Statement by IUCN Director General, Inger Andersen on World Wildlife Day.
The world is currently facing an unprecedented crisis of wildlife loss. Species have never been more threatened than they are today, with extinction rates 100 to 1,000 times above their natural level – and humans are to blame. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species identifies many causes of this extinction crisis. Most important is loss and degradation of natural habitats, but other major threats include climate change, invasive species, pollution and the unsustainable exploitation of species.
Today we are highlighting the species threatened by the illegal wildlife trade. Fortunately, awareness of this illicit and highly destructive trade is at unprecedented levels, boosted by events such as World Wildlife Day, which we observe today.
Illegal wildlife trade not only threatens large charismatic animals like rhinos, tigers and elephants, but also greatly reduces populations of species that have received less attention. These include pangolins, turtles, cycads, orchids and trees used for timber – upon which the livelihoods of millions depend.
While conservationists have known for decades about the serious ecological consequences of illegal wildlife trade, the implications of the current scale of trafficking means that this issue needs to be kept high on the global agenda and political will needs to be turned into action and results.
A major challenge is improving dialogue between stakeholders such as governments from destination, transit and source countries, local communities, NGOs, law enforcement agencies, customs officials and scientists. This is where IUCN can and does play a critical role. The IUCN Red List provides data on the status of species and identifies which species are threatened by trade. More broadly, IUCN brings governments, NGOs, UN agencies, business and industry together to find solutions to conservation and sustainability challenges.
Working with TRAFFIC, CITES and other partner organisations, IUCN provides invaluable information to guide the decisions of governments in combating illegal trade. For example, in 2013 IUCN and the government of Botswana hosted the African Elephant Summit resulting in elephant range states and ivory transit and consumer states committing to urgent measures designed to protect African elephants and reduce the illegal ivory trade.
Meanwhile, on the ground, IUCN is tackling wildlife crime through two important programmes, SOS - Save Our Species and the Integrated Tiger and Habitat Conservation Programme. Since its inception in 2011, SOS has allocated around US$ 6 million in small grants to actors on the ground to implement anti-poaching activities for species including elephants, gorillas, rhinos, marine turtles, sharks, Siamese rosewood and cycads. There has been improved patrolling, community involvement, training and law enforcement, changing attitudes among the buying public and reduced counts of poaching.
A very important part of the international response must continue to focus on strengthening law enforcement and reducing consumer demand for illegally-sourced wildlife products. However, equally important is the role of communities who live alongside wildlife. This latter point is often overlooked as an essential part of the solution. The imperative role of communities in combatting illegal wildlife trade was the subject of an IUCN-led conference ‘Beyond Enforcement’ held in South Africa last week.
To be sure, the multifaceted nature of illegal wildlife trade is more than a conservation issue – it’s a development challenge, a security challenge, a global challenge – make no mistake, it’s everyone’s challenge.