New EU Biodiversity Strategy Can Reduce Risk of Future Pandemics — If It Fully Addresses Wildlife Trade
By Arnaud Goessens
As the planet faces the multiple impacts of COVID-19 on human health, well-being and economies, it's time for governments across the globe to show leadership and take the necessary steps to help prevent future major pandemics.
Trade, Biodiversity and Diseases<p>The strategy, as published, does a great job acknowledging that efforts to address wildlife trade and consumption will help prevent and build up resilience to possible future diseases and pandemics.</p><p>But it doesn't go far enough. The EU must also assist the global community in ending the commercial trade and sale in markets of wildlife for human consumption — particularly birds and mammals — as a key outcome to prevent future zoonotic outbreaks.</p><p>Although much of the wildlife sold in these markets is legal, the illegal trade in wild animals continues to harm both wildlife and local communities. It can also produce the conditions for disastrous and deadly pandemics. The <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/environment/cites/trafficking_en.htm" target="_blank">EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking</a> — first published in 2016 and due to expire this year — will therefore be a critical instrument for reducing that threat. The Biodiversity Strategy calls for the revision of the wildlife trafficking plan in 2021.</p>
Southern white rhino, a frequently trafficked species, in Uganda. Rod Waddington / CC BY-SA 2.0<p>This commitment is welcome and will provide an opportunity for the EU and its Member States to step up their efforts to combat wildlife trafficking and finally treat it as serious crime. Hopefully it will include a commitment to deploying a similar level of resources and penalties as currently devoted to crimes like drug trafficking. Without such deterrents in place, the EU — like any government or region — won't be able to put an end to wildlife trafficking.</p><p>The EU is also now determining its long-term budget — the Multiannual Financial Framework — and will soon set spending targets for the next seven years. The MFF and the next EU development-aid budget (the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument) are critical in outlining the EU's top priorities.</p><p>Those priorities must include high, ambitious spending targets for climate, environment and biodiversity. Without proper financing mechanisms, the EU won't be able to implement <em>any</em> strategies or actions to preserve our environment and health. While the Biodiversity Strategy states that the EU's ready to increase its support to developing countries for biodiversity after this year, no detailed financial pledge has yet been made. The EU has missed an opportunity to make a much-needed commitment in this regard, but it's not too late to establish one.</p><p>The EU has all the cards in its hands to make the right decisions — not only to significantly reduce the risk of future major pandemics but to build a new paradigm in which we can live in harmony with nature. It published a well-thought-out strategy that provides the foundation for ambitious actions to tackle the biodiversity crisis; now it needs to put its money where its mouth is.</p><p>The EU and its member states have established bold and immediate measures to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on human health, wellbeing and security. Now it must do the same to tackle the biodiversity crisis — whose impacts on our society are likely to be far worse than those of the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p>The EU has a unique opportunity to show leadership, to be a game-changer, and to be on the right side of history a model that other governments and regions across the globe can emulate. Let's hope it doesn't let us down.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alexander Richard Braczkowski, Christopher O'Bryan, Duan Biggs, and Raymond Jansen
A Cute But Threatened Species<p><a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/what-is-a-pangolin" target="_blank">Pangolins</a> are the only mammals wholly-covered in scales, which they use to protect themselves from predators. They can also curl up into a tight ball.</p><p>They eat mainly ants, termites and larvae which they pick up with their sticky tongue. They can grow up to 1m in length from nose to tail and are sometimes referred to as scaly anteaters.</p><p>But <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128155073000332" title="Chapter 33 - Conservation strategies and priority actions for pangolins" target="_blank">all eight</a> pangolin species are classified as "<a href="https://www.pangolins.org/tag/endangered-species/" target="_blank">threatened</a>" under International Union for Conservation of Nature <a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?query=pangolin&searchType=species" target="_blank">criteria</a>.</p><p>There is an unprecedented demand for their scales, primarily from countries in Asia and <a href="https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/conl.12389" title="Assessing Africa‐Wide Pangolin Exploitation by Scaling Local Data" target="_blank">Africa</a> where they are used in food, cultural remedies and <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/141072b0" title="Chinese Medicine and the Pangolin" target="_blank">medicine</a>.</p><p>Between 2017 and 2019, seizures of pangolin scales <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/02/pangolin-scale-trade-shipments-growing/" target="_blank">tripled in volume</a>. In 2019 alone, 97 tons of pangolin scales, equivalent to about 150,000 animals, were <a href="https://oxpeckers.org/2020/03/nigeria-steps-up-for-pangolins/" target="_blank">reportedly</a> intercepted leaving Africa.</p>
