Performance group rehearse by the sea.Performance group rehearse by the sea.

Pina WuAbout the Author
Pina Wu is an Environmental Services Professional based in Taipei, Taiwan.  Her specialties include Urban Planning, Community Engagement and International Development. She has a Master in Public Policy and Urban Planning from Harvard University and an M.S. in Building & Planning from National Taiwan University. She currently teaches Environmental Education and English for Tour Guiding in Wenshan and Tainan Community Colleges.

By Pina Wu, Correspondent

Those who think of Taiwan as an agglomeration of crowded cities and bustling industries will be pleasantly surprised by its east coast with its diverse cultures, pristine beauty and rich biodiversity stretching 170 kilometres down the coast along the Pacific Ocean: sand and pebble beaches, shoreline reefs, inshore islands, and capes along with sea-eroded platforms, trenches and caves, idyllic fishing villages and rice paddies. The region is the homeland of the Amis, the most populous of the 14 officially recognised aboriginal tribes of Taiwan.

Endowed with rich natural and cultural resources, the east coast has been a target area for tourism development in the country. According to the official East Coast National Scenic Area Administration statistics there were over three million tourists in the region during 2014, 90% of whom were domestic tourists. Most visitors concentrate on famous sites, scenic areas, theme parks and stay in large hotels. Conventionally, the visitors come by tour buses that pass by the area in a few hours. Few stop to have a deeper encounter with the local culture and the natural environment. Only recently, when the concepts of “slow travel” and “deep tourism” became widely spread, independent travellers and tourists in small package tours show interest in venturing into the villages.

Makuta'ay (credit: Sra)Makuta'ay (credit: Sra)Makuta’ay village lies at the centre of the east coast like a well-kept treasure, an one and half hour driving distance from the nearest big city. According to the legend, Makuta'ay was one of the landing points for the Amis a tribe of Austronesian origin, when they migrated to Taiwan with their boats millennia ago. From here the people spread, and the culture flourished. Currently a total of 200,000 Amis reside along the coast and in the valley in the east of Taiwan. The indigenous people of Taiwan today account to only 2% of the total population. Among the many villages, Makuta’ay is considered one of the oldest village communities and recognised as having played a strong role throughout the Amis history. The village has a rigid, age-based social hierarchy. The males are divided into eight age groups that are responsible for specific tasks for the community. As a hub for the Amis culture, the village carries rich traditions in rituals and celebrations.

The settlement of Makuta’ay is small but endowed with rich ecological resources. To the east it is bounded by the Pacific Ocean; to the west rises the Coastal Mountain Range. The Siouguluan River in the south brings fresh water sources and is full of migratory fish. The Kuroshio current brings abundant marine life to the near shore. And the Coastal Mountain Range provides habitat for a rich diversity of flora and fauna. However, life in Makuta’ay has changed dramatically in the last hundred years with the introduction of Christianity, Japanese occupation and under the Taiwanese Han people’s government. The rice and taro (Colocasia esculenta) produced in the village are no longer competitive in the market while commercial fishing has crushed the local fishery. As a result the village population has dwindled with young people moving to the cities to look for employment. Few among the younger generation now speak Amis.

The government has long promoted tourism development in the region but most of the development required investment from external corporations. The Amis had few resources to develop tourism facilities and programs of their own until a few locals returned to the village in the late 1990s. They had experienced the city life and seen the outside world and had returned to seek their culture roots. They tried to revive the traditions and reinterpret them to the visitors. They also made use of whatever resources were available in the environment to create new cultural expressions. A man called Lahez was among these local artists and tourism pioneers and he found wisdom in the traditional Amis way of life. Lahez used driftwood from the beach as the material for his artworks. This attracted more local young people to come home to learn with him.

Preparing a meal at Sawaluan (credit: Sra)Preparing a meal at Sawaluan (credit: Sra)Your correspondent first visited the village over ten years ago, as an assistant for a Tourism Planning project organised by the government. I arrived in the village in the night in a yard of a local’s house for a field trip. The moon rose from the sea. Four or five older people came in, they all carried small colourful baskets (in which there were betel nuts). They came to practice traditional songs. The breezes set in. A woman began to sing, and I was blown away by the unfathomed space that was evoked in her voice. Then in another song a man led, and the rest of the choirs responded with humming, it was as harmonious as the ocean waves. Only later on I found out that what I saw that night was not a spontaneous gathering but a deliberate result: the host, an elderly gentleman named Pudon, had paid the local equivalent of 3 US dollars to each of his neighbours so they would come. Pudon, who had also returned to the village after a long time living in the city, was hoping to develop a performance group of traditional shamanic songs and rituals. As not everyone shared his vision, he decided to cover the costs of training the group members by himself as an early investment. In this way, tourism in Makuta'ay developed slowly. Contrary to the common expectation that a community would or should develop its tourism in a coordinated or co-operative fashion, tourism in Makuta’ay developed in a diverse and decentralized way. Tourism programs are run by individuals out of their studios or homes. They are often strong characters who have persevered through the ups and downs of starting up and have developed their “niches”.

