Wildlife Crime Occurs In Nearly Half Of All UNESCO Natural World Heritage Sites

The Hemis National Park in India is one of the few places left with snow leopards. Scott E Read/Shutterstock

Almost half of the world’s most gorgeous and biodiverse natural protected areas are experiencing illegal wildlife trafficking, according to a new report by the World Wildlife Federation (WWF).

WWF's “Not For Sale” report reveals rare and endangered species of animal and plants were poached in at least 42 percent of all natural World Heritage sites despite these areas being “the pinnacle of the world’s protected areas.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated 203 natural World Heritage sites across the world, as well 35 mixed World Heritage sites that are areas of both cultural and natural importance. Even if these figures also included the mixed World Heritage sites, illegal wildlife crime would still affect nearly 30 percent of them.

These parks are supposed to play an essential role in protecting the rare and beloved species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty signed by 182 states and the European Union to promote the conservation of certain species. The sites are home to a third of all remaining wild tigers, 40 percent of all African elephants, and almost all Sumatran rhinos in the world, so the fact protected status doesn't seem to be stopping the illegal wildlife trade is very worrying.

“This report is a sobering reminder of just how far this type of organised crime can reach, extending even into the supposed safety of world heritage sites," Inger Andersen, Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said in a statement. “This is a global challenge that can only be tackled through collective, international action.”

The fruits of these crimes contribute to a $15-20 billion wildlife trade black market. It's worth considering that huge amounts of this cash comes from illegal logging, which is responsible for up to 90 percent of deforestation in some major tropical countries.

In light of their findings, the WWF is calling on governments to create and amend their policies regarding the trade of wildlife. They also hope for a more coordinated action plan between CITES, the World Heritage Convention, and national authorities.

“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,” added Marco Lambertini, Director General at WWF International.

“Unless they are protected effectively, we will lose them forever. Governments must redouble their efforts and address the entire wildlife trafficking value chain, before it’s too late.”

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