World Wildlife Day is on March 3. Wildlife is important to our environment for many reasons, but did you know that wildlife impacts human health, too? From mental health to our food systems, wildlife is an integral aspect of human life and health. Learn how protecting wildlife and their natural habitats can help humans thrive.
Wildlife can impact the health of human populations all over the world, including in the United States.
Experiences with wildlife can be good for mental health.
Since the health of humans can be improved by healthy wildlife populations, protecting wildlife is good for human health.
Wild animals cover this planet, from the oceans and lakes to the land and the air. But wildlife doesn’t just co-exist with humans on this planet, they impact parts of everyday living, and that includes having impacts on human health. Wildlife can impact physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual areas of health in many ways.
Being around nature is good for mental health
Experiences in nature can be deeply meaningful, powerful, and essential to mental, emotional, and spiritual health for many people. Experiences like looking out at a peaceful lake that exists because a beaver dammed a river can be incredibly calming for the mind. Watching a deer across a meadow, eating from the grassy earth, can be equally calming and powerful. Perhaps more simply, hanging a bird feeder and happily watching a blue jay, a cardinal, or another bird feed from your window can be peaceful. In fact, experiences with wildlife or the ways they have adjusted to an environment can be so pleasant and good for a person’s mental health, that even conjuring these images in your mind may be calming.
More than that, many cultures, including that of many Indigenous communities, recognize wildlife for their spirituality. Those connections may take many forms, but the end result is the strong positive connection that people, including their spirits, feel to the wildlife in their area.
Wildlife interactions can also be restorative. Time spent in nature can be exactly what the mind and body need to recharge. For many people, time spent in and with nature, including wildlife, can be very invigorating, giving them the energy they need to head into another work week or other circumstances. Activities that people may engage in for these health benefits may be bird watching, wildlife photography, fishing, or hiking, amongst others.
Wildlife impacts our food systems
Wild animals can have vastly different impacts on our food systems.
In the case of fruits and vegetables, many crops rely on the healthy and abundant presence of wild pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and other insects, to pollinate blossoms and grow fresh produce. In some instances, the byproduct of the pollination process is a sought-after food — such as bees and honey. Healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are essential for good human health outcomes.
However, wildlife can also have negative impacts on food production, thus negatively impacting human health. For example, in the United States, a pack of wolves or coyotes may kill a flock of chickens in a single night or a few nights of persistent attacks. Alternatively, wild waterfowl, such as ducks, may carry diseases like avian influenza that can make a flock of chickens sick or even kill them.
Wildlife – an important element for some medicines
Many medicines are developed from or inspired by naturally occurring substances. Some medicines and drugs that are used routinely today include elements taken directly from living species while others are inspired by the unique properties observed in some organisms during scientific experiments.
Examples of medicines that include wild elements are aspirin, which contains a compound that was inspired by salicin from the bark of willow trees, or some cancer treatments, which may contain taxol from the bark of western yew trees. These trees, like any component of a healthy forest, rely on complex biodiversity to thrive and continue to reproduce. Other wildlife-inspired drugs include the first ACE inhibitors to treat hypertension, which were inspired by experiments with Brazilian pit viper venom.
Protecting wildlife protects health
By protecting the wildlife found across the country and around the world, humans can actually protect their own health. Wildlife has significant and unique positive impacts on health that should be regarded as essential to human health.
But so many wild species are in danger. Climate change, habitat loss, biodiversity loss, and other human-caused environmental degradations are threatening the survival of many species. In some cases, species are being forced into new habitat ranges to survive warming temperatures, while in other cases, species are being completely wiped out due to city sprawl and habitat destruction.
There are many actions you can take to protect wildlife, and thus human health. A great place to start is being more informed of the health benefits that wildlife provide and understanding the ways that wildlife are threatened. Other opportunities for action to protect wildlife include:
- Be green. Reducing your carbon footprint is an important aspect of slowing climate change.
- Advocate. Become an advocate for wildlife. Donate, volunteer, and speak out about wildlife issues.
- Consume less. Reduce your waste and decrease your plastic consumption.
- Leave no trace. When engaging in outdoor activities, leave the environment in as good or better condition than you found it — take only pictures, leave only footprints, but consider collecting trash too!
Our environments are filled with wildlife that contributes to the state of our health. Not only is there a benefit for the animals being protected, but protecting wildlife is good for human health, too. The next time you are out enjoying the health benefits of wildlife, consider if there are ways to support those wild species too.
Happy World Wildlife Day!
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