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World Environment Day (WED) is an annual event which is widely celebrated on 5th June as a global day for positive environmental action. The WED was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 and has grown to become one of the main vehicles through which the United Nations (UN) stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and encourages political attention and action.
WED is designed to give a human face to environmental issues, empower people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development, promote an understanding that communities are central to changing attitudes towards environmental issues; and advocate partnership which will ensure all nations and people enjoy a safer and more prosperous future.
WED is also a day for people from all walks of life to come under one common goal to ensure a cleaner, greener and brighter view for the present and future generation.
The theme for the WED is “Go Wild for Life”. The theme is very relevant to the present context where the illegal trade on wildlife products have escalated to higher levels. Angola is the host country for this year’s WED celebrations. Angola, a country in southern part of Africa bordered by Namibia, Congo and Zambia, has a rich biodiversity with a pristine coastline and home to critically endangered species like elephant, giant sable antelope and long-horned leaf-eater.
The host country Angola along with 12 other African nations had signed the Elephant Protection Initiative, which focuses on safeguarding elephants through measures such as closing down domestic markets. At the same time, Angola has promised to fulfil commitments under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), including stepping up implementation of its National Ivory Action Plan.
Environment related crime is now the world’s fourth largest illicit enterprise after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking and has outstripped the illegal trade in small arms. According to an estimate by the UN and Interpol, the value of the black market industry behind crimes such as ivory smuggling, illegal logging and toxic waste dumping has jumped by 26% since 2014 to between $91bn and $258bn. The illegal wildlife trade leads to declining of the biodiversity of the world thereby increasing the threat of extinction of many endangered species. Many of the species have already become extinct as a consequence of illegal wildlife booming trade, to name few Javan rhino in Vietnam, western black rhinos in Cameroon, Great apes in Gambia. Some of the alarming facts and figures released by UNEP indicates that since 2009 there is 60% decline in the African Savannah Elephants from Tanzania, 90-fold increase in the rhino poaching in South Africa from 2007 to 2015. Recently in countries like Gambia and Togo, Chimpanzees have become extinct.
WWF’s report indicates that the causes for flourishing illegal wildlife trade is the high profit margins the traders get by selling the wildlife products and in many cases, the high prices are paid for rare species. This causes vulnerable wild animals being pushed further to the edge of extinction when nature can’t replenish their stocks to keep up with the rate of human consumption. The majority of WWF’s work to stop illegal wildlife trade is usually done in collaboration with the wildlife trade monitoring network (TRAFFIC).
They also closely work with compatible partners, including conservation organizations, local communities and governments. WWF’s expertise ensures that the threats to the environment from wildlife trade are tackled from an informed and global standpoint. WWF main priority is to stop wildlife crime as it contributes to largest direct threat to the world’s most threatened species. It is second only to habitat destruction in overall threats against the survival of species. So, steps should be taken in order to strengthen the gaps in the protection of wildlife.
According to CITES report, the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime welcomed the results achieved during Operation COBRA III, an international law enforcement operation conducted in May 2015 with the aim of combating wildlife crime and bringing the criminals involved to justice. This operation resulted in 139 arrests and more than 247 seizures, which included elephant ivory, medicinal plants, rhino horns, pangolins, rosewood, tortoises and many other plant and animal specimens.
The key successes during the operation included the arrest of a Chinese national believed to have been coordinating rhino horn smuggling from Namibia, the arrest of a notorious elephant poacher in India and the seizure of 340 elephant tusks and 65 rhino horns in Mozambique. Over 50,000 illegal wildlife items were seized in the United Kingdom, as well as an additional 10,000 in Austria and 5,000 in Germany, which included large volumes of illegal supplement capsules containing wildlife products.
Other countries where large numbers of illegal items were seized include China, Singapore and South Africa. In total, 37 countries reported seizures and/or arrests during the operation.
This is a welcome news, strengthening such globally networks that will tackle illegal wildlife trade is pivotal to save wildlife from further depletion from the earth.
At the same time, we should reinforce our efforts in creating more awareness programme to encourage people to celebrate WED on large scale at various levels like schools, colleges, local area involving community, environmental groups, local government bodies in all possible ways.
This will help creating a positive impact for people to understand the damage illicit wildlife trade is doing to our environment, livelihoods, communities and ecological security.
We should also change our habits and behaviour so that demand for illegal wildlife products falls. More awareness and action pushes governments and international bodies to introduce and enforce harder laws and combat those still willing to break them.
(The writer is a Chevening Scholar at the Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom. He is also serving as Assistant Professor at the Department of Environmental Science, Pachhunga University College, Mizoram University, Aizawl. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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