Opinion: Wildlife Enriches the Planet and Those Living on It

Originally published in South China Morning Post

Bradnee Chambers and John Scanlon say conservation can unify nations

Today is World Wildlife Day - a day set aside by the UN General Assembly to promote the intrinsic value of wildlife and its contribution to sustainable development and human well-being.

Two global conventions are at the forefront of wildlife conservation in the UN system: the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. They are natural allies in the conservation of wildlife and exemplify the benefits of taking multilateral measures and of what can be achieved by acting together rather than alone.

Securing agreement among like-minded countries can be a Herculean task, but it is wildlife conservation interests that can also bring together around the table states that may be in conflict. For instance, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda put aside their differences to work to protect the gorillas of the Virunga National Park.

African elephants are being poached in record numbers to satisfy a demand for ivory thousands of miles away, primarily, but not exclusively, in Asian markets, with third countries acting as transit points for this illicit trade.

The battle to save the elephant does not only have to be fought in the national parks of Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. It must also be fought in the hearts and minds of consumers in Hong Kong, China and Vietnam, as well as in the US and Europe. Authorities from across all regions are stepping up the fight. In China, there has been a series of national and cross-regional enforcement crackdowns on wildlife crimes over the past two years.

For parties to the two conventions, the benefits of international co-operation are clear. The species covered by the two conventions either migrate or are traded across national borders. Conserving and sustainably using them necessitates co-ordinated action along the entire migration route or global value chains.

In the case of gorillas, this requires neighbouring countries in Central Africa to work together. However, many species have a range that spans continents and oceans, which entails in many cases a global conservation effort. At the time when the Convention on Migratory Species was being negotiated, a new international legal principle was put forward.

At the time, the notion of wildlife as a whole forming part of a common heritage of mankind to be conserved and managed in the common interest and by common consent of all peoples was novel, even controversial. But the concept's African proponents ensured that their view prevailed during the negotiations, and the idea of wildlife forming part of a shared natural heritage is now widely accepted.

There are many ways of assigning a value to species: the commercial value of the products that are derived from them is one; their contribution to ecotourism - from whale watching to safaris - is another.

Wildlife also has an intrinsic value, as described in the General Assembly's World Wildlife Day resolution. It is possible to foster economic development and to improve the lives and livelihoods of the world's growing human population without seriously degrading our natural environment and its wild plants and animals. Indeed, many sectors can only provide stable, sustainable long-term livelihoods if wildlife is allowed to thrive as well.

Our joint appeal to the world community is to work for a future where wildlife can live up to its name and not only survive but thrive in the wild; our planet is the richer with an abundance of wild plants and animals - and so are we.

Bradnee Chambers is Executive Secretary of the UNEP Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. John E. Scanlon is Secretary General of CITES

Last updated on 08 July 2015