One of them is Sumi Runi, a charismatic woman with artistic talents, who revived the weaving traditions and began to receive visits by the artists from the city. The Necklace Studio, designed and built by two brothers using driftwood and cement carving techniques, is famous for its open space that blended in with the seashore. Many visitors come for coffee or just to relax by the sea for an afternoon. “Sawaluan” is run by the Podon family. The studio provides homestay, guided tours, weaving lessons, dance performance, and meals to the tourists in a homy environment. Liway, the manager, specializes in using open fire to prepare crabs and shrimps that he catches from the streams. “Neolian”, run by a couple, offers wood-carving workshops where you can learn how to make drums with driftwood.

Normally, the studios operate independently from each other. Only when they receive a booking from a large group staying for a longer period, will they reach out to each other and refer the visitors to other studios for meals or for activities. Each studio establishes its own media contacts and customer base and Makuta’ay has developed a very extensive tourism connections network in a short time. But this very decentralized model also makes each studio short of labour as each studio owner is busy with bookings, preparations and all the paperwork associated with tourism development. There is also competition for government funding. As I revisited the village over the years, I often heard that people would like to do something together as a community, but there is no stable structure or operational framework and they just continue to work on their own.

Traditional Weaving (credit: Sra)Traditional Weaving (credit: Sra)Currently there are seven main studios in Makuta’ay, and at least five homestays that can take in small groups of visitors for accommodation. Makuta’ay attracts visitors who have an interest in exploring the nature and understanding the indigenous people’s culture. This includes a wide range of visitor types- independent travelers, families, working-holiday visitors and all age groups. Group visitors often come from NGOs, public sectors, community associations, travel agencies and schools. The majority of the tourists come for a one-day tour but every month studios receive one large group with over 40 people for a two-day program. The average rate is USD 120 per person for a two-day program.

Summer is the peak season, particularly the time of the Harvest Festival. In 2011, the Harvest Festival of Makuta'ay (which takes place in July every year) was designated as an Intangible Cultural Asset by the Cultural Ministry of Taiwan. But even during the slow season a small number of individuals and small groups visitors come to Makuta’ay in a steady stream. They linger of a meal, or join the guided tours to walk around the village. There are no precise statistics on the total number of tourists in Makuta’ay, but they are estimated to be around 1,500 to 2,000 annually.

In 2009, the Agency of the East Coast National Scenic Area announced plans to develop a multi-functional park project, with a performance venue, picnic area, and shops in the north side of Makuta’ay- five hectares of prime land with superb scenic beauty at Shi-ti Bay. The plan aimed to foster tourism development for the area and bring employment but it was met with strong local opposition and protests. It was actually this event that helped local people galvanize. The local people claimed that the land was theirs, farmland that historically belonged to over forty families, rather than public land that could be used by the government freely. They also disputed the government’s model of tourism development, tourism facilities built and operated by large corporations which often destroyed local diversity and reaped all economic gains. The locals wanted to have a say in shaping the area’s future development so that it continued to reflect their culture and improve the village’s well being.

The Weaving ClassThe Weaving ClassThe protests went on from 2010 to 2012. The people of Makuta’ay protested on the street in front of the Presidential Hall in Taipei, joining forces with other “Reclaim the Land” movements of indigenous people, negotiated with governmental officials in the Legislative Yuan and confronted the bureaucracy in the local Township. The village was mobilized again and again. Finally, in 2013, the Agency of the East Coast National Scenic Area and the Save the Land of Makuta’ay Committee arrived at a compromise and decided to co-manage the land. The community is now entrusted by the government to formulate its own proposal for the land. And the government has promised to provide funding for that. Makuta’ay is pushed to develop a collective tourism scheme together. The co-management agreement between the Agency of the East Coast National Scenic Area and the Save the Land of Makuta’ay Committee is currently being drafted by local people, mostly led by the younger generation (Spring 2015). The local people are taking things in their hands, setting up a cooperative that will act as the managing body for tourism development for the future. Ideas such as “sustainable development”, “fair share”, and “cultural awareness” have been brought up, and the local people are finding ways to put the ideas into practice. When it is finalized, this may be the first case of co-management of tourism between the government and an indigenous community in Taiwan. The negotiation process has been transparent and the draft can be seen at the blog of Save the Land of Makuta’ay Committee.  Lafay Chen, the Board of Director of Save the Land of Makuta’ay Committee said the process of negotiation has not been easy. It is especially difficult to have the landowners in the village to form consensus. “There is deep mistrust between the locals and the government. The elderly asked me, aren’t we going to fight for our land? Why do we sit down to negotiate with the government now?” It is not easy to convince the locals that co-manage the land with the government will be of best interests to them as they feel restricted by the regulations.

