An Oxford University research collaboration has found that poorer nations tend to take a more active approach to conservation than richer countries.

Researchers from Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) partnered with Panthera, the only organisation dedicated to protecting wild cats, to assess the level of commitment of individual countries to protecting the world’s wildlife.

The team created a Mega-Fauna Conservation Index (MCI) of 152 countries to assess their conservation footprint and created a benchmarking system which evaluated the proportion of the country occupied by each species, the proportion protected and the money spent on conservation relative to GDP.

African countries were found to top the list, with Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe leading, whereas the United States came in at 19th place and a quarter of countries in Asia and Europe were classed as significantly underperforming.

Leader of the collaboration and Panthera researcher Dr Peter Lindsey, told Cherwell: “This is the first attempt to try to compare the conservation efforts of different countries. We need to be able to compare efforts to create a floating benchmark so that the average effort is pulled up, especially as megafauna populations are dropping.”

On the need to monitor megafauna in particular, he added: “Megafauna act as a proxy for conservation efforts in general, hopefully in the future the study might be expanded to monitor marine conservation efforts.”

Professor David Macdonald, Director of WildCRU, said: “Every country should strive to do more to protect its wildlife. Our index provides a measure of how well each country is doing, and sets a benchmark for nations that are performing below the average level, to understand the kind of contributions they need to make as a minimum.”

The study also explains the reasons for this disparity in contributions to conservation. Mega-fauna are valuable assets and to many less affluent countries their existence provides both a national identity and an economic lifeline in the form of tourism, which provides a high proportion of the GDP of some African nations: for example in 2014 tourism contributed 17% of Tanzania’s GDP.

Dr Dawn Burnham, also of WildCRU, told Cherwell: “What really matters is the idea we have developed, rather than the detail: countries can be ranked in their commitment to conservation, and each country can and should strive to climb the rankings – the details of how the rank is calculated can surely be refined in future, but the idea of the ranking will endure”.

Speaking about the future of the project, Dr Lindsey said: “We will be generally improving the study and making it as fair as possible. Our goal is to have an index that is published annually and the performance of countries regularly assessed.”

At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, developed nations promised to allocate at least $2 billion (USD) per year towards conservation in developing nations. However, current contributions from developed nations are just half of the proposed amount, $1.1 billion (USD) per year.

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