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World Wildlife Day: elephants’ plight under spotlight

The stark threats to African elephants have been highlighted during moving screenings of the ground-breaking documentary ‘Warlords of Ivory’ organised by the Geneva Environment Network in Geneva and with high-level participation from UNEP in Brussels.


The film, by investigative journalist Bryan Christy, follows a Global Positioning Service tracker placed inside false but highly realistic ivory, luring traffickers to reveal the route taken and transactions made by traffickers.


Following the screening at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, a rich discussion took place moderated by Jan Dusik, Director of UNEP’s Regional Office for Europe. A staggering 100,000 elephants were poached in Africa between 2010 and 2012, he reminded the audience.


Some species are in an extremely serious situation, said Juan Carlos Vasquez, Head of Legal Affairs and Compliance of the Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat. Yet positive examples of species rehabilitation do exist, he explained - such as with the Andean vicuña which went from being almost extinct to numbering about half a million.


Mathias Lörtscher, Head of Switzerland’s CITES Management Authority, explained his countries’ techniques – including DNA analysis – aimed at fighting the illegal traders and preventing Switzerland from being a transit country.


The loss of elephants can meanwhile have highly widespread negative environmental impacts, explained Wendy Elliott, Global Species Conservation strategy lead for WWF International. The “gardeners of the forest” spread seeds and thus boost forests’ carbon storage capacity for example. Positive examples exist of local communities being given ownership of wildlife and successfully conserving it, she underlined.


Tackling demand is also an important aspect of fighting the illegal trade, reminded Alessandro Badalotti, Coordinator of the SOS-Save Our Species coalition at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Debunking the alleged health benefits of consuming manta rays has also been shown to boost local tourism where the species live, he revealed.


Brussels action

Ahead of World Wildlife Day 2016, over 120 participants attended a screening of the film held at the European Parliament in Brussels organised by ‘MEPs for Wildlife’ and led by MEP Catherine Bearder.


There, an EU action plan against illegal wildlife trafficking was presented by EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella. The plan aims to tackle the demand and supply of illegal wildlife products, step up the fight against criminal activities both in the EU and globally, and build a global alliance of source, consumer and transit countries.


In her keynote speech, UNEP Director of the Division of Environmental Policy Implementation Mette Wilkie welcomed the plan which "aligns perfectly with the UN and UNEP work," and indicated that UNEP stands ready to support the EU in achieving it.


The UN and UNEP both recognize the intrinsic value of wildlife and its importance in contributing to the ecological, genetic, social, economic, scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and aesthetic aspects of sustainable development and human well-being.


For more details on the event in Geneva please click here or write to For more information on the Brussels screening please click here or get in touch with

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