12 March 2014

Africa: Threats of Poaching, Habitat Loss Focus of First World Wildlife Day

Habitat loss and illegal trade are two major threats faced by wildlife, experts said during the celebration of the United Nation's first-ever World Wildlife Day. These twin threats often work together and each has the ability to threaten the well-being of humans as well as wildlife.

World Wildlife Day, established by the UN General Assembly on March 3, 2014, was created to highlight the importance of wild flora and fauna around the globe and raise awareness of issues like loss and illegal trafficking. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the day with remarks in Geneva, while complimentary events were held in New York and Tokyo.

At the event in New York, experts stressed that wildlife conservation is not just good policy for altruistic reasons, but also that wildlife is an important component of global heritage that is intricately tied to Sustainable Development Goals and the maintenance of peace and security.

"Sustainable development cannot be achieved against nature and wildlife," said Maria Böhmer, German Foreign Office Minister of State, at the New York commemoration.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) representative at the talk, wildlife contributes to the livelihood of one-seventh of the world's population, and plays an influential role in the economy of many less developed countries. Tourism is the most visible example; from the game parks of Africa to the coral reefs of the Solomon Islands, healthy species and healthy ecosystems aid in local economies.

Wildlife also provides pest control, pollinators, and medicines in natural, sustainable, and often cost-effective ways. Habitat loss constricts all of these activities, and creates new areas of devastation for natural disasters.

Poaching and subsequent trafficking create more diffuse problems, the WWF reports, with serious economic and development effects. No longer the province of small poachers looking merely to survive, the illegal wildlife trade is now estimated to reach up to $10 billion annually. A new generation of poachers in Africa utilizes helicopters to locate and shoot elephants or rhinoceros with automatic weapons, and complex supply chains to launder the proceeds. On the black market one large rhino horn can be sold for up to $500,000.

Trafficking is often run or assisted by organized crime, and money gained is used to trade in drugs or arms, destabilizing countries or regions. Recent resolutions on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic reflect this, noting the links between illicit wildlife trafficking and political instability.

Illegal and unregulated trade in animals also creates exposure to new pathogens, which can then cause pandemic in livestock or human populations.

Since 1973, the global trade in wildlife has been governed by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. CITES classifies species and regulates global trade, adjusting for local resources and changing conditions.

However, CITES is limited to international trade in its scope and enforcement ability. Because of this, at the New York commemoration event Simone Monasebian, from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, called for recognition of illegal wildlife trade as a crime, with solutions involving national laws and criminal justice systems.

Successfully halting poaching and trafficking will require a multi-tiered approach, with commitment on both the seller and buyer sides to raise awareness and change attitudes toward the practice, in addition to coordinated international legal action.

On the International level, "Strengthening inter-governmental coordination through platforms such as regional Wildlife Enforcement Networks will bolster enforcement and judiciary capacities to ensure criminals are swiftly apprehended, evidence is effectively gathered, and prosecutions dole out strict penalties," Rachel Kramer, Program Officer at TRAFFIC/WWF, tells MediaGlobal News.

"Increasing community engagement in source countries will be essential to deter and report illegal activity," while, "in demand countries, national leaders and other public figures must set an example of not buying or using illegal wildlife products, and encourage consumers to do the same."

The creation of World Wildlife Day was call for concern and action, as 150 to 200 known plant, insect, or animal species go extinct every day. However, it is also an opportunity to celebrate progress and see what is possible with coordinated action. Showcasing the benefit of increased government focus and enforcement, Nepal proudly announced an entire year of zero elephant, tiger, or rhinoceros poaching.

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