Achim Steiner writes: As the world agonised over the death of Cecil the lion, poachers in Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park – less than 296km (183 miles) from the UN Environment Programme world headquarters in Nairobi – illegally slaughtered five elephants, plundered the carcasses and fled the country with their ivory prize. Compared to Cecil, the slaughter barely registered on the world’s radar.
The slaughter of five elephants in Kenya was no anomaly – it’s a symptom of a global epidemic. In 2014, poachers slaughtered 1,215 rhinos in South Africa alone, an increase of over 9,000% from 2007. Great apes lost to illegal activities number in the thousands worldwide.
These killings are extremely upsetting. But while we often view them as an aesthetic loss or an ethical shortfall, we frequently fail to see how such tragedies reverberate deep within our societies.
The global illegal trade in wildlife has very real consequences for the world, beyond an ethical quandary. It ruins ecosystems, destroys livelihoods, undermines governments, threatens national security and sabotages sustainable development.
The illegal wildlife trade is deeply disruptive to our ecosystems. A dramatic population collapse triggers knock-on effects throughout the entire system. Removing elephants in large numbers, for example, means that plant seeds are not spread widely. Other species, whose diets rely on plant diversity, must endure this shift. As species populations dwindle, their genetic diversity decreases and disease is more easily spread. [Continue reading…]