Almost half (45%) of the world’s most ecologically important places are being plagued by the illegal wildlife trade, which is the fourth largest international trade crime worth an estimated £15 billion, a new WWF report finds.
Natural World Heritage sites are areas recognised by UNESCO as being of outstanding international importance and therefore deserving the highest levels of protection. Yet despite this protected status, this new study has found poaching, illegal logging and fishing are rife on a global scale. These illicit activities are threatening endangered species with extinction and destroying social, economic and environmental benefits at local, national and international levels.
Home to a third of the world’s remaining 3,890 wild tigers and 40 per cent of all African elephants, Natural World Heritage sites across the globe support large populations of rare plant and animal species. Many of these sites which are known for their iconic beauty and biodiversity function as the last home for critically endangered species such as Javan rhinos and Vaquitas.
Chris Gee, head of campaigns at WWF-UK commented: “Even the wildlife living in places which should benefit from the highest levels of protection are suffering at the hands of criminals. Not only does this threaten the survival of species, but it’s also jeopardising the future heritage of these precious places and the people whose livelihoods depend on them. We urgently need to see a united front from CITES and the World Heritage Convention to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, especially from these most precious of places; from the poaching and harvesting on site, to the global trafficking and demand.
Next year London will host the 4th Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, the UK Government must bolster efforts to support the end of this devastating trade. Now is not the time to drop the ball on this issue. These findings show that for the future of many of our most endangered species it’s a matter of life and death.”
A number of World Heritage sites have been identified by UNESCO as ‘in danger’, of these natural places the illegal wildlife trade is threatening almost all sites (74%), decimating wildlife populations and degrading the unique values which give these places the status of World Heritage. These findings further prove the urgent need for greater collaboration between the CITES governing bodies and UNESCO.
More than 90% of natural World Heritage sites support recreation and tourism, provide jobs and are important for water quantity and quality. Many of these benefits are dependent on the presence of iconic animals, many of which are also targeted by poachers.
Illegal harvesting of trees and other plants can also drastically alter the natural environment. The illegal timber trade is responsible for up to 90% of deforestation in major tropical countries and increases soil erosion and water pollution while the destruction of vital trees is also increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
John Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General, added: “This report provides a range of options to further enhance coordination between CITES and the World Heritage Convention, focused around World Heritage sites. It is essential that CITES is fully implemented and that these irreplaceable sites are fully protected. In doing so, we will benefit our heritage and our wildlife, provide security to people and places, and support national economies and the rural communities that depend on these sites for their livelihoods.”