World Environment Day 2016 is bringing attention to the illegal trade in wildlife. Greater public awareness, public engagement, and public mobilization will be required, according to the United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP) “in the efforts to put an end to this very damaging trade.”

To raise global awareness on wildlife conservation, this year’s World Environment Day is “Go wild for life-zero tolerance for the illegal wildlife trade.”

The year’s theme encourages people to celebrate all those species under threat and take action of your own to help safeguard them for future generations. This can be about animals or plants that are threatened within your local area as well as at the national or global level.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his message on World Environment Day, focused on individual and institutional efforts to break the cycle illegal trade in wildlife.

The booming illegal trade in wildlife products is eroding Earth’s precious biodiversity, robbing us of our natural heritage and driving whole species to the brink of extinction. The killing and smuggling is also undermining economies and ecosystems, fuelling organized crime, and feeding corruption and insecurity across the globe.

Wildlife crime endangers iconic elephants, rhinos, tigers, gorillas and sea turtles. In 2011, a subspecies of Java rhino went extinct in Vietnam, while the last western black rhinos vanished from Cameroon the same year. Great apes have disappeared from Gambia, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo, and other countries could quickly follow. Lesser-known victims include helmeted hornbills and pangolins as well as wild orchids and timbers like Rosewood – flowers and timber are also considered wildlife, he added.

“Wildlife is an integral part of our biosphere. It is not only essential for healthy ecosystems but also key to peace and sustainable development. Many communities depend on wildlife trade, and tourism related to wildlife, for their livelihoods. An estimated one billion people rely on bush meat for subsistence,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, in her WED message.

World Environment Day is observed every year on June 5. This day is celebrated to raise to global awareness so that some positive environmental action could be taken to protect nature and the planet Earth.

How can we do it?

More people need to understand the damage this illicit business is doing to our environment, livelihoods, communities and security. We must change our habits and behaviour so that demand for illegal wildlife products falls. More awareness and action pushes governments and international bodies to introduce and enforce tougher laws and combat those still willing to break them.