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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

The world's extraordinary wildlife is a blessing to us all

As many species face extinction across the globe, each of us has a part to play in protecting this precious gift

Naji Mohammad Al Radhi of the Dubai Government throws an illegal ivory tusk on a pile to be destroyed by a crushing machine. Victor Besa for The National.
Naji Mohammad Al Radhi of the Dubai Government throws an illegal ivory tusk on a pile to be destroyed by a crushing machine. Victor Besa for The National.

As we have woken up to the part we all play in climate change, so it is now time to acknowledge the threat human beings are posing to the thousands of species teetering on the brink of extinction. On Monday, the International Union for Conservation of Nature publishes its latest Red List, the definitive barometer of the health of the planet’s biodiversity. The news is unlikely to be good. Working with experts and organisations around the world, including the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, the organisation has so far assessed 95,000 key species. Of these, 26,000 are in peril. Poaching is the most visible threat.

As the UK hosted last week’s Illegal Wildlife Trade conference, Dominic Jermey, head of the Zoological Society of London and a former British ambassador to the UAE, urged the global community to address this “industrial-scale pillage” with the same urgency it devotes to terrorism. A start has been made. Thirty global financial institutions have joined a taskforce to choke the international movement of money by illegal traders. Intercepting the proceeds of this grotesque trade is one thing, but destroying its market must be the ultimate goal. Education and legislation have made inroads – rare now is the home with a tiger-skin rug, and companies such as Emirates Airline have done their bit to raise awareness among their customers with high-profile campaigns – but a black market continues to thrive. In July almost 2,000 pieces of elephant ivory, en route to Asia, were seized at Dubai airport. In China, the government may have banned the ivory industry but traditional medicine relies on the body parts of more than 30 species. In Vietnam, a myth that rhino horn cures cancer recently unleashed a frenzy of poaching in South Africa.

But none of us can afford to be smug. Economic success and human development pose their own threats. The IUCN Red List includes more than 400 species facing the prospect of extinction in the GCC, with 60 listed for the UAE alone. Extinction is extinction, whether triggered by a poacher’s rifle or a loss of habitat. As the blessing of wildlife benefits each one of us, so the disappearance of a single species from the face of the earth diminishes us all.