THE right to life does not refer to human rights alone.

It could also mean the right to life of wildlife. However, 2010 might be the year of the endangered Visayan warty pig in the wilds, the river turtle, the disappearing fireflies of your childhood, wild and uncultivated herbs and flowers that lost out to commercial centers and subdivisions.

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The United Nations declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB). Advocates, however, worry the campaign may not go beyond sound bites and slogans with over half the human race now living in cities and their wildlife experience often limited to googling, and watching NatGeo and Discovery channels.

Biodiversity is closely linked with forest conservation. Or its obverse side, deforestation. Deforestation induces not just killer floods and mudslides but also unleash the next deadly virus; or pest infestation.

“Human beings are becoming increasingly cut off from nature,” said Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). “Without contact [with nature], people are not aware that their patterns of consumption lead to habitat loss, pollution and other drivers of biodiversity loss,” Djoghlaf emphasized.

Biodiversity conservation is not “sexy” enough topic that could get governments, corporations, media and individuals to act with the same urgency that they have shown in addressing the threat of global warming.

I agree. It’s “unsexy” because who cares about wild boars and beautiful deer unless they’re served as exotic meats? Well, I do. And not on a theoretical level but on a personal level.

I remember when the Broad Initiatives for Negros Development implemented a relief-and-rehab project in the early 1990s. The victims were Oringao farmers in Kabankalan.

The natural calamity was not a flash flood but a sudden attack of thousands of rats that consumed rice and cornfields about to be harvested in a week’s time. That reminded of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

I went with other field staff to interview the project’s impact on the beneficiaries. What they told me made my hair stand on end.

The rats attacked the fields, using a V-shaped formation. The alpha rats were on the pointed end, followed by males, then females, then the pups. Some burrowed underground, while others clambered up the stalks.

Unfortunately, there was no Pied Piper to come to the rescue. The farmers tried rodenticide. They were effective at first, but eventually the wily animals learned how to avoid the poison.

They tried other traps. But the rodents learned to avoid them, too. The small cat population couldn’t deal with the infestation either. There were too few of them.

Finally, the farmers knew tried prayers, begged that the rats would leave some of the grains to tide over the family until the next harvest.

We presented the project reports to a provincial conference. Here are some of the salient conference conclusions. First was habitat loss.

Oringao was fast losing its tropical forests. And with habitat loss come the disruption in the food chain of prey and predators. With deforestation, the first to go were the raptors. The hawks, the snakes and the civets soon were gone.

With no one to prey on them, the herbivore forest rats grew and expanded its population. With deforestation, however, they lost the plants to eat inside the denuded mountains. The burgeoning rat population has nowhere to feed, and the only available food sources were the farms.

We realized then that if humanity is to eat and ensure food security, wildlife has to have its own homes and food sources. Otherwise, there will be a war between humans and nature.

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