Press releases

Monday 21 Nov 2011

UN calls for international collaboration to safeguard wildlife frequent

Bergen, Norway, 20 November 2011 – The world is covered by billions of invisible migratory pathways. On land, in the water and in the air, animals on the move depend on the availability of critical sites along their annual journeys. These world wildlife hubs are vital for the animals to refuel and reproduce – one missing link can jeopardize an entire population.

Much like modern transport systems with airports, railways and roads, migratory species have similar networks spanning the globe. Many of these hubs are under intense pressure from human development and the exploitation of natural resources.

Scientists predict the global “Mean Species Abundance”, a measure to project both the diversity of species and their numbers, to decrease from 0.70 in 2000, to about 0.63 by 2050.

This projected loss of abundance and species of wildlife is equivalent to eradicating all fauna and flora in an area of 9.1 million km2 – roughly the size of the United States of America or China – in less than 40 years.

Today, representatives from near 100 governments come together for a UN conference in Bergen, Norway to help safeguard migratory wildlife.

World Wildlife Hubs are threatened across the planet. In the Canadian High Arctic white Beluga whales migrating in open narrow corridors in the ice may see their migration stopped by shipping from a large proposed iron mine.  Whales and dolphins are exposed to increasing noise pollution from sonar and vessels, which might lead to changes and drops of up to 58 per cent in the communication of the marine mammals.

In the Yellow Sea in East Asia land reclamation is destroying critical “airports” for waterbirds, while the open plains of Central Asia, Africa and South America are being bisected by roads, railways and new mining projects.

Poaching is causing dramatic declines in rhinos, elephants, tigers and antelopes worldwide, with few resources to enforcement.

These are some of the threatened sites identified in the report entitled Living Planet: Connected Planet. Preventing the End of the World's Wildlife Migrations through Ecological Network. It was launched today in Bergen by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (UNEP/CMS) with the Norwegian Minister of Environment, Erik Solheim, on the opening day of a UN Wildlife Conference convened by CMS.

CMS Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema said: “For all the frequent travellers of the animal world ecological networks are essential for their migration and survival. International cooperation is crucial to manage these large transboundary networks. The commitment of all countries is needed, so that future generations can still marvel at and benefit from these nomads connecting our planet.”

The report highlights how international collaboration has resulted in unique success stories in protecting migratory species as examples to follow:

Birdlife travelling along the East Atlantic Flyway from Africa to the Arctic needs to land and refuel – the Dutch-German-Danish Wadden Sea cooperation has helped safeguard a key “airport” hub in the Wadden Sea for species travelling globally.

In the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau, sharks that have roamed the oceans for over 400 million years ago were becoming endangered due to the demand for their fins for soup.

“Two years ago, Palau became the first country to declare its coastal waters a shark sanctuary--scientists now estimate that shark diving tours are generating around eight percent of the country’s GDP and that a single shark generates revenues from ecotourism amounting to €1.9 million over its lifetime”, says Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.

The globally threatened Lesser White-fronted Goose breeds in the forest tundra from Scandinavia to easternmost Russia and has declined dramatically since the 1950’ies, but the framework of the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement has brought together governments of the twenty-two key countries along their migration routes to help save the species from extinction.

The endangered mountain gorillas in the Virungas on the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda numbered only 250 by 1981, but successful transboundary enforcement measures led to its recovery in the midst of one of World’s most severe conflicts. By 2010, it had reached 480.
A ten year programme to restore and conserve seven million hectares of wetlands in China, Iran, Kazakhstan and Russia has not only boosted the prospects for the critically endangered Siberian crane but also improved drinking water supplies, inland fisheries and carbon storage.

The report calls for international collaboration to safeguard the ecological networks binding the many wildlife hubs and corridors together.

However, while great success has been made through the convention and international collaboration, a few of the largest countries in the World, accounting for near 36% of the global land area – are still not parties to the convention, posing challenges for protecting migratory species worldwide in spite of near 150 countries collaborating.

Poaching
Poaching is once again on the rise, especially in the grasslands and savannahs of Africa and Central Asia.

The numbers of Wildebeest, Rhinos, Saiga and Chiru antelopes, Goitered and Tibetan Gazelles, Guanacos and Vicuñas, have fallen in many areas by 35-90 per cent over the past decades.

Overhunting for illegal trade in Saiga horn led to a dramatic decline of Saiga antelope populations of 95 per cent from one million to 50,000 animals only. Under the CMS, monitoring, identification of protected areas for calving and rutting herds, transboundary patrolling and the participation of local communities build the core pillars of an efficient conservation strategy.

