The United Nations announced that it was designating March 3 as the annual World Wildlife Day, issuing a call to protect biological diversity and stop the illegal trafficking and habitat destruction that’s putting many species on the brink.
"Wildlife remains integral to our future through its essential role in science, technology and recreation, as well as its place in our continued heritage," said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the opening of the “Wild and Precious” exhibit in Geneva.
Some of the world’s most charismatic animals are in immediate danger of extinction as a result of habitat loss and illicit trafficking, he said.
"I urge all sectors of society to end illegal wildlife trafficking and commit to trading and using wild plants and animals sustainably and equitably," Mr. Ban continued.
General Assembly President John Ashe also paid tribute to nature’s “beautiful mosaic” for enriching life on the planet.
"The exhibition we open today illustrates how animals, insects, plants and trees are all unique pieces forming the beautiful mosaic of our natural environment. Not only do they sustain our livelihoods, they are an integral part of our cultural heritage through tales and legends, symbols and traditions," Ashe said. "In the complex symphony of nature, each and every species plays an essential part to maintain the delicate balance of our planet's ecosystems."
The UN hopes that underscoring the value of wildlife will boost the chances of saving species whose numbers are falling dramatically because of incursions into their fragile habitat, and that are being poached for illegal ivory and horn trade.
While NGOs work to save a variety of animals, the UN has focused efforts on animals such as elephants and rhinos that are poached for their ivory and horns; and orangutans and pandas victimized and displaced by clear-cutting.
Irina Bokova, head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), pointed out that the UN agency's global network of World Heritage sites and Biosphere Reserve are helping save some of the world’s most emblematic threatened wildlife, such as gorillas, pandas, tigers and rhino.
"I call upon all actors – including, government authorities, nongovernmental organizations, customs services, police forces and the scientific community – to redouble their efforts and deepen cooperation," she said. "Only by joining forces can we craft a sustainable future for the planet's precious wildlife and biodiversity."
(Tiger, panda and turtle photo: John Isaac, United Nations)