More than 200 conservationists representing over 40 zoos as well as wildlife programs in 36 countries have called on governments around the world to immediately increase the resources needed to combat the alarming rise in the illegal wildlife trade. Meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, earlier this month, zoo officials, scientists, and wildlife experts with the 9th Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation Conference (ZACC) agreed that urgent action is needed to combat the well-organized and heavily armed criminals who are draining the world’s ecosystems of wildlife and threatening human populations. The Okapi Conservation Project was represented by John Lukas, who gave a keynote presentation at the conference about the challenges to wildlife conservation in the DR Congo.
On the heels of the U.S. government’s recent announcement of $10 million to assist African countries with anti-poaching efforts to protect elephants, rhinos and other wildlife, the ZACC delegates urged all governments and international groups to launch sustained campaigns to stop the illegal killing of wildlife, including increased law enforcement with prompt and serious punishments for wildlife crime, more cooperation between governments to combat cross-border activity, and campaigns to raise awareness among consumers about the illegal wildlife trade.
ZACC delegates also noted that the wildlife trade was devastating imperiled species on several continents including the world’s most iconic species such as big cats and great apes, sharks and rays, countless birds, turtles and other reptiles. Information is emerging documenting a dramatic decline in forest elephants and we are even seeing okapi populations in the DR Congo begin to tumble as a result of this enormous pressure.
The illegal wildlife trade is not a subsistence activity, but rather an industry based on organized crime worth multibillions of dollars annually. In addition to decimating animal populations worldwide and robbing current and future generations of their irreplaceable natural heritage, the illegal wildlife trade has been linked to organized criminal activities such as the illicit drug trade, weapons proliferation, and human trafficking. “The sale of illegal ivory funds armed militias that terrorize human and wildlife communities alike in pursuit of power and wealth” said Lukas. The Okapi Conservation Project is working closely with the government of the DR Congo, and other international conservation organizations to address this urgent issue.