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Adam M. Roberts is Senior Vice President of Born Free USA and is based in Washington, DC. He helped found the organization in 2002 to bring the UK-based Born Free Foundation's message of compassionate conservation to the American public. Adam has significant expertise in international wildlife trade and captive wild animals and serves on the Board of Directors of the Species Survival Network where he chairs the SSN Press Committee, Financial Committee, Bear Working Group, and Animals in Captivity Working Group.

Wildlife on the Edge

Born Free USA Asks:
 ‘Will World Leaders Push Iconic Species to Brink of Extinction or Hand Them a Lifeline at U.N. Wildlife Convention?’

Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA, a leader in wildlife conservation and animal welfare, and a board member of Species Survival Network (SSN), warned today, “We are presiding over a slide toward extinction for many of the world’s most iconic species.” Roberts, along with members of the Born Free international team and SSN, will attend the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) March 3 to 14 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Born Free is calling on the 177 member countries that are signatories to CITES to urgently put in place effective measures to prevent the further loss of several keystone species. Born Free also urges the international community to dig deep and find the essential resources necessary to shatter the organized crime syndicates that are behind today’s poaching epidemic and equip the men and women who regularly lose their lives on the conservation frontline.

According to Roberts, "This is a tragic state of affairs. We are witnessing the decimation of some of the world’s most beautiful creatures and it must stop. The public is led to believe that the natural world is holding its own, and that is far from the truth. For some species, the question is not whether they will go extinct in the wild in my daughter’s lifetime, but in mine.”

Will Travers, the chief executive officer of Born Free and president of SNN, adds: "The situation is now so bad, the poaching and slaughter of wildlife now so inextricably linked to international organized crime syndicates, that without a dramatic step-change in our efforts and without the resources for effective species conservation, we shall, in my view, end up with a handful of “wildlife fortresses” — heavily guarded national reserves and parks, protected by garrisons of armed rangers and wardens — and that’s it.”

Recent announcements by former U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, echoed by U.K. Environment Minister Richard Benyon, on his recent trip to Kenya, indicate that criminal operations coordinated by terrorist organizations such as al-Shabab, Boko Haram and the Lord’s Resistance Army are intimately connected with wildlife crime, the proceeds of which fuel their efforts to plunder and terrorize.

“The resources and the forces we have at our disposal to resist the tide of poaching are simply not enough,” said Travers. “Until the international community recognizes the need to meet this threat head-on, then endangered wild animals will lose their lives, people will be murdered, local communities will be destabilized, and environments will be destroyed.”

Some key statistics:

- African elephants’ population is down by 30 percent in 20 years — there were 1.3 million in 1979, now there may be less than 400,000. Some countries could lose their elephants entirely within five years. The CITES Secretariat estimates that 25,000 elephants were poached in 2012. Others, including Born Free, suggest the total may be more than 30,000 in the past 12 months.

- 668 of South Africa’s 20,000 rhinoceroses were poached in 2012 alone
— up from just 13 in 2007. So far in 2013 the country has lost more than 100 rhinos, at a rate of two per day. Kenya lost seven rhinos to poachers in January.

- African lion numbers have collapsed by 50 percent since 1980, and the trade in lion body parts grows in leaps and bounds. Duke University estimates African lions to number 35,000 or less. Born Free estimates the figure may be nearer 25,000 while some lion scientists believe the number to be as low as 15,000.

- 3,500 wild tigers cling to survival, down from 100,000 just over a century ago, driven by poaching for their body parts.Of the nine recognized tiger subspecies, three are now extinct and some countries, notably Loas and Vietnam, may have fewer than 20 tigers surviving in the wild. China refuses to close down its notorious “tiger farms.”

- According to the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) two-thirds of polar bear populations (estimated to be 20,000 to 25,000) could disappear by 2050.

- The Shark Trust reports that between 26 million and 73 million sharks are traded for fins each year (based on 2006 figures). The fins are used in soups.

- Thousands of manta rays caught and traded for their gills, which are used for dubious medicinal purposes in the Far East. Traders report a steep rise in the manta ray gills trade, which is now reportedly worth $680 a kilogram.

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