By Anicée Gohar
The United Nations Monday commemorated the first-ever World Wildlife Day dedicated to the preservation of the world’s fauna and flora.
“The diversity and beauty of wildlife is not just here for the pleasure of our eyes, but it is also what allows us to survive on this planet”, Achim Steiner, executive director of the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a message released here.
The 193-member UN General Assembly last year declared March 3 World Wildlife Day, as it is also the date of the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
However, the world’s wildlife is in crisis, according to conservationists worldwide.
More than 30,000 African elephants are slaughtered every year just for their tusks, many of those tusks end up in richer countries like the United States, the world’s second-largest market for wildlife products. Frequently, local communities are left at risk in the process.
At a meeting at U.N. headquarters Monday, member states asserted their commitment to combat the illegal wildlife trade, which is the second-biggest threat to species survival, after habitat destruction.
Kenya, a country that depends on tourism for 20 percent of its annual economic growth, warned that wildlife is a crucial attraction for tourists, and that trafficking is becoming “more organised and widespread than ever before”.
Moreover, according to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “wherever illicit trade exists, we find links to corruption, transnational organised crime, and even insurgency and terrorism.”
While it is extremely difficult to put numbers on illegal trade, the Wold Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates it is worth billions of dollars. There are records of over 100 million tonnes of fish, 1.5 million live birds and 440,000 tonnes of medicinal plants in trade in just one year.
In South Africa alone, over 1,000 rhinos were poached in 2013, a reminder that greed, corruption, fraud, and weak policy enforcement enable wildlife crimes on a massive scale.
Gabon insisted on the urgency of tackling wildlife crime for the endurance of “scientific and pharmaceutical research, ecotourism, and the self-empowerment of indigenous people, especially women and youth”.
In fact, all sorts of species of wild animals ranging from insects to antelopes or monkeys are exploited for food especially in rural communities where wildlife often constitutes the major or only source of animal protein.
Other threats to wildlife include global warming, acid rain, air pollution, deforestation, and other land-use changes for agriculture and urbanisation.
Among the roughly one hundred ‘world’ days declared by the U.N., World Wildlife Day is important because it is “an opportunity to celebrate the beautiful and varied forms of wild fauna and flora and to raise awareness of the multitude of benefits that conservation provides to people”.
It is also an occasion to simply be reminded that we are not the only specie living on this planet; in fact, we have become the one that has most threatened other species.