Cost of saving Red List species

White and black rhinos were brought back from the brink of extinction in South Africa in the 1960s to a stable population of close to 20 000. Picture: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

White and black rhinos were brought back from the brink of extinction in South Africa in the 1960s to a stable population of close to 20 000. Picture: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

Published May 26, 2024


Cape Town - Although South Africa, as one of only 17 megadiverse countries on Earth, has done much to protect species from dire threats, much still needs to be done to ensure the survival of the country’s priceless natural heritage.

This was a key takeaway of the recent South African satellite event of the Reverse the Red World Species Congress, that saw speakers from a broad range of national conservation and biodiversity organisations, NPOs, public sector and special interest groups come together to take stock of the status of species conservation in South Africa, work that’s being done to save species (some of which are on the very brink of extinction), and address species conservation challenges.

The South African satellite event took place in the context of the White Paper on Conservation and Sustainable Use. This Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) document gives four goals for conservation: sustainable use, access, benefit sharing and transformation.

“These goals demand that we think creatively and do things differently,” said senior DFFE environmental consultant Mukondi Matshusa.

In setting the scene at the start of the online event, threatenedspecies programme manager at the SA National Biodiversity Institute, Domitilla Raimondo, said South Africa has committed to a biodiversity convention to prevent species extinction.

“South Africa has made great strides in species conservation. We have the expertise, the track record and the scientific and biodiversity proficiency to effectively halt rapid decline of species toward extinction. We have done well and, in many respects, set best practice standards that other regions and nations follow. However, much remains to be done.”

Thirty-five of our freshwater fish species are endangered or critically endangered – nearly a third of fish species in South Africa’s fresh waters. To reverse this, Raimondo said South Africa must significantly scale up its investment.

“In the last five years, R18.6 million has been invested in conserving freshwater fish species. It’s estimated this investment must grow ninefold to take each endangered or critically endangered species off of those lists.”

Similarly, she said, 11 amphibian species are in desperate need of protection. To give them that protection, investment assigned to conservation measures will need to be scaled up fourfold from R22.3m invested since 2019 to an investment of R92.5m over the next five years.

It’s going to take about R965m to save the 16 South African bird species in urgent need of recovery intervention, and more than R2 billion to ensure survival of the black rhino, wild dog and riverine rabbit.

More than 100 plant species are in urgent need of recovery action. Work is under way right now to save only 14% of those (15 different plant species).

The estimated average cost to save plant species is significantly more accessible than saving animal species: estimated at around R2.8m per plant species over a five-year period as opposed to an average of R13.2m per mammal species and R44.2m per bird species.

Weekend Argus