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March 4, 2014

World Wildlife Day: Just What We Need To Defend All Life

(Author’s Note: I previously promised to expound on the Ten Commandments of the Environment. Unfortunately, some urgent issues kept coming in. I will deal with it in due time. Meanwhile, savor this important offering.)

Countries and worldwide groups like the United Nations (UN) designate certain days to increase awareness and summon concerned parties to act depending on the advocacy. For example:

  • Zero Discrimination Day (March 1)
  • International Women’s Day (March 8)
  • World Water Day (March 22)
  • World Aids Day (December 1)
  • Earth Day (April 22)
  • International Day of Older Persons (October 1)
  • Universal Children’s Day (November 20)

Of course, many of us know, ever since we entered school, that United Nations Day is celebrated every 24th of October. Starting this year, a new observance had been declared by the United Nations. Every third of March will be remembered as World Wildlife Day. It is a day meant to celebrate the many beautiful and varied forms of wild fauna and flora and to raise awareness of the multitude of benefits that conservation provides to people.

save animals

The birth of this meaningful day was inspired by the treaty signed during the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in March 3, 1973. Globally regarded as the most important act for wildlife conservation, CITES was the UN’s response to the growing menace to the existence of wildlife species. That time, about 180 member nations signed the treaty and stamped their awareness and concern about the many perils to wildlife like habitat loss, climate change, over-exploitation and unregulated development. But foremost of these recognized dangers are poaching and the illegal trafficking of wildlife parts and products that had become a worldwide problem.

Asia was named to be one of the continents where these unauthorized activities proliferate. We can recall, early last year, as reported by Tubbataha Reef National Park’s (TRNP) superintendent Angelique Songco, that a certain Chinese fishing vessel ran aground some 1.1 nautical miles east of the Tubbataha Reef ranger station. TRNP is listed as one of UN’s World Heritage Sites and is a declared protected area. The fishing vessel, which had 12 crewmembers, was allegedly there for poaching. These poachers are either simply ignorant or just do not care about the dire consequences of their activity and seemed only concerned with their own economic gains.

Wildlife trafficking is the more serious, threatening, and vicious activity. This illegal and dangerous pursuit involves hundreds of endangered species—from elephants, rhinos, and tigers, to lesser known birds, reptiles, fish, and plants. In the Philippines, to name a few, our native eagles, deers, whale sharks, rats, turtles, frogs, dogs, and hundreds more endemic plant species are also endangered. Every day, rampant greed and corruption operate in order to supply the market with wildlife merchandise. In the process, the local environment, particularly the people, suffer. The UN realised that if nothing was done, wildlife would gradually diminish and, worse, become extinct!

The damage, however, does not end in extinction alone. We know that the world is a whole ecosystem. We are all related in various degrees to one another. The decline or absence of one affects the balance of the ecosystem. If that happens, all creation will be like domino pieces falling one by one to destruction. But that is not all. It was also discovered that wildlife trafficking was only a symptom of something seriously criminal. Some rebel and militia groups have in recent years turned to ivory trafficking to help fund their terroristic activities, and who knows, even political ones. Apparently, drugs, gambling, prostitution, fraud and falsification are not enough. These evils should therefore be addressed promptly and effectively. The observance is very timely and significant, to say the least.

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change said that

“Climate change, linked with the burning of fossil fuels, is already impacting many animals and plants and in myriads of ways. These could spell decline and even extinction for some without an urgent transition of our economies and our lifestyles towards a low carbon economy.”

She cited the fate of polar bears in the Arctic that are having a lot of difficulties due to several years of thawing, melting, and thinning ice that is making it harder and harder for some to hunt and find food. Warmer beaches are affecting hatching patterns of marine turtles: cool beaches produce predominantly male hatchlings while warm beaches produce mostly females. One can just imagine the horrible ramifications of this abnormal development of feminizing the marine turtle populations in turtle reproduction. I guess, even the hardcore feminists would not want this to happen!

Large baleen whales such as the blue whale, the largest creature on Earth, are also affected. In search for cooler waters, they have to make long journeys between their feeding grounds in warmer waters to their breeding grounds in cooler parts of the sea. Add to that the whales’ main food source of krill is declining because of changes in temperature and acidification of the oceans due to climate change.

Janez Potocnik, the European Commissioner for Environment reported that

“More than 1,000 rhinos were shot last year for their horns. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed every year for their ivory. Tigers are slaughtered for their skins and bones, bears for their paws and bile, sharks for their fins and a thriving black market for live birds and reptiles is undermining the legitimate trade in pets. And the problem is not confined to exotic species. Even within the European Union, birds are illegally killed and endangered species, like eels, are smuggled to Asia.”

Recent criminal discoveries and apprehensions like that in Czechoslovakia where Czech authorities arrested 16 people in a sophisticated criminal ring that was smuggling rhino horn from South Africa to Vietnam, had revealed that Europe is not only a lucrative market but a channel to these activities as well. It also affirms that wildlife crime is lucrative, with rhino horn selling at €40,000/kilo for example and penalties seem rarely applied.


Lastly, it had been determined that poaching levels in Africa are very critical. If nothing is done, extinction of some species is in the offing. This would be a tragedy in itself but, as we have said, poaching has other consequences that are also highly detrimental to people: it deprives the local folks of these resources which are constitutive of their livelihood and it feeds corruption and undermines the political stability of already fragile regions like in Central Africa.

Thus, wildlife had been taking it from everyone, everywhere, and every time. But we are not helpless from many of them. With commitment and good political will, we can address many of these threats. With sufficient education and presentation of proofs and examples, we can prevent if not stop some of these threats.

We can take the cue from the preamble of the CITES treaty which states that, “wild fauna and flora in their many beautiful and varied forms are an irreplaceable part of the natural systems of the earth, which must be protected for this and the generations to come.” This move by the UN to assign a day to celebrate World Wildlife Day on the date of CITES anniversary reaffirms that commitment while galvanizing a global effort to end the scourge of the illegal wildlife trade. Ms. Susan Lieberman, Ph. D., Executive Director for Conservation Policy, Wildlife Conservation Society made an earnest appeal in regard to this:

“Citizens, organizations, and governments the world over should commit on this day, and every day, to cease purchasing products originating with endangered species and to support local rangers and other law enforcement forces risking their lives daily for the benefit of our planet.”

Needless to say, we must heed the appeal. We must not participate in any activity or patronize any product which will be destructive of wildlife. It is already difficult facing and addressing natural ones. Let us not make it worse by adding anthropological ones.



Photo credit: Getty Images

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5 Comments on “World Wildlife Day: Just What We Need To Defend All Life”

  • reignmitch says March 5, 2014 at 10:55 am

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