The 4 th December 2017 marks World Wildlife Conservation Day and here at The Great Projects, there is no other day that is quite as synonymous with what we do as this one, so we just had to blog about it! So what is World Wildlife Conservation Day and what’s it all about? Originally created in 2012 by the then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, a ‘ call-to-action’ was released by the U.S. government to try and raise awareness on the issues relating to animal conservation and trafficking around the world.
The above statement was given by Hillary Clinton in November 2012 during the ‘ Wildlife Trafficking and Conservation: A Call to Action ’ event which outlined four ‘calls to action’ in an attempt to address, eradicate and overcome the escalating issues that our world faces with regard to wildlife trafficking and trade. The four actions were as follows:
The ideas behind World Wildlife Conservation Day are simple, but as you can imagine they are difficult to implement globally as the issue, as Hillary Clinton says herself, ‘…is a global challenge that spans continents and crosses oceans’. But as always, the first step is speaking out and raising awareness of the issue first, and the establishment of World Wildlife Conservation Day can only be a positive thing!
But first, let’s talk about the specifics of trafficking and poaching, and the issues that we are trying to combat globally through events like these. Firstly what is trafficking? Trafficking, simply put, is the trade of something illegal. Most people assume drug or human trafficking when they hear the term, though wildlife trafficking is becoming as lucrative as both. Now we’ve cleared that one up, what’s poaching? Poaching is illegally hunting on land which doesn’t belong to you or, more specifically, hunting an animal which is protected.
Now, it is no secret that poaching was once considered the norm, particularly the ivory trade. Currently the UK allows trade of ‘antique’ ivory that was made pre-1947. However, the UK government announced last month that the sale and export of almost all ivory items would be banned, except for musical instruments, items with only a small proportion of ivory, items of significant historic, artistic or cultural value and sales between museums. Whilst this is a start, it is by no means enough, as currently the UK is the largest exporter of legal ivory in the world. Back in 2011, 23 metric tonnes of ivory were seized by the authorities across the globe. To put that figure into perspective, that is the equivalent of 2500 elephants that have been subjected to torture and brutality in the name of trading ivory. International trading for ivory has been banned since 1990, but elephant numbers are declining rapidly due to the high demand for ivory in countries such as China and the increase in poaching and trafficking. An average of fifty elephants a day are killed for their ivory - when will this unnecessary practice end?
But it’s not just ivory and elephants that are bearing the brunt of poaching. Shark numbers are declining rapidly due to the practice of finning (the removal of shark fin), which is sold to countries such as China for the delicacy ‘Shark Fin Soup’. A kilo of shark fins sells for around $700, so it is unsurprising that this is a lucrative trade, but one that is killing an estimated 50 million sharks a year. Other marine life that is suffering at the hands of poachers includes sea turtles as demand for their leather, shell, meat and eggs are extremely high in the Far East. This branch of illegal poaching is particularly disturbing as the animals and their by-products are illegally obtained, to then be sold legitimately as food/medicine to many unsuspecting people.
High profit margins drive the illegal trafficking and poaching trade, with items such as rhino horns worth more than both gold and cocaine. Due to sheer speculation and myth, rhino horns are coveted in Vietnam due to the local belief that they can cure cancer. Demand drives this illegality all around the world and it shows no sign of slowing down. According to the African Wildlife Foundation, there are about 450,000 elephants and just 25,000 rhinos remaining on the African continent.
‘If poaching continues at these rates, we may see the extinction of two of Africa’s most charismatic species from some of their core habitats in the next 20 years.’
I’m sure you’ll all agree that the above is a frightening ultimatum. It is clear to see that the illegal wildlife trade needs to be ground to a halt. World Wildlife Conservation Day was established in order to start fighting this illegality and to make waves across the world. To make a difference, we need to talk about it. So, has anyone made a conscious effort to celebrate it? Has the corporate world used their influence to try and make a change? Let’s have a look.
First of all, one of the world’s most recognisable foundations supported the establishment of World Wildlife Conservation Day and pledged to ‘raise awareness and engage conversations’. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) is probably the world’s most prominent and well-known charitable organisation, with endorsements and partnerships with huge celebrities and multi-billion-dollar companies, such as Coca-Cola. All publicity is good publicity, right? With the WWF on board with World Wildlife Conservation Day, they automatically offered another invaluable platform to the cause. But did it spark any other changes?
Well, due to the establishment taking place in the US, the majority of endeavours have taken place there, alongside most of the celebrations. Many events have taken place in zoos and parks across the US, with an emphasis on a combination of education and fun. For example, this year The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is hosting a large event dedicated to World Wildlife Conservation Day with a view to encouraging children to learn about local wildlife.
