Illegal wildlife trafficking threatens protected areas

A worrying trend in illegal wildlife trafficking is threatening the world’s protected areas, a new report has warned. Among these ecologically important places are World Heritage Sites, which are home to large populations of rare plants and animals.

Illegal poaching, logging and fishing occurs in around 30 per cent of the World Heritage Sites, threatening endangered species and putting the livelihoods of communities who depend on them at risk.

These are the findings of a new World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report, which has urged for additional and immediate measures to halt illegal trafficking for international trade of CITES-listed species in the world’s most ecologically important places, including World Heritage Sites.

Renowned for their beauty, geology, ecology and biodiversity, World Heritage Sites support almost a third of the world’s remaining 3,890 wild tigers and 40 per cent of all African elephants.

They also function as the last refuge for critically endangered species such as Javan rhinos in Indonesia and vaquitas, the world’s smallest porpoise, endemic to Mexico’s Gulf of California.

“Natural World Heritage sites are among the most recognised natural sites for their universal value. Yet many are threatened by destructive industrial activities and our new report shows that their often unique animals and plants are also affected by overexploitation and trafficking. Unless they are protected effectively, we will lose them forever,” warned Marco Lambertini, director general at WWF International.

The report explains that illegal harvesting in World Heritage Sites alters the natural ecosystem: around five per cent of the Sumatran tiger population was killed in 2016 and if current levels of poaching and trade continue, this could lead to a reduced incentive to protect forests and result in further wide-scale deforestation for palm oil plantations.

Illegal harvesting also degrades vital social and economic benefits. More than 90 per cent of the natural sites support recreation and tourism, and provide jobs – benefits that are often dependent on the presence of CITES-listed species.

Lambertini concluded: “In order to halt illegal trafficking in World Heritage Sites, all stakeholders must unite and take the immediate action required to prevent irreversible damage the world’s most iconic places and species.”

Photo credit: Megan Coughlin/ CC BY-ND 2.0

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