This World Wildlife Day, let’s celebrate the power of youth voices!

World Wildlife Day on 3 March 2017 is a chance for young people to make their voices heard on the kind of world they want, and need, to inherit from their parents.

Humans are forever learning about nature and from nature. Perhaps that’s because they are part of nature and depend on nature’s ecosystems for their survival.

Did you know that mothers tend to cradle newborn babies on the left? Scientists say this position activates the right hemisphere of the brain, which is involved in functions that help in communication and bonding. According to researchers in Russia, this "positional bias" is not unique to humans, but is also found in animals.

Did you know that nature’s time-tested designs and processes are inspiring technological innovation? Flies’ eyes have inspired telescope designs; spiders’ webs have been studied to replicate their immense strength, and bush babies have inspired jumping robot designs. The phenomenon is known as biomimicry.

Nature, left alone, works in perfect harmony to provide clean air, clean water, healthy ecosystems and regulated temperatures that support life on earth in all its varied forms from hornets to humans. It has been likened to a delicate but robust web in which all things are connected and interdependent. If the web is broken, our very survival is threatened.

We’ve only been around for about 3.5 million years. If we are to be as successful as the dinosaurs, who existed for 165 million years, we’re going to have to preserve and protect the environment, natural habitats and ecosystems. Our future depends on it.

This seems a daunting prospect as the world’s population grows to a projected 9.7 billion by 2050. But as with most human endeavours, it is possible, and today’s youth can push us in the right direction.

The theme for this year’s World Wildlife Day on 3 March is “Listen to the young voices.”

 

“Given the current rate of poaching and smuggling, will future generations one day speak of elephants, rhinoceros and many other endangered species as we speak of mammoths: magnificent creatures belonging to the past? We must not and will not allow this to happen,” says CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Secretary-General, John E. Scanlon.

“It is the responsibility of each generation to safeguard wildlife for the following generation. We have not yet succeeded in securing the future of the world’s wildlife. Meeting this challenge will now be shared with the next generation,” says Scanlon.

“To succeed we must fully harness the innovation and energy of youth, and combine it with the wisdom that comes with experience, if we are to make the change we need to happen... This is the message behind the theme ‘Listen to the young voices’”.

Organizations such as the Youth Forum for People and Wildlife and South Africa’s Youth and Conservation Programme engage young people and serve as examples of ways to integrate youth in wildlife conservation.

 

Positive signs of change

Habitat loss, climate change and industrial-scale poaching are impacting species great and small, from elusive pangolins to migratory sea turtles, to apex predators like the tiger.

According to the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, globally, the average area of forest per capita halved from 1.2 hectares in 1960 to 0.59 hectares in 2008. Global deforestation continues at an alarming rate: 13 million hectares of forest are being destroyed annually.

But despite the worrying reports of rapid species’ decline, we are seeing positive signs of change.

More people are paying attention. Last year, the UN launched the Wild for Life Campaign, which asked people to make wildlife crime personal. Since its launch, it has engaged 35 celebrity champions, reached over 1 billion people, generated 4.5 million social media engagement and 12,000 pledges of action.

This World Wildlife Day, UN Environment is asking the world’s youth to Go Wild for Life with five new species launched by five new celebrities, including child actor Aidan Gallagher from the hit Nickelodeon show “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky and Dawn”.

 

Many species have also received greater levels of protection at last year’s CITES Conference, which shows that governments are paying more attention.

And some are taking monumental steps to combat the destruction of species. In December 2016, the future of elephants was given a huge boost by China’s declaration to ban all commercial ivory trade by the end of 2017.

“China has set a great example to the world with its ivory ban. Young people should take heart from this and push for further progress globally to ensure that wildlife and their habitats are sustainably managed in the future,” says UN Environment Executive Director Erik Solheim.

Young people with their open minds and social media skills are well placed to raise awareness and stop unsustainable behaviours before they take root, and to influence change where these behaviours may already exist (like with their parents).

For further information, please contact Lisa Rolls: Lisa.Rolls [at] unep.org