Youths from around the world champion wildlife protection
Environmental crime has become the world's fourth-largest crime sector, growing at 2–3 times the rate of the global economy. INTERPOL and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimate that natural resources worth up to US$258 billion are being stolen by criminal syndicates, depriving countries of their resources, revenues and development opportunities.
The World Youth Wildlife Summit took place in September at the Kruger National Park in South Africa, bringing together educators and conservation leaders to discuss and address the threat of wildlife crime. About 150 young conservationists from the Southern African Development Community and their counterparts learned how to influence environmental policies at national, regional and international levels.
The summit came at a time when youths are becoming more proactive in identifying solutions to existing and emerging environmental challenges. Since they make up more than 75 per cent of the total population, youths can dramatically shape socio-political and cultural decision-making processes on environmental issues.
The Project Rhino and the Kingsley Holgate Foundation organizations, the main facilitators of the event, are harnessing this incredible potential. They provide forums for youth to engage in wildlife conservation activities, in collaboration with experts from different countries and organizations, at the same time providing the opportunity for different stakeholders to network and come up with national and regional frameworks that would promote wildlife conservation.
According to Francis Du Toit, the Project Rhino Ambassador, "3.6 million people in Africa are employed in the wildlife economy, creating 40 per cent more full-time jobs than the same investment in agriculture. It has twice the job creation power of the automotive, telecommunications and financial industries and provides more job opportunities for women compared to other sectors."
"In South Africa, 769 rhinos and 72 elephants were poached by criminal syndicates in the year 2018," Chris Galliers, Coordinator of Project Rhino said.
At the summit, several youths were recognized for their wildlife conservation efforts, including advocacy, and photography. The delegates made declarations to engage and support the youths more to conserve African wildlife heritage.
Unemployment among young people has for a long time been a challenge in most developing countries, creating a loophole through which crime syndicates lure the young people into drugs, crime, human trafficking, and illegal trade in wildlife and their products. With the ever-growing technological inventions, and with the right exposure, youths have the potential to spearhead the development of sustainable solutions for the challenges faced in Africa and promote the Sustainable Development Goals.
Their potential to influence the development of and implementation of conservation strategies through their innovative thinking to solve complex issues is a facet that is yet to be realized and utilized at large by governments and conservation sectors. Efforts to conserve nature and advocate for its conservation and sustainability has often been perceived as obstacles to development in not only the African continent but across other continents such as Asia.
In 2015, the heads of states and governments of the African Union adopted the Agenda 2063, which is Africa's roadmap for transforming the continent into the global powerhouse of the future. For African governments to achieve this, there is a need to harmonize all societal sectors including the private sector, civil society and local communities, including marginalized communities such as indigenous people, women and youths to work collaboratively and develop and commit to a systematic environmental conservation plan.