By Achim Steiner *
Rhinos have completely disappeared from many countries in Africa and Asia in recent years. Rhino poaching has increased by more than 7,000 percent in South Africa since 2007, with more than 1,000 rhinos killed in 2013 alone in the country, home to more than 80 percent of Africa's rhinos, numbering around 25 thousand across the continent. Rhino horn has a higher current value than gold or platinum, and is more valuable on the black market than diamonds or cocaine.
If citizens do not care and raise their voices against this spiral of destructive trade, the possibility of extinction of elephants and rhinos will no longer be hypothetical, but an irreversible and serious reality.
People all over the world have called for these killings to stop. In an unprecedented global campaign, more than 120 cities have participated in the World March for Elephants and Rhinos, in an attempt to raise awareness of the conservation crisis facing the two species. The World March, declared a "March Against Extinction", called on organizers to march peacefully and communicate requests for the enactment of laws banning the ivory trade.
We must recognize that the illegal wildlife trade is part of an economy of environmental crime that is not only destroying species and habitats, but also damaging the livelihoods, peace and security of local communities and states.
Criminal networks are benefiting from poaching, operating with relative impunity and with little fear of persecution. There is evidence that points to the clear involvement of transnational organized crime networks, and non-state criminal groups, including terrorist groups, in the business of illegal wildlife trade. Ivory provides a source of income for militias in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, and is likely to become a key source of resources for the Lord's Resistance Army and the Janjaweed of Sudan, as well as other gangs of Sudan, Chad and Niger.
In our search for solutions, it is important to realize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the poaching crisis. Rapid measures must be implemented to address the current crisis, starting at the local and national levels, but also mobilizing international efforts to take into account the diverse socio-economic, legal and market dynamics in countries of origin, transit and consumption.
These measures will range from strengthening law enforcement, mobilizing adequate human and financial capacity, raising awareness of society and fighting corruption, to supporting countries in the implementation of national legislation against crimes. against wildlife and to address the pressing need to curb demand for these illegally and unsustainably sourced products.
However, in addition to the need for short-term measures, it is also necessary to consider longer-term measures in natural resource management and sustainable economic development, based on sovereign and community priorities and choices.
The implementation of biodiversity strategies and objectives approved at the international and national levels, and of other relevant existing commitments, must be an integral part of said option. Without adequate political and financial support, it is difficult for such mechanisms to be truly effective.
The UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) meeting in June this year for the first time at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in Nairobi, provided a key occasion to strengthen political commitments to address the issue of illegal wildlife trade. With its universal membership of 193 member states of the United Nations, the UNEA adopted the first UN resolution focused on the illegal wildlife trade, which recognized the increased trade in wildlife and its products, as well as its adverse impacts. for the economy, society, security and the environment.
The resolution included a call for strengthened action and to promote international cooperation and coordination to implement existing commitments to address the illegal wildlife trade, including international cooperation and cooperation to implement commitments against the illegal wildlife trade. including those under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, for its acronym in English).
Based on this, and many other positive practices, such as the recent solidarity shown by countries through the destruction of ivory warehouses, it is imperative that the momentum generated in 2014 becomes a turning point to protect elephants and rhinos and the many species that we are so close to losing forever.
We shouldn't have to march for elephants or rhinos. We shouldn't have to point out the obvious: that elephants, rhinos and all species are part of a complex planetary biodiversity that sustains life — not just yours, but ours as well. The illegal wildlife trade needs to be treated for what it is, an environmental crime that is enriching a few at the expense of all of us.
* Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UNEP