World Wildlife Day

Statement by H.E. Peter Thomson, President of the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly, at the High-level thematic discussion on the global observance of World Wildlife Day, including on the protection of wild flora and fauna and on tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife


3 March 2017


H.E. Ms. Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations,

H.E. Ms. Edna Molewa, Minister of Environmental Affairs of South Africa,

H.E. Mr. Yuri Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, 

Mr. John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES,


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to convene this High-Level Thematic Discussion on the Global Observance of World Wildlife Day.

Today is a day for the international community to celebrate our planet’s rich biodiversity, to raise global awareness of threats that it faces, and to commit to efforts to protect it for future generations.

To do so, however, we must admit the stark reality that the dramatic decline in global wildlife numbers is largely due to human activity, through population growth and climate change shrinking habitats; through pollution, environmental degradation, and natural resources exploitation; and through the poaching and the illicit trafficking that is threatening their very existence.

Indeed, over the past 40 years, the world has lost approximately 50 percent of its wildlife, with over 16,000 species currently considered endangered and threatened by extinction.

Many of our most iconic and majestic species are affected.

African elephant mortality rates now surpass their birth rates, with one elephant killed for its ivory every 15 minutes.

Tigers now number only around 4,000 in the wild, while Sumatran and Javan rhinoceroses each number less than 100.

At current rates, the already diminished polar bear population is expected to decline by two-thirds by 2050.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

With illicit trafficking in wildlife generating billions of dollars each year, the proceeds of this transnational crime are fuelling armed conflicts and terrorism, and posing serious challenges to sustainable development. This includes through the destruction of local ecosystems, which undermines sustainable economic opportunities for local communities, particularly through tourism and agriculture.

Indeed, the importance of preserving our wildlife for future generations was specifically recognized in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, through specific targets aimed at conserving protected species, combating poaching and wildlife trafficking, and helping local communities to pursue sustainable livelihoods.

With the 2030 Agenda representing a universal commitment to act, and with almost all countries affected by wildlife trafficking – as either source, transit or destination nations – it is clear that a global response is urgently required. Measures must be taken at local, national, regional and international levels, to tackle both demand and supply.

As a first step, we must ensure the full implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, the Convention on Biological Diversity and other relevant international agreements.

National legislation needs to be introduced to support these international legal frameworks, including to prohibit and criminalize illicit trafficking, and to fight money laundering, and corruption.

Secondly, Member States should consider options to strengthen regional and bilateral mechanisms to eradicate trafficking and improve international cooperation.

This includes by looking at ways to increase collaboration with relevant UN agencies and other relevant international organisations, including the UNODC, the World Customs Organization and Interpol.

Thirdly, efforts must be pursued at all levels to raise global awareness of the negative impacts of wildlife trafficking, through targeted campaigns to influence retail and consumer behaviour and drive down demand.

Fourthly, we must ensure that all key stakeholders are engaged as part of our efforts to uphold relevant legal frameworks, and strengthen the protection of wild flora and fauna.

This includes through the engagement of customs, police, and judicial officers within Government, as well UN officials, civil society, the private sector, and community leaders.

Youth and young people must be included as key partners in these efforts, in helping to educate and shape the behaviours of future generations, and to spread the message of the importance of protecting our ecosystems.

Finally, it is crucial that we use all available opportunities, such as The Ocean Conference, to be held at the United Nations from 5 to 9 June, to make game-changing voluntary commitments to protect our global ecosystems and marine life. The online registry for these voluntary commitments is already open, and accessible on The Ocean Conference website.


Protecting our precious wildlife and ecosystems is an imperative that must be pursued today, if we are to ensure their survival tomorrow and the global transformation set out in the SDGs.

Let us therefore use the occasion of today’s commemoration to recommit ourselves to doing all we can to safeguard our wildlife for generations to come. Let us do all we can to ensure that the existence of elephants, tigers, rhinoceros, polar bears and so many other unique and inspiring species is not consigned to museums and history books of tomorrow as poignant reminders of how beautifully rich and diverse life on this Planet used to be.

I thank you.

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