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Time to curb the wildlife trade

IN A WORLD that seems to grow smaller with each passing year, human beings continue to consume with a voracious and insatiable appetite. We are consuming natural resources at an unprecedented rate and seem obsessed with "Band-Aid" solutions to environmental problems.

I have spent my life working with chimpanzees in Africa and am increasingly concerned about the fate of not just individual populations, but the species in general.

Talk is useful in addressing the problems, education is crucial, but until we unite and together develop and implement local and global solutions to the wildlife crisis, we will continue to lose species. It is time that we recognize that our appetite is causing extinction.

Wildlife trade is one of the greatest threats faced by animals around the world.

We are consuming wildlife for fashion, traditional medicine, souvenirs, trophy hunting, and bushmeat. We have commodified wildlife to the extent that an ideology has developed that wildlife can only remain if it "pays its way" -- otherwise it is superfluous.

What are the long-term implications of such an ideology?

We are permitting the trophy hunting of the strongest, healthiest and most powerful animals -- those that should be leading their families and passing their genes on to future generations are being eradicated.

Wildlife trade is destroying natural selection processes that have allowed species to evolve, thrive, and survive. We need to consider that we are not only affecting individual species, but entire eco-systems and biodiversity. Intact ecosystems deliver the greatest benefits to communities -- for both humans and animals.

We need to understand that international trade in wildlife does not solve poverty nor does it benefit conservation. International trade often drives dynamics which vacuum key species from ecosystems leaving behind devastated habitats poor of life and livelihoods.

Very few parties benefit from the trade and the cost is so great it is incalculable.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna meets in Thailand this month.

Among the proposals on the table is a request by South Africa and Namibia to trade in ivory, elephant hair, and leather for commercial purposes. This is despite opposition from many African nations who recognize that permitting any legal trade in elephant products, particularly in ivory, fuels the illegal market, which threatens global elephant populations.

Kenya is rallying to prevent these proposals and to pave the way for lasting solutions for elephants and their habitats by requesting a 20-year moratorium for any ivory sale proposal and the closure of domestic markets.

Japan is proposing the downlisting of the certain stocks of Minke whales in a move towards the resumption of commercial whaling.

However, there is some good news.

Australia and Madagascar are proposing greater protection for the great white shark through the endangered species convention, and the United States and Indonesia are working towards increased protection for a number of Asian freshwater turtle species.

Also at the endangered species convention, the European Union is calling for the world to unite to solve the bushmeat crisis. While these are positive steps, it cannot be denied that there is a shift in the convention to support "sustainable" trade. This is why it is so important that nongovernmental organizatons such as the International Fund for Animals Welfare continue to work tirelessly to ensure the real purpose of the convention is not forgotten -- that is, conservation.Climate change, environmental devastation, and the global trade in wildlife are all taking their toll.

We must continue to work for today, through conventions such as the one on endangered species but also for tomorrow through our young people.

By educating young people around the world, we can build respect for life and an appreciation of animals for what they are, not what use they are to us. We must build an appetite for conservation not consumption.If we encourage young people throughout the world to learn about the problems we face, together we will find the solutions we need. And we can create a world that is big enough for us all. Jane Goodall is founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and a UN Messenger of Peace.  

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