Reintroduction of an Extinct Species<p>Each year in South Africa the African Pangolin Working Group (<a href="https://africanpangolin.org/" target="_blank">APWG</a>) retrieves between 20 and 40 pangolins through intelligence operations with security forces.</p><p>These pangolins are often-traumatised and injured and are admitted to the <a href="http://www.johannesburgwildlifevet.com/our-hospital" target="_blank">Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital</a> for extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation before they can be considered for release.</p><p>In 2019, seven rescued Temminck's pangolins were reintroduced into South Africa's <a href="https://www.andbeyond.com/destinations/africa/south-africa/kwazulu-natal/phinda-private-game-reserve/" target="_blank">Phinda Private Game Reserve</a> in the KwaZulu Natal Province.</p><p>Nine months on, five have survived. This reintroduction is a world first for a region that last saw a viable population of this species in the 1980s.</p><p>During the release, every individual pangolin followed a strict regime. They needed to become familiar with their new surroundings and be able to forage efficiently.</p>
A ‘Soft Release’ in to the Wild<p>The process on Phinda game reserve involved a more gentle ease into re-wilding a population in a region that had not seen pangolins for many decades.</p><p>The soft release had two phases:</p><ol><li>a pre-release observational period</li><li>an intensive monitoring period post release employing GPS satellite as well as VHF tracking tags.</li></ol>
Why Pangolin Reintroduction is Important<p>We know so little about this group of mammals that are vastly understudied and hold many secrets yet to be discovered by science but are on the verge of collapse.</p><p>The South African and Phinda story is one of hope for the Temminck's pangolin where they once again roam the savanna hills and plains of Zululand.</p><p>The process of relocating these trade animals back into the wild has taken many turns, failures and tribulations but, the recipe of the "soft release" is working.</p>
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The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced on Dec. 22 the release of Caught in the Crosshairs: Combating the Illegal Wildlife Trade in Iraq and Afghanistan—a new video aimed at informing U.S. military personnel about the consequences of buying illegal wildlife products when deployed or stationed overseas.
The video, seen here, is the latest outreach tool in an ongoing initiative supported by the Department of Defense (DoD) Legacy Program that began in 2007 when WCS staff first noticed illegal items for sale on military bases near Kabul, Afghanistan. A subsequent survey of 395 soldiers at Fort Drum in June 2008 revealed that more than 40 percent of those surveyed had purchased or seen someone else in the military purchase products made from wildlife while stationed overseas.
Launched during the holiday season, it is hoped that the new video will educate and remind military personnel returning home to not purchase and transport these products as gifts for family and friends.
Many of the wildlife products available that end up on bases in Afghanistan and Iraq are from locally or globally threatened or endangered species such as snow leopard, Eurasian wolf, and Asiatic black bear. The purchase and transport of such products violates military regulations, U.S. laws such as the Endangered Species Act, national laws of Afghanistan, and obligations to international agreements such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
“Only a small fraction of respondents to our 2008 survey knew about the various laws regulating trade in illegal wildlife,” said WCS North America Program Livelihoods coordinator Dr. Heidi Kretser. “The video highlights the potential consequences for soldiers purchasing wildlife products and illustrates how demand for these items can put species at risk and contribute to local, regional, and global extinctions.”
Military personnel and affiliates stationed overseas have significant buying power that influences local markets—including driving the demand for wildlife products. This is bad news for iconic wildlife such as snow leopards in Afghanistan that are endangered, yet are sometimes poached for their beautiful coat and other body parts. By demonstrating this cause and effect relationship to military personnel, the video looks to end demand for these products, and therefore, the incentive for dealers to carry them and support poaching.
The video, narrated by actor/director and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity Edward Norton, also alerts the viewer to other dangers of purchasing and transporting illegal wildlife products. These include threats associated with zoonotic disease (pathogens that occur in wildlife that are potentially transmissible to people), the depletion of scarce and/or culturally significant natural resources, and the inadvertent support of organized crime.
The video notes that law enforcement authorities are finding that organized crime groups that smuggle weapons and drugs are increasingly involved with the trade of illegal wildlife—a trade estimated to reach into the billions of dollars.
“We believe the video helps the message resonate with military personnel on several levels, said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army, Installations, Energy & Environment. “If something is seized and it is understood that it has been intentionally purchased with the intent of transporting it back to the United States, then they are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and their command is notified. So it could jeopardize a soldier’s entire career.”
WCS Deputy Director of Asia Programs Peter Zahler said, “We are proud to be advising the DoD on this important project to reduce demand for wildlife products, protect military personnel from inadvertently breaking the law, and protect globally significant wildlife. This video will go a long way in helping both WCS and DoD achieve their missions.”
For more information, click here.
The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.