A decade ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a call to action to raise awareness about endangered and near-extinct animals and help put an end to the illegal wildlife trade that puts precious species at risk around the globe. This was the start of the annual celebration of World Wildlife Conservation Day on December 4, a special day each year to reflect upon the plight of animals facing threats to their survival—and to consider what we can to help.
Wildlife crime is the illegal trafficking of animals in the wild—including poaching and the sale of animals and their body parts (such as rhino horns, elephant tusks, and tiger skin and bones). This activity is conducted by international networks for profit, and these products command high prices in places such as Asia, where myths like rhino horn being a cure for cancer have caused a massive spike in poaching and driven up demand.
Species such as gorillas, rhinos and elephants in Africa, and tigers and orangutans in Asia, continue to face threats from poaching for parts, as well as for bushmeat and the exotic pet trade. The illegal wild animal trade is a $10 billion industry, second only to ill-gotten gains from the smuggling of drugs and arms.
Identifying and Assisting Endangered Animals
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, nearly 3,800 animals are currently considered critically endangered. Another 6,000 are endangered, and thousands more are listed as vulnerable or near threatened.
Some of the critically endangered and endangered species that our conservation partner, World Wildlife Fund, is focused on preserving include the Bornean orangutan, the Eastern lowland gorilla, black rhinos and the Hawksbill turtle.
In the past 60 years, the population of the Bornean orangutan has declined by 50% due to hunting and logging, with more than half of their habitat disappearing in the last two decades. Orangutan babies are in demand for the illegal pet trade, with each one fetching hundreds of dollars. It’s estimated that 200 to 500 orangutans from Borneo enter the pet trade each year.
WWF is working with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, and helps the local government enforce laws prohibiting the capture and trade of the largest tree-dwelling mammals. The organization also partners with regional nonprofits that are rescuing orangutans from traders and households keeping them as pets.
Hawksbill Sea Turtles
Hawksbill sea turtles, found in tropical oceans around the world, are critical to the well-being of coral reefs. They prey on sponges and provide access to food for the reef’s fish. Similar to other sea turtles, Hawksbills are threatened due to loss of habitat, pollution, coastal development and egg collection. They are also facing further threats from the illegal wildlife trade, as demand for their shells in the tropics for jewelry and ornaments continues to grow.
Conservation efforts are underway to prevent Hawksbills from becoming victims of bycatch by the use of smart gear. WWF and other conservation organizations are also focused on creating safe havens for them to feed, nest and migrate.
Eastern Lowland Gorillas
The ongoing civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo has made the Eastern Lowland gorilla (also known as Grauer’s gorilla), and the mountain gorillas that live in the lowland tropical rainforests, more susceptible to poaching. The Eastern Lowland gorilla’s population was nearly halved by the mid-1990s. WWF trained the staff of the Congolese Wildlife Authority to survey and monitor gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
The population of another iconic African species—the black rhino—saw a steep decline between 1960 and 1995, when it dropped by a whopping 98%. Thanks to conservation efforts across the African continent, along with help from WWF, the black rhino population has been steadily increasing, and the numbers nearly doubled to 5,500 individuals. WWF works with the government and supports law enforcement agencies in South Africa, Namibia and Kenya and assists in introducing innovative technological solutions and training rangers to curtail poaching.
Endangered Species Act
World Wildlife Conservation Day also puts the focus on the pivotal Endangered Species Act, which became a law in the United States in 1973 in an effort to protect endangered flora and fauna. Both the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are the main enforcers of the ESA, with the latter maintaining a list of domestically endangered species. Among the animals on the list is the gray wolf, which was recently relisted as threatened in Minnesota and endangered in the remaining states.
During an address on December 3, 2012, Clinton stated that “the slaughter of endangered species robs communities of income from tourism, reduces biodiversity, encourages corruption, undermines good governance.”
Conservation Tourism—A Force for Good
Tourism can be a force for good in a number of ways. By investing in nature-focused trips that focus on raising awareness about wildlife conservation, eco-conscious travelers contribute to ongoing efforts to protect the species and help communities.
“Nature travel, such as Natural Habitat trips, creates financial, health and education incentives for communities and governments to value wildlife more alive than dead,” says Jim Sano, WWF’s Vice President for Travel, Tourism and Conservation.
Trips like our The Wilds of Borneo: Orangutans & Beyond, Great Namibia Wildlife Safari, Great Uganda Gorilla Safari and Yellowstone: Ultimate Wolf & Wildlife Safari give visitors a chance to witness these magnificent creatures up close and provide inspiration to further commit to saving them for future generations.
Six Ways to Help Endangered Species
- Sign the WWF Pledge to help end wildlife crime. By doing so, you are agreeing to never purchase illegal wildlife products, such as ivory and urging the U.S. government to continue efforts to stop wildlife crime here and abroad.
- Boycott food products containing palm oil, as the orangutan habitat on the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra are cleared to make way for palm oil plantations.
- Become educated about wildlife crime and endangered species by subscribing to newsletters from top conservation organizations and watching wildlife documentaries, such as Blackfish, Blood Lions, Racing Extinction, Seaspiracy, The Ivory Game and Virunga.
- Donate to wildlife organizations such as WWF, The Humane Society of the United States, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, The Nature Conservancy and the International Rhino Foundation. Better yet, make a monthly commitment to increase your positive impact. Multiply your impact further by asking your employer if they do donation matching.
- Share your passion for wildlife and conservation with your friends and family on social media and at in-person at gatherings, starting with this article.
- Seek out and book trips focused on wildlife conservation and education, such as those offered by Nat Hab.