The protection of huge reserves in China and Central Asia, along with greater focus on antipoaching, has also helped save the Chiru or Tibetan antelope from possible extinction, as their numbers dropped from over one million to less than 75,000 in 1-2 decades: Chiru’s were hunted for their wool, Shahtoosh, which could bring up to US$ 5000 for one shawl on the black market, but Chinese anti-poaching combined with the establishment of some of the largest reserves in the World by the Peoples Republic of China have turned the fate of these migratory animals. But challenges of poaching continue.

Barriers to migration
Chiru Antelopes still crossing the Qinghai-Tibetan railway and the Golmud-Lhasa highway to reach and return from their calving grounds spend 20-40 days looking for passages and waiting.

Road construction across the Serengeti, the most diverse grazing ecosystem on Earth, may cause major losses in the 1.5 million migrating Wildebeest ranging from 300,000 to close to 1 million with severe consequences for the entire ecosystem network, including for other animals and plants. Recent promises by the Tanzanian government to protect the Serengeti against the proposed roads, the largest remaining intact wild ungulate grazing system remaining on the planet in the last 250,000 years, is being applauded by the international community.

In the Masai Mara, Kenya, a decline of 81 per cent between the late 1970s and 1990s in the migratory Wildebeest population has been reported in response to fencing obstructing the annual migration and poaching.

Examples

  • For migratory birds and bats, wetlands and resting sites have declined by over 50 per cent in the last century, many of which are critical to these long distance travellers
  • Coastal development is increasing rapidly and is projected to have an impact on 91 per cent of all temperate and tropical coasts by 2050 and will contribute to more than 80 per cent of all marine pollution with severe impacts on migratory birds
  • Guanacos and Vicuñas have lost 40-75 per cent of their ranges in South America, and probably dropped at least by 90 per cent in their numbers over the last centuries due to habitat loss from expanding ranching and poaching.
  • Humpback Whales in Oceania threatened by bycatch, habitat degradation, pollution, disease, noise, ship strikes, depletion of prey and climate change
  • The tiny Nathusius’ pipistrelle is a bat species weighing only 6 to 10 g that travels almost 2000 km annually and is threatened by habitat loss and of collisions with the rapidly increasing number of wind power farms. The CMS EUROBATS-project work towards protecting habitats and flyways.
  • Loss of grassland ecosystems and agricultural activities at breeding grounds and along migration routes in Southern South America threatens the Buff-breasted Sandpiper and other grassland birds. CMS is working with countries in the region to identify new protected areas and zones located outside to create a network of habitats.
  • Bycatch is the top threat to the majority of marine mammals with an annual loss of more than 600,000 animals.
  • The subpopulation of the Humpback Whale migrating between Oceania and the Southern Ocean has plummeted by 70 per cent since 1942 to between 3,000 and 5,000 animals only.


Recommendations to secure ecological networks for migratory species include:

Assessing national infrastructure development projects including roads, railways, pipelines, power lines, wind parks and dams impeding migration of transboundary ungulates helps mitigate impacts and evaluating them in relation to possible violation of the CMS.

Combating environmental crime such as poaching requires a more concerted international effort to counteract illegal trade in wildlife products globally. Substantial increase in the funding and collaboration between INTERPOL, the World Bank, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), WCO (World Customs Organization) and UNODC (UN Office on Drugs and Crime) to help further combat wildlife crime are a prerequisite for success.

Increased anti-poaching training and enforcement, including training of trackers and improved crime scene management to secure evidence for prosecution are strongly needed.

A substantial increase in the number and size of marine protected areas is urgently needed. Important swimways of whales and dolphins, especially within the 200 km coastal zone, should, where possible, be included in marine protected areas and certain stretches should be designated as limited sail zones for freight vessels and naval activity.

Restoration of wetlands, tidal flats and the costal zones must be enhanced along the major bird flyways on all continents and countries, to ensure the survival of migratory birds.

The Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CMS, which is being held from 20 to 25 November 2011 in Bergen is putting particular focus on the importance of ecological networks as an efficient instrument to protect a wide range of migratory animals.

Notes to Editors:

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (UNEP/CMS) works for the conservation of a wide array of endangered migratory animals worldwide through the negotiation and implementation of agreements and action plans. CMS is a growing convention with special importance due to its expertise in the field of migratory species. At present, 116 countries are Parties to the Convention. www.cms.int

The report Living planet: Connected Planet is available for free download at www.unep.org and www.grida.no

High resolution graphics for free public use in media is also available for download at www.grida.no

For More Information, Please Contact:

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson and Head of Media, +41 795965737 or +254733632755, or nick.nuttall@unep.org

Veronika Lenarz, Spokesperson CMS,
T. +49 228 815-2409/ +47 46 86 15 44, F. +49 228 815-2449; vlenarz@cms.int

Monday 21 Nov 2011
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