World Environment Day, also known as WED, is commemorated annually on 5th June and is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness on the environment and promotes suitable actions. WED’s agenda is to empower people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development, promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes towards environmental issues, advocate partnership which will ensure all nations and peoples enjoy a safer and more prosperous future.
The theme of World Environment Day 2016 is “Fight against the Illegal Trade in Wildlife” or Zero Tolerance for Illegal Wildlife Trade, which refers to the commerce of products that are derived from non-domesticated animals or plants usually extracted from their natural environment or raised under controlled conditions. It involves the trade of living or dead animals, skins, bones/ meat, or other products.
Wildlife trade is perhaps the most immediate threat to animals in many parts of the world. The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth US$50-150 billion/ year. The global illegal fisheries catch is valued at US$10-23.5 billion/year and illegal logging, including processing, at US$30-100 billion/ year. Illegal wildlife trade is now an emerging issue. Today more elephants are being slaughtered than at any time in the past 20 years. Around 25,000 elephants were killed only in 2013 to supply the illegal ivory trade. For the rhinoceros between 2007 and 2013, the poaching increased by 7000% in South Africa.
Wildlife trade is a serious conservation problem. The world is dealing with an unprecedented hike in illegal wildlife trade, threatening to overturn decades of conservation gains. While, the legal wildlife trade is regulated by the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which currently has 170 member countries. Illegal wildlife trade is attracted by high profits and low risks associated with weak governance, corruption, absence of legislations, weak monitoring and lax penalties. International cooperation and mutual legal assistance among countries can help prevent, combat and eradicate such trafficking.
One of the most powerful tools for addressing illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade is awareness and education persuading consumers to make informed choices. Campaigns to change the public opinion are powerful tools for reducing this demand. This includes the people buying the end product as well as shop-keepers, suppliers and manufacturers.
The key to success in the fight against illegal wildlife trade is collaboration among countries and international agencies. Efficient control of transboundary movements of wildlife products requires good information exchange and cooperation, involving importing, exporting and transit countries. Mechanisms need to be enhanced to facilitate rapid exchanges of information between enforcement agencies. We need to understand the damage this illicit business is doing to the environment, economies, communities and security.
There is a need to change habits and behaviour so that demand for wildlife products decrease. World Environment Day 2016 encourages the celebration for all those species which are under threat and taking suitable local and national actions by all stake holders to help in protecting and safeguarding them for future generations. Urgent action is required which can collectively save the illegal wildlife trade. Let us become better stewards of our planet. Our decisions today will shape the world our children and grandchildren will live in.