The United Nations called on its member states Thursday to work harder in combatting poaching of endangered species such as elephants and rhinoceroses. The General Assembly resolution was the first of its kind but not legally binding. Still, it reflects worldwide opposition to illegal hunting.
The assembly expressed concern over what it called a steady rise in the level of rhino poaching and alarmingly high levels of killings of elephants in Africa. It said such killings “threaten those species with local extinction and, in some cases, with global extinction.”
There are now an estimated 470,000 African elephants living in the wild, compared to 550,000 in 2006, said the NGO Elephants Without Borders. And since 2007, famed Kruger National Park in South Africa has lost hundreds of rhinoceroses to poachers eager to sell their severed and powdered horns in Asia, where they are sought for their alleged aphrodisiac effect.
Mozambique has lost half of its elephants in five years, and it is believed rhinoceroses became extinct in 2013. The vote also coincided with global outrage over the killing of a beloved lion in Zimbabwe that was allegedly lured from a national reserve outside regular hours and killed by an American hunter.
This was the first time the United Nations dedicated a resolution specifically to the fight against poaching. Previous resolutions from the Security Council simply made references to how rebel groups poached animals to finance wars.
Gabon and Germany sponsored the resolution, which was also supported by more than 70 countries. It also called on consumer nations to take measures to combat sales of products from poached animals.
China accounts for 70 percent of world demand for ivory, NGOs say. They say China’s zeal for ivory is responsible for the death of 30,000 African elephants each year. The three countries or territories most heavily involved in smuggling of ivory are Kenya, Tanzania and Hong Kong.
“This is a historic step made by the international community,” said Gabonese Foreign Minister Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet.
“This phenomenon hampers investment, especially in areas where illicit activities are undertaken,” he said.
“It represents a real threat to the stability of our state.”
The resolution encourages member states to “adopt effective measures to prevent and counter” wildlife trafficking. It concerns both regions where wildlife and poachers roam such as in some African countries and consumer countries such as those in Asia.
The resolution also calls for bolstered legislation at the national level to prevent, investigate and prosecute the illegal trade, and make such trafficking a “serious crime.”
Issoze-Ngondet, addressing another recent case of high-profile poaching, called the killing in Zimbabwe of Cecil the lion “a matter of deep concern” for African countries.
“Like most people in the world, we are outraged at what happened to this poor lion,” Germany’s UN envoy Harald Braun added.
Conservation groups like the WWF and TRAFFIC welcomed the UN vote.
“This is an historic day,” said TRAFFIC executive director Steven Broad.
“The world has sent an unequivocal and collective signal at the highest-level that ending wildlife crime is a top priority.”
The WWF hailed what it called a “new phase” in the fight against wildlife crime.
“This landmark resolution proves that ending wildlife crime is no longer just an ‘environmental’ issue and not just limited to a few countries: it has become a priority for every nation,” said WWF International director general Marco Lambertini.