Thoughts on WWD at the UN
As rain crept across the glass of the train window on March 2nd, I thought about how New York City had an unwelcoming climate – appropriate for a day of awareness about the sombre situation the world’s big cats are in.
I was fortunate to be able to attend the World Wildlife Day event at the UN Headquarters for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Youth for Wildlife Conservation (Y4WC) to learn, take notes, and to cover the event for social media. I am just months into what I hope will be a long and meaningful career in wildlife conservation, I had never been to the UN, and know very little about the labyrinth that is international policy on wildlife conservation. It is because of this “outsider” point of view that I was asked to share my experience.
Having never attended a panel of this sort, I was quite surprised at the fact that representatives from all over the world are in agreement on the major threats facing big cats, and even more surprised (and impressed) that we also agree, in a broad sense, on the steps we need to take to save them.
So, what are the threats facing big cats?
In a word, humans. Wildlife trafficking, human-wildlife conflict, habitat loss, poaching and retaliatory killing were acknowledged by nearly every speaker. This is not new knowledge, but what was interesting to me was 1) the connections made to humanitarian issues (hunger, poverty, and political instability, among others) and 2) the idea that economic growth is not at odds with wildlife conservation – the two go hand in hand.
And how do we save big cats?
At the highest levels, there is a keen awareness that our big cat populations are at a critical point. The event’s speakers agreed that big cats need time, space, and innovative solutions to have a chance to bounce back. Given a chance, the graceful and resourceful big cats will adapt.
In a room full of some of the largest NGOs in conservation and representatives from countries worldwide, it is understandable that the conversation becomes quite broad. After hearing major milestones and goals from organizations and governments, it was refreshing to hear a personal story from Mingyu Liu. Though all the speakers present spoke with passion about broad-reaching, global scale work, to hear from a researcher working directly on issues facing these magnificent animals provided much-needed individual perspective.
The young researcher also acknowledged the power of a strong youth network, and the importance of engaging youth in wildlife conservation issues. He quoted the Chinese saying “Strong youth leads to strong country” which CITES secretariat John Scanlon later amended – “Strong youth, strong country; strong youth, strong United Nations”.
World Wildlife Day was a day to celebrate victories in big cat conservation, and look to the future of conservation of not only big cats, but all endangered species. As keystone species, big cats provide countless ecosystem services, and their conservation will benefit the wider ecosystem, local economies, and add intrinsic beauty to our natural world.
Though the rain and wind still echoed the dire situation big cats are in as I left the UN Headquarters later that afternoon, I left inspired – and I hope other young conservationists left with the same feeling. The future of big cats, and other endangered species, depends upon youth. With support, connection, and engagement, we can ensure that the snow leopard, and the other graceful and mysterious big cats, can regain their rightful place in our world.