(Vatican Radio) In light of increasing wildlife crime in countries around the world, the United Nations is celebrating World Wildlife Day on March 3, hoping to inspire individuals to join the fight against this illegal killing and trading of wild animals.
The theme for the day is “the future of wildlife is in our hands” with a special focus on saving elephants from the ivory poachers who killed around 100,000 of them between 2010 and 2012.
Wildlife crime currently prevails in Asia’s Golden Triangle, where the desire for exotic animals drives uncontrolled markets selling products of wild elephants, rhinos, and pangolins, a rare kind of scaly anteater. Reports estimate that if trade continues at this rate, these species will be pushed to extinction in the next 10-15 years.
The themes for this year’s World Wildlife Day echo the words of Pope Francis’ speech to UN officials in Nairobi last November, in which he said “we cannot be silent about forms of illegal trafficking which arise in situations of poverty and in turn lead to great poverty and exclusion.” In particular, the Pope mentioned the illegal trade in diamonds and precious stones, as well as animal products, such as ivory trafficking and the relative killing of elephants, which fuels political instability, organized crime and terrorism. This situation, he said, is a “cry rising up from humanity and the earth itself, one which needs to be heard by the international community.”
For more about this year’s event, Sophia Pizzi talked to John Scanlon, Head of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
With the theme “the future of wildlife is in our hands,” Scanlon says the main focus of this year’s World Wildlife Day is that “the challenges we are confronting with the survival of wildlife are not the result of a natural phenomenon, like a cyclone or a drought. It’s a result of what people are doing.” When people are the problem, he says, they must also be the solution. “When it comes to tackling issues such as illicit trafficking in wildlife, we have to tackle human greed, ignorance, and indifference.”
We are all responsible
In order to accomplish this, Scanlon stresses the importance of individual actions. On a regular basis, we can be “informed consumers” by being conscious of the products we buy and we can be “active citizens” by being vocal about wildlife concerns to government officials. “If individuals are expressing they believe wildlife is important, then that will resonate with the politicians and they will take it more seriously,” Scanlon says.
Other individuals, based on their work, are on the front lines of combating wildlife crime. Customs officials, police officers, and rangers, for example, all play major roles in enforcing laws against the illicit trafficking of wild animals.
Progress at international level
The theme of this year’s World Wildlife Day builds upon the themes of the past two years, stressing that we need to combat wildlife crime with the same tools we use to combat other serious crimes such as trafficking in people, arms, or narcotics. Both of these years had a great impact, seeing “fantastic resolutions” come out of last year’s United Nations’ General Assembly.
The voice of the Catholic Church
As an international treaty, CITES was “delighted to see the Holy Father in his encyclical, Laudato Si’, make reference to the importance of international agreements.” Scanlon views the Pope’s words as positive and influential, and says that CITES hopes that one day the Holy See may formally join the 182 countries working together to combat worldwide wildlife issues.