World Wildlife Conservation Day is observed annually on December 4. The day came about as a result of a call to action by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012, to raise awareness and engage conservationists. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Wildlife Conservation Day promotes the conservation and protection of threatened species, specifically elephants, rhinos and tigers and raises awareness about the harmful security, economic and environmental effects of wildlife poaching and trafficking.
According to the UN, Wildlife is an intrinsic aspect of sustainable development and is vital for human well-being. It also contributes to the ecological, genetic, social, economic, scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and aesthetic value of a society. However, many species are now extinct or bordering on extinction due to wildlife crime. According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), wildlife crime – any action which contravenes legislation governing the protection of the wild animals and plants – is now the most urgent threat to three of the world’s best-loved species: elephants, rhinos and tigers.
Just how bad is the problem?
Consider these statistics:
- An average of 96 elephants are killed each day. Ivory trafficking and poaching kill 35,000 African elephants each year. About 800,000 African elephants have been killed over the last three decades, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
- A century ago, there were 100,000 tigers roaming the forests, swamps, and tundra of Asia. Today, there are as few as 3,200 left in the wild, and only seven per cent of historic habitats still contains tigers.
- Rhinos were once abundant throughout Africa and Asia with an approximated worldwide population of 500, 000 in the early twentieth century. The Western black rhino was declared extinct by the IUCN in 2011, with the primary cause identified as poaching. In fact, all five remaining rhinos species are listed as threatened species, with three out of five species classified as critically endangered.
Why are these animals poached?
Elephant ivory is used to make jewellery, trinkets and utensils, with China being the biggest consumer of illegal ivory. Rhino horn is valuable in folk medicine in some African and Asian countries, as it is said to cure hangovers to impotence to cancer. Tiger skins, bones, teeth and claws, which are highly valued for their use in traditional Asian medicine and various consumer products.
According to the WWF, “Illegal wildlife trade has exploded to meet increasing demand for elephant ivory, rhino horns, and tiger products, particularly in Asia. Controlled by dangerous crime syndicates, wildlife is trafficked much like drugs or weapons. Wildlife criminals often operate with impunity, making the trade a low-risk/high-profit business. Today, it is the fifth most profitable illicit trade in the world, estimated at up to [US] $10 billion annually.”