As most people are still struggling to make their ends meet, in the past ten years, many locals have already expanded studios, constructed new houses, and created parking lots to accommodate tourists. In regional public hearings some scholars and NGOs (Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan) have raised concerns. They urge for stronger government interventions in regulating the coastline development in the area as a whole. This creates conflicts with the local people. It is also not clear how tourism will impact the culture of the village. It will be a pity if the studios were becoming more and more just like other cafes, restaurants, and homestays in the city that serve only to satisfy the demand of the tourists.

Planting event for the Ocean RicePlanting event for the Ocean RiceOn the positive side, some studios are developing guided tours on local history and plants ecology. Visitors can also take classes in ramie fiber making and weaving. There are also farming programs. The village has recently replanted its rice paddles by the sea side. The project named “Ocean Rice” has attracted many visitors to come to participate in planting and to share the harvest. In 2012, Sumi Runi - owner of Fire Studio was awarded National Woman of Excellence on International Women’s Day for her work in rice field rehabilitation. Artists Iyo Kacaw and Sapod Kacaw receive regular exhibitions to museums, galleries, and international workshops. Anu Kaliting Sadipongan, a young musician at the village, won the prestigious Golden Melody Award in Taiwan with an album in 2014.

And there are more and more young people returning to the village. They make documentary films, have photo exhibitions, hold events and shows to express their indigenous identities and to discuss the local issues they care about. In recent years, numerous NGOs, well-known journalists, scholars and artists have visited Makuta'ay. They come to hear the story of Makuta’ay and to share their experiences. In this way, Makuta'ay seems to go beyond tourism, and become a site for learning, inviting people of different culture backgrounds to come together. Young people in Taiwan are more and more aware of issues such as indigenous people’s rights, land justice and sustainability. Since the Reclaiming the Land movement, Makuta’ay has become a hub for education that spoke of such issues with its own example. Small groups of students would come to visit, listening to the locals and learning about the issues first handedly. The village has become a field school. Throughout the east coast of Taiwan, many indigenous communities communities are disputing government-led tourism policies and are in search of a new development model. Among these communities, Makuta’ay plays as an important example, for it has a diverse range of capable local studio owners, artists, spokespersons who have strong cultural influences. Hopefully Makuta'ay will continue to serve as an example for other indigenous communities in the east coast, Taiwan.

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A section of Jabberwock beach, located on the northeastern coast of Antigua, that is being eroded by the sea. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown

ST. JOHN'S, Antigua, Apr 15 (IPS) - Jabberwock beach, located on the northeastern coast of Antigua, features a mile-long white sand beach and is a favourite with locals and visitors alike.

But Freeston Williams, a resident who frequents the area for exercise and other recreational activities, is worried that the beach is quickly disappearing.

"I travel around the Jabberwock area on the northern side of the island and I notice the shoreline is coming in closer to the road which means that it's minimising the area we use for exercise," Williams told IPS."I am not sure what exactly is causing all this but sooner or later we will not have any beach left."

Antigua and Barbuda's chief environment officer Diann Black-Layne said the sea level is in fact rising and she is mobilising legislators and residents of the small island-nation to become "climate ready" by implementing national activities on climate change.

"In the past 10 years we have experienced three droughts in Antigua. The temperature of the Caribbean Sea will have summer temperatures all the time. This means hurricane season will be all year round," Black-Layne told IPS.

Pointing to the consequences of a two-degree C increase in global temperatures as outlined in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), Black-Layne said there would be disruption of livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states and other small islands, due to storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise.

"For persons living in the tropics it will just be too hot, every building will have to be air-conditioned - schools, churches, clinics, prisons," she said.

