Want to Keep Things Alive? Talk to Indigenous People.

A member of the Tupiniquim tribe in Manaus, Brazil. Photo: Lisa Hermes.
A member of the Tubi tribe in Manaus, Brazil. Photo: Lisa Hermes.

When Indigenous people are in charge of the land, things don’t die. A new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Policy found that lands managed by Indigenous people have the most biodiversity compared to other parts of the planet, reports Aristos Georgiou in Newsweek.

The study examined land and species data from three of the world’s largest countries: Australia, Brazil and Canada.

Researchers compared the number of species present in:

  • Indigenous-managed lands
  • Protected areas
  • Random locations in the three countries

They analyzed data on the global distribution of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).


Who wins the award for keeping the most species alive?

Members of the Baré People
Members of the Baré people. Cuieiras River, a tributary of the Rio Negro, Amazonia, Brazil. Photo: Daniel Zanini H.

When it comes to the number of species that are alive and present, here’s how things panned out:

  1. Lands managed or controlled by Indigenous people have the highest number of species present.
  2. Protected areas have the second highest number.
  3. Other locations have the lowest.

“The number of species present is equivalent or even slightly higher on Indigenous-managed lands than protected areas,” said Richard Schuster, a co-author of the study.

“Both have higher numbers of species than random locations, indicating that Indigenous-managed lands and protected areas are better at protecting species than random locations, which in itself is a good sign.”

Indigenous people manage or have tenure over roughly 25 percent of the Earth’s land area.

Based on the countries analyzed in the study, in the 75 percent of the Earth’s land area that is not managed by Indigenous people, impacts on biodiversity are severe.


One million species are threatened by extinction right now.

We are currently facing a global biological crisis. According to a report published by the United Nations, a mass extinction, sometimes referred to as the Sixth Extinction, is underway that is hundreds of times higher than the average species extinction rate over the past 10 million years.

At least one million species today will become extinct unless serious action is taken to reduce the drivers of biodiversity loss.

Aboriginal Australian Woman
Aboriginal Australian Woman. Photo: Steve Evans.


According to the UN, the five key causes of biodiversity loss are:

  1. Changes in land and sea use
  2. Direct exploitation of species
  3. Climate change
  4. Pollution
  5. Non-native species in the environment

“We need to work on protecting nature better,” said Schuster, “but our current protected areas might not be enough to get us there. Other forms of land management could help; one very important one is Indigenous Peoples’ land management practices.”

“Protected areas are a cornerstone of biodiversity conservation globally, but current levels of protection will be insufficient to halt the planetary extinction crisis,” added Peter Arcese, who co-authored the study. “We must manage a larger fraction of the world’s area in ways that protect species and lead to positive outcomes for people and the species they’ve relied on for millennia.”

Inuit family traveling by boat
An Inuit family traveling by boat near Pond Inlet, Nunavut Territory, Canada. Photo: Ansgar Walk.

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