UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. General Assembly unanimously adopted its first-ever resolution aimed at combatting illicit trafficking in wildlife on Thursday as its sponsors expressed outrage at the killing of a beloved protected lion in Zimbabwe.
The resolution, approved by consensus by the 193-member world body, is not legally binding. But its universal support reflects growing global opposition to the escalating poaching and trafficking, especially in elephant and rhinoceros horns, but also in other wild animals and plants.
It follows recent commitments by the United States and China, the world’s top market for illegal ivory, to end commercial ivory trading.
The resolution, sponsored by Gabon and Germany and co-sponsored by over 70 countries, urges all nations “to take decisive steps at the national level to prevent, combat and eradicate the illegal trade in wildlife, on both the supply and demand sides.”
The assembly said this should include strengthening legislation to prevent, investigate and prosecute illegal trading and called on all countries to make illicit trafficking involving organized criminal groups “a serious crime.”
Gabon’s Foreign Minister Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet praised the adoption of the resolution, which is the product of more than two years of negotiations, as “a historic step.”
Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Harald Braun told reporters that illegal trafficking in wildlife has become a huge global business and the money made from it is now a leading source of financing terrorism around the world.
“A pound of rhino horn today yields more than a pound of gold” on the black market, Braun said. “And the tusks of a hundred thousand elephants that were poached last year … (represent) an enormous economic value,” but still only a fraction of the value of living elephants for tourism and the economy of many African countries.
The sponsors were asked whether the resolution would have done anything to help save Cecil, the African lion that was reportedly lured out of a protected area and shot by an American hunter earlier this month.
“I think like most people in the world we are outraged at what happened to this poor lion,” Braun said. “Hunting activities are partly legal, partly illegal. It is this resolution which fights all the illegal aspects of it.”
Issoze-Ngondet called the killing “a matter of deep concern for all countries in Africa” but said it was difficult to comment because Zimbabwe is conducting an investigation. He urged immediate implementation of the resolution to tackle “poaching, illegal trade and illegal killing of these kind of animals.”
Leigh Henry, a senior policy adviser at the World Wildlife Fund said the resolution “sends a powerful message from the highest possible level … that wildlife crime, and the global criminal syndicates profiting from it, will not be tolerated.”
“Elephant populations are collapsing in many parts of Africa, and rhino poaching in South Africa has spiked to historic levels,” he said. “Wildlife crime not only threatens these and countless other species, it also risks the lives and livelihoods of local communities, facilitates corruption and undermines regional and global security.”
EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press
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