It's time to get serious about wildlife crime: UN

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New York, March 4: The Illegal wildlife trade undermines rule of law, degrades ecosystems and severely hampers the efforts of rural communities striving to sustainably manage their natural resources, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday as the intergovernmental organisation marked World Wildlife Day.

"Combatting this crime is not only essential for conservation efforts and sustainable development; it will contribute to achieving peace and security in troubled regions where conflicts are fuelled by these illegal activities," said the UN Secretary general in a message.

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"Getting serious about wildlife crime means enrolling the support of all sections of society involved in the production and consumption of wildlife products, which are widely used as medicines, food, building materials, furniture, cosmetics, clothing and accessories," he added.

World Wildlife Day - observed annually, with this year's theme 'It's time to get serious about wildlife crime' - was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 2013 for March 3, the day of the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

According to the UN, as many as 100,000 African elephants were killed between 2010 and 2012. For forest elephants, the population declined by an estimated 62 percent between 2002 and 2011. In Asia, poached African ivory may represent an end-user street value of $165 to $188 million.

According to new figures released on Tuesday, elephant poaching rates remained virtually unchanged in 2014 compared to 2013, and still exceeded natural elephant population growth rates, meaning a continued decline in elephant numbers overall is likely.

According to CITIES, 1,215 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone in 2014 - this translates to one rhino killed every eight hours. Approximately 94 percent of rhino poaching takes place in South Africa, which has the largest remaining populations and rhino horn poached in 2014 is valued at an estimated $63-$192 million.

The illicit trafficking in live great apes is an increasingly serious threat to chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos in Africa and orangutans in Asia, with seizures averaging 1.3 per week since 2014. It is estimated that a minimum of 220 chimpanzees, 106 orangutans, 33 bonobos, and 15 gorillas have been lost from the wild over the last 14 months, according to the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP).

In his remarks, CITS Secretary General John Scanlon said: "Illegal wildlife trade is threatening the survival of some of our most charismatic species, as well as some plants and animals you may have never heard of. And it threatens people, their livelihoods, their safety and security."

"The situation is serious," he warned, urging the international community to tackle the poaching, transport and consumption of illegally traded wildlife and in so doing use the same sorts of enforcement tools, techniques and penalties used to combat other serious crimes, such as trafficking in drugs or people.

Indeed, once an emerging threat, wildlife and forest crime has transformed into one of the largest transnational organised criminal activities alongside drug trafficking, arms, and trafficking in human beings. Beyond immediate environmental impacts, the illegal trade in natural resources is depriving developing economies of billions of dollars in lost revenues.

"Wildlife crime is a transnational organised crime generating billions of dollars and undermining development. It is also an inter-generational crime that can permanently scar the world through the loss of some of our most beautiful creatures. To stop this, we must act now," said Yury Fedotov, executive director for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is launching new initiatives to halt the illegal trade in wildlife in Asia and Africa. These initiatives will tackle wildlife crime by focussing on law enforcement, regulations, and engaging the private sector and strengthening collaboration between governments within and across the two regions.

"World Wildlife Day is an opportunity to celebrate wildlife, but it is also a wake-up call to get serious about wildlife crime. We must all do more to halt the illegal trade in wildlife. UNDP and its partners are committed to this task," UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said.

World Wildlife Day was marked by events around the world. In New York, the Central Park Zoo featured a high-level expert panel discussion on the links between wildlife trafficking, organised crime and sustainable development. Other observances were held around the world in Cairo, Lima, Nairobi, Seoul, Vienna, Geneva, Berlin and Sao Paulo.

IANS

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