GENEVA, Switzerland, March 3, 2014 (ENS) – “Some of the world’s most charismatic animals are in immediate danger of extinction as a result of habitat loss and illicit trafficking,” warned UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as the world marks the first World Wildlife Day.

From Geneva to Tokyo and from New York to Nairobi, people around the world are attending special events to mark the day in Bangladesh, Belgium, China, Germany, Mongolia, New Zealand, Peru, Switzerland, Thailand, Togo, the United Kingdom and the United States, among others.

photo exhibit

United Nations officials open the Wild and Precious photo exhibit in Geneva to mark the inaugural World Widlife Day. From left: CITES head John Scanlon, UN General Assembly head John Ashe, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Mar. 3, 2014 (Photo courtesy UN)

At UN Headquarters in Geneva at the opening of the “Wild and Precious” exhibition, featuring photographs of dancing manta rays, elephants, apes and majestic trees, Ban said today, “Wildlife is part of our shared heritage. We need it for our shared future.”

“Wildlife remains integral to our future through its essential role in science, technology and recreation, as well as its place in our continued heritage,” said Ban, calling on all countries to protect biological diversity and halt environmental crimes.

“While the threats to wildlife are great, we can reduce them through our collective efforts,” he said.

UN General Assembly President John Ashe, who is also in Geneva, said, “The exhibition we open today illustrates how animals, insects, plants and trees are all unique pieces forming the beautiful mosaic of our natural environment. Not only do they sustain our livelihoods, they are an integral part of our cultural heritage through tales and legends, symbols and traditions.”

“In the complex symphony of nature, each and every species plays an essential part to maintain the delicate balance of our planet’s ecosystems,” said Ashe.

The UN General Assembly designated March 3 as World Wildlife Day to mark the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, an international agreement by the governments of 176 UN Member States.

Administered by the UN Environment Programme, UNEP, in Geneva, its aim is to ensure that global trade in some 35,000 species of plants and animals does not threaten their survival.

CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon said, “We are thrilled by the enthusiasm and overwhelming support for wildlife coming from so many places and people. It gives us great hope that we can secure a sustainable future for wild plants and animals, as well as for ourselves.”

“This special Day in the UN calendar has given the world a chance to reconnect with our planet’s wild side and has drawn global attention to our collective responsibility – as citizens and consumers – to bring the illegal wildlife trade to an end,” said Scanlon.

orangutans

Critically endangered orangutan mother and baby (Photo by Holly Carroll / Last of the Great Apes)

“Let’s work for a future where people and wildlife coexist in harmony,” he said.

“The United Nations’ first World Wildlife Day coincides with renewed attention being paid to the escalating crisis of wildlife poaching. While providing us with an opportunity to celebrate the fantastic diversity of life on earth it also reminds us of the urgency and responsibility to care for and protect it,” said UN Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“While governments have a key role to play, we as citizens of countries across the globe have a vital role to play in shutting down the markets that sustain this illegal trade which threatens the survival of iconic species such as elephants and rhinos, but also of other threatened animal and plant species,” Steiner said.

Overwhelming support for World Wildlife Day has come from countries across all regions and organizations dealing with agriculture, development, nature conservation and maritime matters to Customs, justice and police as well as the economy, finance, trade and tourism. Civil society groups from across the globe and many committed individuals have expressed their enthusiastic support for wildlife, as has the private sector.

Social media networks have been mobilized world-wide under the hash tag #WorldWildlifeDay and the slogan, “let’s go wild for wildlife.”

Wildlife crime is another form of organized crime and fuels trafficking and terrorism, says Yury Fedotov, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. UNODC is active in two areas essential to reducing such crimes, demand reduction and sustainable livelihoods to combat failure in our “stewardship of this planet’s biodiversity,” Fedotov said.

He emphasized the importance of breaking with the past traditions that help drive these crimes. “Young people are the next generation of potential purchasers of illegal wildlife commodities,” he said. “Working globally, we can deliver science-based information to young people and help dispel the misinformation.”

Irina Bokova, head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, said the agency’s global network of World Heritage sites and Biosphere Reserves are inhabited by some of the most threatened wildlife species: mountain gorillas, pandas, tigers and rhinos.

“I call upon all actors – including, government authorities, nongovernmental organizations, customs services, police forces and the scientific community – to redouble their efforts and deepen cooperation,” she said. “Only by joining forces can we craft a sustainable future for the planet’s precious wildlife and biodiversity.”

pangolins

Endangered Chinese pangolin mother and baby (Photo by VanDerSH)

The world’s largest wildlife protection organization, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, is “delighted to join in the global celebrations of the inaugural World Wildlife Day,” said Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre.

The IUCN maintains the Red List of Threatened Species, the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species.

“World Wildlife Day gives us a chance to highlight the breathtaking diversity of our planet’s animal and plant species and how their continued survival in the wild is intimately linked to ours,” said Marton-Lefèvre.

IUCN, with its deep connection to CITES, has been working on conservation and sustainable use of wildlife for over 60 years, in particular through the 8,500 members of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, bringing the top species conservation expertise to support CITES, IUCN and the conservation community worldwide, she explained.

“In this 50th anniversary year of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, we are cognizant of the ever-growing pressures on the world’s wildlife – 21,286 out of 71,576 species assessed on the IUCN Red List are today threatened with extinction, including one in four mammals, two in five amphibians, one in three corals and one in eight birds.

“We know that conservation works. Thanks to targeted action, backed by political will, we have slowed down the current rate of species extinctions by one-fifth,” said Marton-Lefèvre. “And yet the speed at which species are disappearing is alarmingly fast – up to 1,000 times higher than the natural background rate calculated from fossil records.”

Species extinction is not just an environmental concern – it has profound implications for our economies and societies,” she said. “We sometimes forget that we, as individuals, customers and businesses, rely on wildlife to provide us with the food, fuel, medicine and other essentials we simply cannot live without. And then there is something deeply comforting in knowing that we share our planet with millions of other species which form an amazing web of life.”

elephants

Asian elephant mother and baby at a breeding center, Nepal (Photo by picturette)

The IUCN and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, have produced a photo gallery to highlight the broad range of species that are threatened by excessive trade, some of it illegal. Over-harvesting for trade is the second-biggest direct threat to species after habitat destruction. Plants and animals are often exploited for food and medicine. Animal species are often taken as pets and their parts are used as decorative items.

The gallery includes 15 species of orchids and other plants, reptiles and amphibians, as well as better-known large mammals at risk such as elephants and rhinos. They include:  Chinese Pangolin, Beluga Sturgeon, Lydenburg Cycad, Paphiopedilum urbanianum, Ploughshare Tortoise, Bali Starling, Chinese Giant Salamander, African Elephant, Tiger, Burmese Python, Black Rhinoceros, Giant Armadillo, Oceanic Whitetip, Cowan’s Mantella and Elegance Coral.

The global conservation group WWF had some good news amidst the warnings of today.

On this day, the government of Nepal, WWF and other partners celebrated 365 days without a single case of rhino, elephant or tiger poaching ending February 2014. This is the second time that the country marked such a milestone after 2011.

Shubash Lohani, deputy director for WWF’s Eastern Himalaya Ecoregion program, said, “Nepal’s year of zero poaching is an example of what can be achieved when an entire nation makes stopping wildlife crime a priority in order to protect its natural heritage.”

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