"There would also be failure of infrastructure such as roads, seaports, airports and buildings; plants and animals, including humans, would die during periods of extreme heat; there will be a breakdown of agricultural systems resulting in food prices increasing; there will be insufficient access to drinking and irrigation water and reduced agricultural productivity; and tropical species of fish will move to cooler waters resulting in a reduction of fishing in the Caribbean."

Tourism is the mainstay of the economy of Antigua and Barbuda and is the leading sector in terms of providing employment and creating foreign exchange. But the outlook for reefs in this tourism-dependent nation is also grim.

At around 1.5 degrees C, about 89 percent of coral reefs are projected to experience severe bleaching; at two degrees C, up to 100 percent of coral reefs are projected to experience severe bleaching by the 2050s; and around four degrees C, virtually all coral reefs would be subjected to severe bleaching events annually.

Signing the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, world leaders agreed to keep temperature increases resulting from heat-trapping emissions to less than two degrees C, a target aimed at limiting dangerously disruptive climate impacts.

A policy target informed by science, two degrees C is the formally codified benchmark, the line in the sand by which nations have agreed to measure collective success in providing generations to come with a secure climate future.

The IPCC said global average surface temperatures have risen about 0.85 degrees C since 1900 and cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. It finds that having a greater than 66 percent probability of keeping warming caused by CO2 emissions alone to below two degrees C requires limiting total further emissions to between 370-540 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC).

At current rates of CO2 emissions (about 9.5 GtC per year), the world will hurtle past the two C carbon budget in less than 50 years. And this conservatively assumes that emissions rates don't continue on their current upward trajectory of 3 percent per year.

In a bid to increase awareness of climate change here, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is spearheading a two-day workshop Apr. 14-15 under its Rallying the Region to Action on Climate Change (RRACC) project, an initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

An OECS official said participants are being updated on the current awareness levels on the island and will brainstorm to determine ways to increase the nation's consciousness. Participants are drawn from the sectors most affected by climate change.

"It will specifically seek to discuss the climate ready campaign which is currently ongoing, including results of a Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) survey on climate change awareness in the OECS," OECS Communication Specialist Tecla Fontenard told IPS.

"We have data that shows what levels of awareness people already have and where the gaps are and we also have data from Antigua. The workshop will also determine priorities for a communication action plan for Antigua that considers critical climate change issues in four major sectors – agriculture, tourism, marine and coastal as well as the water sector."

Antigua and other countries in the OECS have a heightened vulnerability to many of the economic and environmental pressures that are emerging globally. This vulnerability, coupled with fragile natural and cultural assets and inherent social challenges, presents a special urgency to the sustainable development goals of the region.

Climate change, one of the most significant ongoing challenges to countries in the OECS, is forecast to have devastating environmental, social and economic consequences on OECS countries and Black-Layne said the administration of Prime Minister Gaston Browne will have to develop adaptation strategies, during the next two terms, in order to address several issues including sea level rise and salt water intruding below the island to affect all wells.

"A significant 100 percent of potable water will have to come from desalination, the conch industry will be damaged because of ocean acidification and fisher folk will have to adapt and move into other areas of work," she said.

But Black-Layne said all is not lost.

"From the Environment Division perspective, when you hear the pronouncements and the predicted impacts of climate change on our country it's not very encouraging. In fact it's very depressing and the temptation would be to say what's the point of doing what we're doing," she said.

"But we believe that there is always a point of redemption and I don't think we've gone beyond that point."

Edited by Kitty Stapp

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2015)

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Nepal’s Chitwan National Park has become one of Asia's success stories in wildlife conservation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar

CHITWAN, Nepal, Apr 11 (IPS) - At dusk, when the early evening sun casts its rays over the lush landscape, the Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 200 km south of Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, is a place of the utmost tranquility.

As a flock of the endangered lesser adjutant stork flies over the historic Narayani River, a left bank tributary of the Ganges in India, this correspondent's 65-year-old forest guide Jiyana Mahato asks for complete silence: this is the time of day when wild animals gather near the water. Not far away, a swamp deer takes its bath at the river's edge.

"The site of humans drives them away," explains Mahato, a member of the Tharu indigenous ethnic group who play a key role in supporting the government's wildlife conservation efforts here.

"We need to return now," he tells IPS. The evening is not a safe time for humans to be wandering around these parts, especially now that the country's once-dwindling tiger and rhinoceros populations are on the rise.

Mahato is the ideal guide. He has been around to witness the progress that has been made since the national park was first established in 1963, providing safe haven to 56 species of mammals.

