World Heritage Natural Sites Threatened by Illegal Wildlife Trade

Bonn, 3 July 2015 - Bradnee Chambers, Executive Secretariat of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) was featured as a panelist during a side event of the 39th Session of the World Heritage Commission currently underway in Bonn, Germany. The event, entitled “Illegal Wildlife Trade: a Major Threat to Natural World Heritage Sites” was hosted by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment and also featured John Scanlon, Executive Secretary of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Dr. Sue Lieberman, Vice President of International Policy at  the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The speakers discussed the supply and demand relationship of the illegal wildlife trade and the need for international cooperation among governments, NGOs and Secretariats of UN bodies. Speakers noted the strength of each of these stakeholders and how each may work in conjunction with the others to combat illegal wildlife trade and help protect the biodiversity within natural World Heritage Sites.

 “Many of the natural World Heritage Sites around the world are important for migratory species covered by CMS” said Bradnee Chambers. “Examples include the Wadden Sea, which is a critical stop-over site for up to 12 million migratory birds travelling between Africa and Eurasia each year, or the Great Barrier Reef which is important for many of our shark and turtle species, or the Virunga National Park, which hosts the last remaining mountain gorilla populations on Earth.”

The panel highlighted the deep impacts of the increasing scale of poaching and illegal trade of wildlife on the outstanding value of many World Heritage Natural Sites.

“Illegal wildlife trade is certainly having an environmental impact, but there are also significant development, economic and security implications of this illegal activity as well. But there is a global collective effort underway, between countries, between governmental and non-governmental organizations to combat this illegal trade in wildlife.” Said John Scanlon.

A number of recent success stories were shared, including the international operation “Cobra III” led by CITES, the largest ever coordinated effort across 62 countries to combat illegal wildlife trade and positive results achieved by CMS with outreach and capacity-building programmes in Central Asia concerning the Saiga Antelope.  All the panelists agreed, however, that more work remained to be done. Mr. Chambers highlighted the need to collaborate with governments and local populations to provide “national level empowerment” and continue to develop economic incentives to combat the loss of wildlife in World Heritage Sites. Mr. Scanlon and Dr. Lieberman discussed the need to combat the international networks that profit from illegal wildlife trade.

The ensuing discussion focused on several themes. Regarding some of the smaller, yet equally threatened species of fauna, Mr. Chambers remarked that CMS was uniquely positioned to facilitate capacity-building, national level programmes and international cooperation. Questions were posed from the audience regarding the effectiveness of modern international agreements; Mr. Chambers replied that the flexibility and strength that was built into the Convention in the 1970s reflected the global commitment to protecting these species across national boundaries. This commitment was as strong today as evidenced by the success of CMS.

World Heritage Sites provide an important safe haven for migratory species. By working through treaties such as CMS, CITES and the WHC, governments around the world can work together to protect the many migratory species, both large and small that help provide the uniqueness, value and economic benefits that distinguish World Heritage Sites.

Last updated on 16 September 2015