However, it must be said that generally speaking, many of the celebrations have petered out since the day was founded in 2012, and is unfortunately not as ‘high-profile’ as World Wildlife Day, celebrated on 3 March. This is most likely due to a combination of a shift in US politics (i.e. Donald Trump’s presidency and its impact ) and the general passing of time. It is important to remember that whilst we are at breaking point in terms of climate change, rapidly declining endangered animals, and issues with poaching/trafficking, Trump’s administration are most likely going to undo much of the work that has been done since 2012. Trump has recently dissolved the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal linked to Hillary Clinton’s efforts to establish conservation and wildlife as a major concern. Whilst not established to specifically combat the issues in question, as it is primarily a trade deal and designed to make trade easier, it is important. As Barack Obama outlined in his speech:
Obviously, this is a major blow to all those concerned with wildlife, conservation and trafficking, as anything that can help us eradicate these issues is a priority. Furthermore, it is likely that trophy hunting (the practice of recreationally hunting animals, and keeping a part of the animal as a ‘trophy’) will not be banned due to Trump’s own sons actively hunting in their spare time.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though: in the past few years many companies have altered their policies in accordance with the increased media coverage on wildlife trafficking and conservation. Though this is mainly linked to ‘World Wildlife Day’, it is important to remember that World Wildlife Conservation Day was established a year prior, and there is no doubt that it had a major influence on the UN’s decision to found it. This day is also associated heavily with the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (USWTA), a ‘voluntary coalition of non-profit organizations, companies, foundations and media interests,’ which was founded in 2014 on the back of Clinton’s first call to action.
A few years later in 2016, major companies such as Google, Ralph Lauren and Tiffany & Co. have improved their own wildlife product policies, and retailers such as LiveAuctioneers.com, Etsy and eBay have made moves by banning the sales of body parts of protected species. These improvements are so important and cannot be underestimated as they have a huge customer-base spanning all ages on a global level. Check out the other companies that have committed to combatting wildlife trafficking and read their statements here. Another fab development in the world of wildlife trafficking was the creation of ‘United for Wildlife’, a movement created by The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Their influence and power cannot be underestimated, and they have attracted the pledges of many major companies in their fight against wildlife trafficking (such as Emirates Airlines, Quantas and DHL) and have ambassadors such as David Beckham, Andy Murray and, of course, the royals themselves.
Only time will tell if all the hard work put in over the past five years has made a difference, but hopefully our world is finally on the right track. The fact that wildlife trafficking is still newsworthy is a good sign, as it needs to be discussed and debated to keep it in the media. A study in August 2017 found that China’s ivory market is slowly declining, most likely due to the devastating news in 2016 that the population of African Elephants had declined by well over 50% in 25 years. With the legal commercial ivory trade about to be prohibited in China next year, it is clear that some progress is definitely being made. Read this for more information. In addition to this, changes are afoot in both the US and the UK (as mentioned previously) with new regulations on ivory being established in order to combat the illegal ivory trade in the US, and in an attempt to halt the growing number of poaching incidents abroad.
In addition to this, the European Union has set out new measures that plan to target and combat wildlife trafficking within the EU countries more effectively. Much of the online community has also pledged to spend more time on targeting wildlife crime through social media and information sharing systems. This has already had a massive impact and has triggered investigations that have resulted in the discovery of 200kg of ivory. And speaking of the online community, Google and the WWF have collaborated on the ‘Google Project,’ which is currently developing and testing different technologies which support anti-poaching. Read all about the work that has been done here.
So, we’ve covered a lot of ground today, and it seems as if progress is being made. The most important thing is that the truth of wildlife trafficking and the importance of conservation is covered in the mainstream media, and we can only hope that it becomes part of the everyday consciousness of the public. At the beginning of this article, I spoke about ‘calls to action’, and what the US government hoped to achieve and introduce as part of World Wildlife Conservation Day. Over the past five years, these goals have been achieved, but there is plenty more that we can do as individuals. So here are five calls to action that everybody can manage. Here goes:
We really hope you’ve enjoyed reading article, we know it’s been a long (and serious) one! But as you well know, it’s not always sunshine and roses in the animal world, and right now it’s tough out there. By reading this, and pledging to spread the word, you can be part of those who are fighting the issues that World Wildlife Conservation Day set out to address. It’s an extremely important topic, and we must keep it alive, so that wildlife trafficking and poaching becomes a thing of the past, and conservation becomes a top priority globally. Before we leave you today, why not take a look at our infographic below? Here, you can see how numerous species across the globe have been impacted throughout time. Be a part of the change - become a volunteer today.
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