World Wildlife Day 2017: Blogs from the Wildlife Conservation Society

World Wildlife Day: Conserving Our Natural Heritage for Future Generations

Bushmeat hunting and civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo are major drivers of the two-decade-long collapse of Grauer’s gorillas, but where key conservation measures are in place their numbers have begun recovering. Photo by A.J. Plumptre/WCS.

By Cristián Samper
March 3, 2017

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

Today is World Wildlife Day, a day to celebrate life of Earth. This United Nations-sponsored day of recognition provides an opportunity to take stock of recent successes in protecting wildlife across the globe and the challenges and opportunities we face moving forward.

This year the theme is “Listen to the Young Voices.” That entreaty is a reflection of the growing engagement of young people addressing the critical issues around the use and misuse of natural resources, but also an acknowledgement that every generation has an obligation to leave behind a better world than the one they inherited.

On World Wildlife Day, the U.N. is providing leadership toward meeting this fundamental challenge, recognized in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Governments must continue to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves — the world’s wildlife, as well as the poor and vulnerable people whose lives are closely intertwined with it. And they must continue to stand up for peace and security and for global public goods that are essential if we are to conserve wildlife and wild places.

From near extinction half a century ago, Amur (Siberian) tigers have rebounded to nearly 500 animals in the Russian Far East due to dedicated conservation efforts. Camera trap photo courtesy WCS Russia Program.

The world’s terrestrial and marine wildlife — from elephants and tigers to turtles, eagles, sharks and whales — are iconic and ecologically significant in and of themselves. They also generate millions of dollars of tourism income and millions of jobs in countries around the world, in some cases representing 15 percent or more of GDP for individual countries.

This economic activity supports sustainable livelihoods and food security, and therefore poverty reduction. It likewise increases resilience to growing climate change impacts, environmental sustainability, and protects the world’s natural heritage.

And yet the world’s wildlife remains at huge risk.

The illegal wildlife trade endangers hundreds of species, robbing countries of their national wealth; depriving marginalized, poor people of essential resources; fueling international crime and criminal syndicates; and undermining law, order and security.

WCS elephant researcher Andrea Turkalo and colleagues reported in 2016 that it would take nearly a century for Africa’s forest elephants to recover from their devastating losses due to poaching in the past decade. Photo by Andrea Turkalo/WCS.

In so doing, this illegal trade threatens the wellbeing of the generations of people who come after us. Recently, we have seen an extraordinary and unprecedented high level political commitment to addressing this challenge over the past few years.

Those efforts have included the International Illegal Wildlife Trade Conferences in London, Kasane and Hanoi, as well as an important meeting in Brazzaville, where commitments were made to stop poaching, trafficking, and address the problem of demand, enhance enforcement, and provide alternative sustainable livelihoods when relevant. The next summit is scheduled next year in London.

The U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development envisions a “world in which humanity lives in harmony with nature and in which wildlife and other living species are protected.”

Cristián Samper chairs a panel at the United Nations examining the wildlife trafficking crisis on World Wildlife Day, 2017. Photo courtesy U.N.

Moreover, the past two years saw adoption of the first two General Assembly resolutions on illegal wildlife trade, as well as the support for resolutions dealing directly with wildlife trafficking at the 2016 meetings of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

In response to ivory trafficking and the current poaching crisis facing African elephants, CITES Parties adopted a resolution calling on all governments to close their domestic ivory markets. China, the U.S., and many other countries have closed or are in the process of closing their domestic ivory markets. U.N. Member States can endorse that goal in the next General Assembly resolution on the illegal wildlife trade.

Countries now need to implement this global framework. They must address the illegal trade in African and Asian rhinoceroses; pangolins; tortoises and freshwater turtles; the helmeted hornbill, African grey parrot, and other bird species; and big cats. World Wildlife Day is an occasion to commit further to enhanced enforcement; addressing corruption along the trade chain; combating wildlife cybercrime; and adopting national legislation to give the CITES goals the full force of law.

This year’s United Nations Conference on the Oceans should include a discussion on the illegal trade in cetaceans, marine turtles, sharks, rays, corals, and other marine species. Photo ©Tobias Friedrich.

The ultimate measure of success is increases in wildlife populations, decreases in poaching and improved local livelihoods. States, NGOs, and intergovernmental organizations should prioritize monitoring and reporting of wildlife populations, and poaching rates. Equally important, this year’s United Nations Conference on the Oceans should include a discussion on the illegal trade in cetaceans, marine turtles, sharks, rays, corals, and other marine species.

Countries and donor agencies can increase their funding support for capacity building, training, law enforcement, and on-the-ground enforcement and monitoring, to assist range states in stopping poaching and trafficking of wildlife. Critical to address will be the issue of corruption along the entire trade chain. In the next General Assembly resolution, countries can stand firm in calling for an end to corrupt practices that undermine effective enforcement.

In taking these steps we lead by example and can nurture a new generation of conservation leaders who have grown up mindful of both the threats facing our natural systems and an optimism born of seeing that when governments, NGOs, civil society institutions, and local people work in partnership, we can solve today’s problems to conserve wildlife and wild places for tomorrow.

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Dr. Cristián Samper is president and CEO of 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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