World Wildlife Day 2017: Blogs from the Wildlife Conservation Society

Why Should We Care That March 3rd Is Now “World Wildlife Day”?

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World Wildlife Day, March 3, recognizes the day in 1973 on which the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was adopted. Photo ©Kalyan Varma

By Susan Lieberman
March 3, 2017

[WCS is recognizing World Wildlife Day with a series of blogs from across our programs.]

The United Nations does a great job declaring random days in the year for commemoration or celebration. There are International Women’s Day, World Water Day, World AIDS Day, and more than 100 other special days. So why does it matter that this March 3rd is the 3rd annual World Wildlife Day declared by the UN General Assembly? Why care that this is a day that the UN has declared to “celebrate the many beautiful and varied forms of wild fauna and flora and to raise awareness of the multitude of benefits that conservation provides to people”?

This date is important in conservation history, and it’s important both to celebrate wildlife, and to re-commit ourselves to conservation on a global scale. On March 3, 1973, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was adopted. CITES is a critical international treaty that works to ensure that international trade does not threaten the survival of species in the wild.

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Today one of the primary threats to many species is poaching and trafficking illegally in their parts and products. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.

The treaty started out small, but today 183 governments are members of the treaty, and it is recognized as one of the most important and effective conservation treaties. Governments have used CITES to make great strides in the conservation of the more than 35,000 species listed on the Convention’s Appendices, though much more work needs to be done.

Today, much of the world’s wildlife is in crisis. There are multiple threats, including habitat loss, climate change, over-exploitation, and unregulated development, but one of the primary threats to many species is poaching and trafficking illegally in their parts and products. This wildlife crime involves hundreds of threatened and endangered species, from elephants, rhinos, and tigers, to less well known birds, reptiles, fish, and plants. We are seeing the result of rampant greed and corruption, leading to soaring poaching and illegal trade to feed growing markets, and it is local people and wildlife that suffer.

Poaching and illegal wildlife trade are serious crimes, driven by demand, facilitated by corruption, and linked to organized crime. This illegal trade poses a threat to species, ecosystems, and the well-being and livelihoods of local communities. The UN has declared March 3rd as World Wildlife Day — not only to recognize the intrinsic cultural and ecological values of wildlife, but to help galvanize a global effort to end illegal wildlife trade, on the anniversary of the CITES treaty.

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We should all use this day to re-commit ourselves to ending the scourge of illegal wildlife trade. Photo ©Keith Ellenbogen.

We should all use this day to re-commit ourselves to ending the scourge of illegal wildlife trade. Citizens, organizations, and governments should all commit on this day, and every day, to increased enforcement and support to rangers on the ground, an end to the corruption that feeds the illegal trade, and an end to purchasing and marketing of ivory and other endangered species products. Let us turn World Wildlife Day into a celebration of action, and not a celebration of continuing endangerment and pending extinction of precious species.

The theme of this year’s World Wildlife Day is “Listen to the Young Voices” — calling on all of us to listen to and empower youth. There are events all over the world. For myself, having worked on wildlife trade for 30 years, the voice I am listening to is that of my young granddaughter. She will be three years old next month, and her voice is calling on me to redouble my efforts to ensure that the world she inherits will be rich in wildlife and the wild places on which they depend.

On this World Wildlife Day, in a world of great uncertainty and increasing environmental challenges from all corners, there are two choices: either my granddaughter, and all the young of today, will look back and condemn my generation for squandering their inheritance and the wildlife of our planet, or they will be able to look back and thank us for the responsible stewardship of our planet. The choice is in our hands. Happy World Wildlife Day!

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Dr. Susan Lieberman is Vice President for International Policy at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

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