WASHINGTON, DC, July 28, 2009 – Illegal wildlife trade, habitat loss, and a multitude of other threats are pushing some species – such as tigers, elephants and turtles -- to the brink of extinction, World Wildlife Fund CEO Carter Roberts told Congress today. He urged greater cooperation between government agencies, a commitment to saving wild species in their natural habitats and increased funding for biodiversity conservation.
“Species are now disappearing at an unprecedented rate – 100 to 1,000 times more quickly than the normal extinction rate,” Roberts said during a hearing on HR 3086, the “Global Wildlife Conservation, Coordination and Enhancement Act of 2009. “Scientists believe that we are in the initial stages of a major worldwide extinction event that could result in the permanent loss of up to two-thirds of the world’s plant and animal species by the end of this century.”
Roberts applauded the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife for crafting the bill, which builds upon highly successful existing programs within the US Fish and Wildlife Service to create a more broad-based and comprehensive approach to international wildlife conservation. The legislation promotes better law enforcement, increased outreach and education, and new opportunities for public-private partnerships.
“The US is one of the top two consuming nations for wildlife globally and its buying power is having a dramatic impact on the wildlife and livelihoods of the most biodiverse countries,” Roberts said. “The role of the US in supporting source countries, informing its own consumer market, and enforcing and regulating that market is a complex one that requires significant resources and internal and external cooperation and coordination, and we are pleased that this bill attempts to address it.”
Cooperation and coordination between agencies are key to the success of these efforts while still allowing autonomy and flexibility, Roberts added. He also said that the most efficient, economical and effective strategy is to conserve species in their natural habitats. Conservation outside of natural habitats, such as captive breeding, should only be used as a last resort.
Speaking on behalf of WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife monitoring arm of WWF and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Roberts welcomed the focus on outreach and education in the bill. Reaching out to all stakeholders involved in the capture, transport, sale and use of wild species is critical, he said, while urging the subcommittee to build upon existing successful outreach campaigns such as “Buyer Beware” and not “reinvent the wheel.”
The timing of the bill is perfect as next year two major international meetings will take place – the 15th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and a Global Tiger Summit. With trade in endangered species on the increase and tigers continuing to decline in the wild despite years of conservation efforts, Roberts urged Congress and the Administration to “utilize every available opportunity to address conservation challenges on the global stage.”