UNEP Goodwill Ambassadors Support Initiative to Curb Wildlife Crime

Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Li BingBing and Yaya Touré speak up for wildlife as Wild and Precious International Airport Exhibition is unveiled

Vibrantly-coloured snakes, magnificent elephants, and iconic apes are among the fauna featured in the "Wild and Precious" International Airport Exhibition unveiled today in Nairobi, Kenya.

This is the first-ever collaborative awareness initiative between UNEP, the GoodPlanet Foundation—a French NGO founded by photographer and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador, Yann Arthus-Bertrand—and CITES at Beijing Capital International Airport. The resources that Beijing has committed are unprecedented, with the commercial value of media and production in the millions of dollars.

The Exhibition was originally conceived to mark the 40th anniversary of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Following the Conference, UNEP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Shanghai, China in support of wildlife demand reduction outreach. As a result of this agreement, Wild & Precious has been displayed in 5 central city metro stations.

The Exhibition will now find a home at both the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya and at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, China.

Seven of the world's most renowned nature photographers, including Laurent Baheux, Sandra Bartocha, Heidi and Hans-Jurgen Koch, Mark Laita, Brian Skerry and Yann Arthus-Bertrand, have taken part in the initiative.

The ”Wild and Precious” exhibition aims to celebrate the beauty of wildlife. The goal is for these striking images to encourage and inspire the world's citizens to consume responsibly products that are derived from wild animals and plants and used by people in their daily lives for food, housing, health care, ecotourism, cosmetics or fashion. The line that calls people to this action is:  Be Informed. Make Smart Choices.

In May of this year, film actress and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Li BingBing—one of China's most popular celebrities and a rising Hollywood star—visited Kenya to witness the impacts of the poaching crisis for herself and to urge greater effort by governments and consumers to combat illegal wildlife trade.

Li BingBing said citizens and the business community in Asia can play a crucial role in preventing the illegal killing of elephants in Africa by saying no to ivory products. The major recent spike in elephant killings—now at their highest levels in around a decade—is threatening the future of some elephant populations and the livelihoods of millions of people linked to tourism.

More recently, International football star Yaya Touré pledged to combat the illegal ivory trade that sees thousands of African elephants slaughtered each year as he was designated a Goodwill Ambassador for UNEP.

"Côte d'Ivoire's national team is named 'The Elephants' after these magnificent creatures that are so full of power and grace, yet in my country alone there may be as few as 800 individuals left," Touré said. "Poaching threatens the very existence of the African elephant and if we do not act now we could be looking at a future in which this iconic species is wiped out."

"I became a UNEP Goodwill Ambassador to spread the message that this poaching and other forms of wildlife crime is not only a betrayal of our responsibility to safeguard threatened species, but a serious threat to the security, political stability, economy, natural resources and cultural heritage of many countries," Touré added.

“The illegal trade in wildlife and timber can only be eradicated if the demand for contraband products disappears. Messages by Goodwill Ambassadors like Yann Arthus-Bertrand, via Wild and Precious, Li Bingbing and Yaya Touré work to highlight the multiple costs of illegal trade and can reach millions of consumers, and encourage sustainable choices that can support the survival of species and ecosystems”, said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.  

The International Consortium to Combat Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) partners are working together to improve collaboration between customs, police forces and national governments to tackle this black market. UNEP is supporting this initiative.

“It is within our collective power to conserve our most precious species in the wild. Through the Wild and Precious exhibition, we are raising the awareness of consumers about the impacts their daily decisions can have on wildlife and on people”, said John Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General, adding: “through informed consumer choices we can have a huge impact on the survival of species in the wild and the livelihoods of rural communities”.

"Rising wildlife crime in Kenya and other parts of Africa is an issue of global concern, impacting many regions of the world. Profits from the high price of elephant ivory and rhino horn are being linked to criminal networks involved in the illegal drugs trade, illegal logging, and human trafficking according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime," added Mr. Steiner. 

Estimates of the global illicit trade in wildlife put it to be worth up to USD $20 billion per year, making it the fourth largest illegal trade in the world after narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

Reptiles, sharks, great apes, and certain timber species are among the flora and fauna most affected by illegal trade. 

The Elephants in the Dust report—produced by UNEP, CITES, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC)—says that an estimate of 25,000 African elephants were killed in 2011 and that the illegal ivory trade has tripled since 1998.

Research by UNEP and INTERPOL estimates that between 50 to 90 percent of logging in key tropical countries of the Amazon basin, Central Africa and South East Asia is being carried out by organized crime.

A recent UNEP study showed that almost 3,000 live great apes are being taken from the forests of Africa and Southeast Asia each year. The main markets for the illegal trade in chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans include the tourist entertainment industry, disreputable zoos, and individuals who wish to buy great apes as exotic pets. 

For more information on the Wild and Precious Airport Exhibition and Wildlife Crime, http://www.unep.org/newscentre/Default.aspx?DocumentID=2755&ArticleID=9686&l=en