That the world’s natural heritage is under severe threat is old news. But if you want to know the depth of this global crisis, then do read this latest report from the WWF: Halting Illegal Trade for CITES Species From World Heritage Sites. According to the report, Natural World Heritage sites are threatened by destructive industrial activities, overexploitation and trafficking of CITES species. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement that aims to ensure that transnational trade of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
These natural world heritage sites support large populations of rare plant and animal species, including almost a third of the world’s remaining 3,890 wild tigers and 40% of all African elephants, and function as the last refuge for critically endangered species such as the Javan rhinos and vaquitas. From an Indian perspective, the three world heritage sites that are being plundered are: The Western Ghats, the Great Himalayan National Park and the Khangchendzonga National Park. The illegal harvesting of species not only impacts biodiversity but also has social and economic costs. More than 90% of natural heritage sites support recreation and tourism as well as provide jobs. Many of these benefits are dependent on the presence of CITES-listed species in these sites.
It goes without saying that this cannot go on. As the WWF correctly says, “Governments must redouble their efforts and address the wildlife trafficking value chain.” There must be more collaboration between CITES, the World Heritage Convention and national authorities to lead a more coordinated, comprehensive response to halt wildlife trafficking - from harvesting of species in source countries, transportation through processing destinations, to sales in consumer markets. Closer home, the Indian government should take note of the report and, not dither over giving full legal protection to the country’s world heritage sites such as the Western Ghats.