Tomorrow, Sunday March 3, Guyana and the rest of the world will observe World Wildlife Day (WWD). Every year, this day is set aside by the United Nations (UN) for countries and international organisations to reflect on what is being done and plan for the future in terms of sustainable wildlife management and conservation. The UN has renewed its commitment in doing all that is necessary to protect wildlife and stop wildlife crimes, such as poaching and trafficking.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), wildlife trafficking and poaching have ravaged key populations of endangered wildlife, driving many to the brink of extinction. Elephants, rhinos, tigers, lions, sharks, jaguars and gorillas, among many others, are under serious threat. Poaching threatens local livelihoods, and undermines environmental health and ecological integrity, removing species that play important roles in maintaining a natural balance in their respective ecosystems.
All over the world, especially in countries with a huge wildlife population, the call is being made for the authorities to take more proactive steps in halting the illegal trade in wildlife and to manage wildlife in a more sustainable manner. The animals and plants that live in the wild have an intrinsic value and contributes to the ecological, genetic, social, economic, scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and aesthetic aspects of human well-being and sustainable development.
World Wildlife Day is an opportunity to celebrate the many beautiful and varied forms of wild fauna and flora and to raise awareness of the multitude of benefits that conservation provides to people. At the same time, the day reminds us of the urgent need to step up the fight against wildlife crime and human induced reduction of species, which have wide-ranging economic, environmental and social impacts.
Here in Guyana, it is well known that persons are still engaging in the illegal trade in wildlife. This is in spite of the fact that a number of critical steps were taken by the authorities to bring a halt to the practice. There are even allegations that the illegal trade in wildlife is being done sometimes with the knowledge of the law enforcement authorities who turn a blind eye to it.
Just recently, there were reports in the media of the killing of a jaguar, Guyana’s national animal. A photo of the dead jaguar began circulating on social media earlier this week and has since sparked debates and awareness about the need to protect this endangered species of animal. From all indications, based on the post, the animal was killed during a hunting trip. But it is against the law to hunt and kill an animal which falls under the protection of the law.
We have noted that the Natural Resources Ministry has since called for an investigation into the matter. Certainly this is a serious issue and must be treated as such. It is therefore hoped that a thorough investigation will be carried out and the relevant action will be taken to ensure that there is no recurrence.
The jaguar is known as Guyana’s national animal and is protected by the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2016. According to the legislation, collecting, holding in captivity, hunting, killing, or otherwise molesting ‘protected’ species is prohibited.
The jaguar is the third-largest feline in the world, and the largest in the Western hemisphere. Globally, jaguar populations are on the decline mainly due to the loss of habitat and conflict with people. As a result, these animals are listed as a ‘near threatened’ species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Guyana must therefore show by its actions that it is serious about protecting this rare animal.
In an effort to strengthen the regulation and management of the international wildlife trade, regulations were put in place to make provisions for among other things, penalising the harvesting of prohibited species of wildlife, exporting, re-exporting or importing wildlife without permits and the use of prohibited devices and methods to hunt wildlife.
It should also be mentioned that the Guyana Wildlife Conservation and Management Commission (GWCMC) is working on the development of a 10-year strategic plan aimed at developing regulations on the hunting, trapping, trade, protection, conservation, management and sustainable use of wildlife. While this sounds good on paper, it makes very little sense if serious efforts are not made towards ensuring that these policies are effectively implemented.