UNCCD: World Environment Day (5. Juny): Go Wild for Life

Illegal trade in wildlife – the focus of this year’s World Environment Day – is worth about US$15-20 billion every year. Chimpanzees, elephants, gorillas, pangolins and rhinos are among the most trafficked land-based animals. A major weakness in the global campaigns to combat this trade is the under emphasis of land degradation in illegal wildlife trade.

In a remarkable turnaround, Rwanda’s mountain gorillas earned the country US$304 million in 2014 from tourism, an increase of US$10 million over 2013. Only a decade earlier, the illegal trade in mountain gorilla’s spiraled out of control, leading to their armed protection, as they were hunted and poached by poor rural families whose own survival was threatened by the lack of food and income.

The turn-around began with local communities setting up an eco-tourism industry around the conservation of the mountain gorillas. Instead of deforesting the land progressively, as hectare-after-hectare of farmed land became unproductive, cultural villages as well as arts and crafts cooperatives started thriving. Today, former poachers serve as porters and guides to the tourists that trek through the thick tropical mountains to view the gorillas.

Rwanda offers important lessons about the significance of the Sustainable Development Goal target for countries to strive to become land degradation neutral by 2030. That is, to ensure they productive land available remains stable by restoring or rehabilitating every hectare of land that is degraded, ideally in the same ecosystem.

Globally, more than 2 billion hectares of land has been degraded, with no end in sight as the global population rises towards 9 billion by 2050. The degradation of more land to meet the food needs of the global population would reduce the area available accessible by wildlife. In turn, this would increase the competition for resources between humans and animals and the trade in the animals threatened by extinction. And an increase in wildlife could boost tourism in areas where none exists today.

That is why initiatives such as the Great Green Wall for the Sahara Sahel and Lake Chad Initiative that couple alternative means of livelihood with the restoration and rehabilitation of land at large scale are truly unique. They address the push factors driving populations to engage in illegal trade in wildlife for survival.

At least, 90 countries have signed up to make land degradation neutrality a reality by 2030. Supporting efforts that create incentives towards safer and more secure alternative livelihoods would reduce competition over land with wildlife. It is a window of opportunity that we should not miss.

Source: Notification from UNCCD from 05.06.2016