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Where would I live?

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Mark Carwardine Mark Carwardine | 15:25 UK time, Thursday, 17 September 2009

Someone asked me a difficult question the other day: if I were an endangered animal, where in the world would I choose to live? In other words, where is safe? I know where isn't safe, which I suppose is a reasonable start.

The Yangtze river basin, for example is home to an astonishing 10 per cent of the entire human population and its increasingly endangered wildlife has been fighting a battle against the odds for years.

Garamba National Park - home of the northern white rhino, which featured in last week's programme - isn't much better, slap-bang in the middle of a war zone.

I don't think I'd choose Madagascar, either: this week's endangered species, the aye-aye, faces an inordinate number of threats from habitat destruction and civil unrest to an unrequited prejudice against anything that looks like an alien. I was really shocked by the damage to the rainforest there over the past 20 years.

I suppose the safest place in the world depends on what sort of endangered animal you happen to be. If you're a kakapo, one of those trusting parrots we meet in the fifth programme, then Codfish Island off the southern tip of New Zealand is a fairly safe bet. Every single bird is cared for 24/7 by a veritable army of volunteers.

If you happen to be an otter, on the other hand, the UK would be better: decades of intensive conservation work here have enabled otters to make a dramatic comeback.

There are official ways of measuring these things. The Environmental Performance Index, for example, quantifies the environmental performance of every country's policies. Switzerland is currently top of the list, but I lived just outside Geneva in the 1980s and, to be blunt, wouldn't necessarily choose to do so again.

So if I had to pick just one country that really, truly, honestly cares about conservation, I think I'd go for Costa Rica. This tiny nation is fifth on the Environmental Performance Index but is home to roughly five per cent of the world's biodiversity. It's by no means perfect, of course, but it does have one of the best conservation records in the world: more than a quarter of the country is under some form of official protection and sustainable development is actually being incorporated into national policy.

As a bonus, Costa Rica has just been rated number one in the 2009 Happy Planet Index (the UK came 74th and the States 114th). Whoever said that conservation is not in tune with our own survival?

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