World Wildlife Day 2018 - A call to save the big cats: predators under threat!

02 March 2018

As the international community joins hands to celebrate World Wildlife Day 2018, a special day on the United Nations (UN) calendar, the World Customs Organization (WCO) takes this opportunity to pledge its continuing support to the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as it works to safeguard the planet’s precious wildlife.

In recognition of the intrinsic value of wildlife, its huge and varied contribution to sustainable development and human well-being, and the threats that it faces to its survival on a daily basis, World Wildlife Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on 20 December 2013 and is celebrated on 3 March each year, the day the CITES Convention was adopted.

This year the spotlight falls on big cats throughout the world, under the theme “Big cats: predators under threat – Do one thing today to protect these magnificent creatures,” which include species such as cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards and tigers, found across the globe from Africa to Asia as well in the Americas.

Overall, their populations are declining at an alarming rate due to loss of habitat and prey, climate change, human-wildlife conflicts, poaching, and illegal trade: for example, tiger populations have plummeted by 95% over the past 100 years, African lion populations have dropped by 40% in just two decades, Leopards have lost some 75% of their populations, and cheetah populations have declined by a staggering 90%.

The illegal trade in wild animals and their products is global and comes in many forms, be it live animals as pets or for entertainment, or their products used for decoration, fashion, medicine and hunting trophies, among a myriad of other things. Tigers are a classic example: almost every part of this big cat still has a market, despite international commercial trade being prohibited since 1987.

“Illegal wildlife trade is not just lucrative, estimated as high as 20 billion US dollars a year, it also feeds international criminal networks,” said WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya. “It is not just about destroying wildlife which is vital to our planet, it also deprives populations of local jobs and divests national economies of revenue,” he added.

In stressing the importance of working together, the WCO Secretary General said, “World Wildlife Day is an ideal opportunity for Customs and other law enforcement agencies, including relevant non-governmental organizations, to further strengthen their efforts to combat wildlife crime through enhanced communication, coordination and cooperation.”

As a lead player at borders, strategically located at the frontline as a ‘first defence’ or as a ‘last control,’ WCO Members are not only encouraged to continue ensuring that the provisions of the CITES Convention are fully complied with, they are also urged to collaborate and share information with their partners while vigorously using all relevant WCO tools designed to assist them in combating wildlife crime.

The WCO’s very successful Operation Save REP, conducted from July to September 2017, is a good example of collaboration between the WCO and its Members: this counter-wildlife-trafficking operation that took place in Africa resulted in the seizure of an estimated 193 kg of rhino horn, 677 kg of elephant ivory, three pangolin hides, and 70 kg of pangolin scales.

In addition, as an active member of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), and under the framework of its INAMA Project, the WCO, through its Environment Programme, has made combating wildlife crime a priority, which will be reiterated during the upcoming session of the WCO Enforcement Committee that is scheduled to meet from 19 to 23 March 2018.

All WCO Members and Customs’ partners at the national, regional and international level are encouraged to join forces in the common fight against illegal wildlife trade.