World Wildlife Day 2022
Today is World Wildlife Day with the theme, “Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration.”
The 1972 World Heritage Convention makes an important contribution to protect species by giving an international protection status to areas and ecosystems which harbor the most remarkable species. The transnational mangrove ecosystem of the Sundarbans (Bangladesh) and the Sundarbans National Park (India) for example are the world's largest remaining habitats for the Bengal Tiger and other threatened, flagship species such as Irrawaddy and Ganges River dolphins.
Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries (China), is an additional crucial species habitat to more than 30% of the world's pandas which are classed as highly endangered and covers 924,500 ha with seven nature reserves and nine scenic parks in the Qionglai and Jiajin Mountains. The sanctuaries constitute the largest remaining contiguous habitat of the giant panda, a relict from the paleo-tropic forests of the Tertiary Era. It is also the species' most important site for captive breeding. The sanctuaries are also home to other globally endangered animals such as the red panda, the snow leopard and clouded leopard. They are among the botanically richest sites of any region in the world outside the tropical rainforests, with between 5,000 and 6,000 species of flora in over 1,000 genera.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site harboring a plethora of species is the Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of Congo). This Park contains 218 mammal species, 706 bird species, 109 reptile species and 78 amphibian species. It also serves as refuge to 22 primate species of which three are the great ape – mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), the eastern plain gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) and the eastern chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi), with a third of the world population of mountain gorillas.
Also in Africa, with an area of 1,740,000 ha, Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park (Central African Republic) is the largest park in the Central African savannas. Straddling the two ecological zones, Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park owes its importance to its rich flora and fauna. But it is also home to many endangered species including the black rhino, elephant, hippopotamus and red-fronted gazelle as well as large concentrations of herbivores.
Biodiversity and species are crucial to sustain life on earth (SDG 15). In order to ensure this life on earth sustainably, we need to protect species’ habitats as some species in UNESCO World Heritage sites are increasingly endangered and facing extinction.
For example, the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California (Mexico) contains 39% of the world’s total number of species of marine mammals and a third of the world’s marine cetacean species but the critical situation and near extinction of the vaquita resulted in the property's inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2019. This inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger has the objective to mobilize the State Party of Mexico, the international community and all other relevant stakeholders to urgently address the causes of the decline, in particular illegal fishing practices.
This global, collective mobilization is indicative of the one-of-a-kind international mandate of the World Heritage Convention which this year celebrates it’s 50th anniversary. Within these 50 years, the Convention has been an instrumental tool in recovering species for future generations. For example in the Wadden Sea (Denmark, Germany, Netherlands), harbour seals have increased fivefold from 1975 until 2019 from approximately 5000 to over 25,000. In another marine site Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles), its green turtle population went from near extinction to the largest in the Western Indian Ocean region. By introducing strict protection measures for nesting beaches around the Aldabra Atoll, the number of turtles nesting annually, increased from 500-800 in the late 1960s to 3100-5225 in 2011 and continues to grow every year.
As we reflect today on World Wildlife Day in this 50th anniversary year of the World Heritage Convention - let us learn from these success stories and use them as sources of inspiration (while working to prevent extinction of endangered species in other sites) as we chart the future for the next 50 years of UNESCO World Heritage and all the immense species these outstanding places protect.