On 3 March the international community marked its first ever World Wildlife Day. Established by the UN General Assembly, and facilitated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the occasion was designed to celebrate the planet’s extraordinary array of wildlife, as well as to raise awareness around illegal wildlife trade.
“Despite its intrinsic value to sustainable development and human well-being, wildlife is under threat,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told an audience gathered in Geneva. “The environmental, economic, and social consequences of wildlife crime are profound. Of particular concern are the implications of illicit trafficking for peace and security in a number of countries where organised crime, insurgency, and terrorism are often closely linked.”
Earlier, in mid-February, leaders from 46 countries pledged to scale-up cooperation to combat illicit wildlife commerce. This follows a series of statements over the past few months and years in other international fora, such as the UN Security Council, the European Parliament, the G8, as well as national and regional initiatives.
Wildlife commerce - legal and prohibited - sits at the nexus of trade, development, and the environment. Indeed, a key negative impact of wildlife trafficking is that it unsustainably strips countries of vital natural resource assets. This extends well beyond terrestrial mega-fauna such as rhinos and elephants to include key trade industries such as fish and timber.
Adopting a multifaceted approach that includes demand reduction, law enforcement, as well as sustainable use, is vital to tackling various illegal wildlife trade challenges. But establishing specific policy responses will be a complex, nuanced exercise, necessarily dependent on a host of variables, including the specific wildlife good and trade in question. Also of relevance are the number and nature of jurisdictions involved.
This issue presents two papers offering a glimpse into a few of the many options advocated in the wildlife trade debate. Despite profiling these positions, BioRes does not intend to advocate any specific perspective. First up, independent conservation economist Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes focuses on the controversial topic of legalising trade in rhino horn. Under what circumstances could this offer a sustainable conservation alternative? A separate piece by Nav Dayanand of Fauna & Flora International assesses the potential of free trade agreements to work forconservation.
The policy intersection between trade and wildlife is often polarising. International consensus exists, however, as to the damaging impacts of illegal trade. Both global action and continued research will be important to alter the current narrative and inform a future sustainable path.