Message from Ivonne Higuero, Secretary-General of CITES


World Wildlife Day is an opportunity to think about the plants and animals we share the planet with and consider what they do for us - and what we should be doing for them. Our wildlife gives us food, cleans our air and provides us with fuel and shelter. We could not survive without them, yet their survival is threatened by us. This day is a chance to celebrate the partnerships that are working to re-establish the natural balance between species, while at the same time acknowledging the challenges we still face to stop irreversible change. Our actions have brought us to this critical point; it is only by working together that we will find a way to conserve and sustainably use the diverse wildlife that supports us. 

The fates of individual species and entire ecosystems are intimately linked. This year’s celebration of World Wildlife Day focuses on how we can protect key species – species that play a particularly vital part in shaping how their ecosystem functions – and their contributions to ecosystem health.  The theme of “Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration” is such an important idea that this decade, from 2021 through to 2030 is the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, where we need to make real progress on this crucial area of work.  

We all have a role to play in protecting wildlife and restoring ecosystems. At CITES, governments set the rules for international trade in wildlife. These rules also affect the hunting, harvesting and collecting of specimens that are subsequently traded. CITES uses a rigorous system of trade permits to ensure that trade in at-risk species is sustainable. When a plant or animal is threatened with extinction, CITES often goes further and bans all commercial trade in that species until its recovery. CITES’ decisions are science-based, implementation-oriented and pragmatic. 

Other international treaties, organizations and programmes address different aspects of the biodiversity crisis. The Convention on Biological Diversity, for example, takes a broad overview of the conservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing of genetic resources. The Convention on Migratory Species recognizes that animals cross human borders when they migrate and international agreements help preserve their habitats and way of life as they range.  

We each need to play our part and it is only through this partnership that we can hope to succeed in tackling the enormous challenges that we face. Animals and plants cannot flourish if their habitats are being destroyed. Habitats cannot be sustained unless their flora and fauna are effectively conserved. And without a thriving wildlife and healthy habitats, our human needs cannot be met.  

International regimes and national government-led policies are critical for protecting wildlife. But some of the most important work being done today is by local people and organizations dedicated to local issues and projects. On 3 March, our international celebration of World Wildlife Day will recognize some of these people and hear about the work that they are doing.  

From global treaties like CITES to small-scale local projects, these diverse efforts can boast many success stories and important advances. While the biodiversity crisis remains serious, we can draw inspiration from the many positive actions being taken today by governments, NGOs and concerned citizens alike. 

I encourage everyone to view World Wildlife Day as an opportunity to celebrate the joy and the benefits that wild plants and animals provide to us. At the same time, let us use this opportunity to explore the synergies and the connections between wildlife conservation and ecosystem restoration. Let us also acknowledge and appreciate the many conservation success stories that do exist, while at the same time exploring the challenges we face and the potential solutions for the future.  

We understand the damage we are doing to wildlife; we understand how this damage affects our present and future; and we know what we need to do to reverse course. Let’s do it! 

I wish you an enjoyable and a thoughtful World Wildlife Day.