals is still seen as a marker of ‘success’ in parts of Asia and the world, I think storytelling can make a difference. Powerful films can advocate for a world where we do not consume endangered species. In addition, the protection of wild habitats and the regeneration of spaces are imperative if we are to prevent future global health crises. COVID-19 could be that galvanizing event that pushes us to protect our natural world with more urgency.
You were elephant tourism and trafficking survey. What have you learned from your investigation so far?
Wildlife tourism is far more insidious than we can imagine and something that we can change through our actions. I investigated how elephants are brutally trafficked in the wild, negatively affected by a life in captivity, and also filmed the solutions to protect them and ensure a wilder future for them.
One thing everyone can do is be more aware of our impact on protecting wildlife. Any wildlife experience that allows you to get up close and personal with a wild animal like you would a pet or domestic animal is unethical.
With more people getting vaccinated and wanting to travel, are you worried about the rise in tourism and the potential increase in habitat disruption around the world?
No, I think wildlife tourism, if regulated, can be a positive force. In many parts of the world, communities that live alongside wildlife are being driven into illegal activities like logging and trafficking in wildlife from a place of desperation. The economy is the engine of conservation, and if these same communities can find employment in tourism, it will greatly reduce their dependence on the forest for their survival.
Having said that, I believe it is essential that tourism is fair for rural communities living alongside wildlife and that a portion of the income generated from safaris, wildlife experiences and the hospitality industry is derived from it. in fact reflects on the inhabitants.
What type of change in the corporate sector do you think would make the biggest difference in promoting a cleaner world?
The majority of the environmental pollution and habitat destruction we see around us is fueled by large companies in the oil and gas, textile, food production and automotive industries. , among others. These companies must rethink the sustainability of every step of their production and invest in eliminating harmful impacts such as dumping toxic chemicals into the ocean and destroying virgin forests for new industrial areas.
There has been a lot of talk about the importance of working to make the world a cleaner and more waste-free place by 2030. Do you think this timeline is plausible?
People should make changes in their lives if they can and if it is possible given their constraints. But the responsibility lies with the business sector and our governments. Companies like Impossible Burger and Tesla are slowly changing the way the food we eat and the cars we drive impact our planet while keeping consumers happy.
Likewise, we need bold innovations in the plastics sector, subsidized by governments. If these alternatives are widely available, are as effective and at a similar price to plastic, there is no reason why we cannot create a world without waste by 2030.
Your “Living with Predators” series for National Geographic Wild highlighted the tribal communities that peacefully coexist with the big cats. Why is it important to show this kind of coexistence between humans and animals?
For a very long time, we have portrayed communities that live alongside wildlife as human barriers to conservation or as powerless beneficiaries of international (often neocolonial and interventionist) conservation efforts. Reality couldn’t be more different. Local conservationists, tribes, and trained rangers have the potential to protect species and conserve habitats in ways that no outside nonprofit or government could hope for.
I don’t think humans and wild animals can coexist all over our planet. A one-size-fits-all approach to conservation will never work, and it’s important that we view certain wild spaces as inviolable and allow people and animals to coexist together in other places.
What advice would you give to people who wish to contribute to conservation efforts?
Make a donation [to conservation organizations] help, but try to find smaller, community-run, local organizations that you can support rather than just the more visible global NGOs that have name recognition.