Today, Chitwan is at the forefront of Nepal's efforts to conserve its unique biodiversity. Earlier this year, it became the first country in the world to implement a new conservation tool, created by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), known as the Conservation Assured | Tiger Standard (CA|TS).

Established to encourage effective management and monitoring of critically endangered species and their habitats, CA|TS has received endorsement from the likes of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Global Tiger Forum, who intend to deploy the tool worldwide as a means of achieving global conservation targets set out in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Experts say that the other 12 Tiger Range Countries (TRCs) should follow Nepal's example. This South Asian nation of 27 million people had a declining tiger population – just 121 creatures – in 2009, but intense conservation efforts have yielded an increase to 198 wild tigers in 2013, according to the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2014-2020.

Indeed, Nepal is leading the way on numerous conservation fronts, both in the region and worldwide. With 20 protected zones covering over 34,000 square km – or 23 percent of Nepal's total landmass – it now ranks second in Asia for the percentage of protected surface area relative to land size. Globally it ranks among the world's top 20 nations with the highest percentage of protected land.

In just eight years, between 2002 and 2010, Nepal added over 6,000 square km to its portfolio of protected territories, which include 10 national parks, three wildlife reserves, one hunting reserve, six conservation areas and over 5,600 hectares of ‘buffer zone' areas that surround nine of its national parks.

These steps are crucial to maintaining Nepal's 118 unique ecosystems, as well as endangered species like the one-horned rhinoceros whose numbers have risen from 354 in 2006 to 534 in 2011 according to the CBD.

Collaboration key to conservation

Sher Singh Thagunna, development officer for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), tells IPS, "A lot of our success was due to our close collaboration with local communities who depend on biodiversity conservation for their livelihoods."

Those like Mahato, for whom conservation is not an option but a way of life, have partnered with the government on a range of initiatives including efforts to prevent poaching. Some 3,500 youths from local communities have been enlisted in anti-poaching activities throughout the national parks, tasked with patrolling tens of thousands of square km.

Collaborative conservation has taken major strides in the last decade. In 2006, the government passed over management of the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area in eastern Nepal to a local management council, marking the first time a protected area has been placed in the hands of a local committee.

According to Nepal's latest national biodiversity strategy, by 2012 all of the country's declared buffer zones, which cover 27 districts and 83 village development committees (VDCs), were being collectively managed by about 700,000 local people organised into 143 ‘buffer zone user committees' and 4,088 ‘buffer zone user groups'.

Other initiatives, like the implementation of community forestry programmes – which as of 2013 "involved 18,133 forest user groups representing 2.2 million households managing 1.7 million hectares of forestland", according to the study – have helped turn the tide on deforestation and promote the sustainable use of forest resources by locals.

Since 2004 the department of forests has created 20 collaborative forests spread out over 56,000 hectares in 10 districts of the Terai, a rich belt of marshes and grasslands located on the outer foothills of the Himalayas.

In addition, a leasehold forestry programme rolled out in 39 districts has combined conservation with poverty alleviation, providing a livelihood to over 7,400 poor households by involving them in the sustainable management and harvesting of selected forest-related products, while simultaneously protecting over 42,000 hectares of forested land.

Forest loss and degradation is a major concern for the government, with a 2014 country report to the CBD noting that 55 species of mammals and 149 species of birds – as well as numerous plant varieties – are under threat.

Given that Nepal is home to 3.2 percent of the world's flora, these trends are worrying, but if the government keeps up its track record of looping locals into conservation efforts, it will soon be able to reverse any negative trends.

Of course, none of these efforts on the ground would be possible without the right attitude at the "top", experts say.

"There is a high [degree] of political commitment at the top government level," Ghanashyam Gurung, senior conservation programme director for WWF-Nepal, tells IPS. This, in turn, has created a strong mechanism to curb the menace of poaching.

With security forces now actively involved in the fight against poaching, Nepal is bucking the global trend, defying a powerful, 213-billion-dollar annual industry by going two years without a single reported incident of poaching, DPNWC officials say.

Although other threats remain – including burning issues like an increasing population that suggests an urgent need for better urban planning, as well as the country's vulnerability to natural disasters like glacial lake outburst floods and landslides that spell danger for its mountain ecosystems – Nepal is blazing a trail that other nations would do well to follow.

"Conservation is a long process and Nepal's efforts have shown that good planning works […]," Janita Gurung, biodiversity conservation and management specialist for the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) tells IPS.

Edited by Kanya D'Almeida

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2015)

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WASHINGTON, DC— The 3rd annual meta-analysis by the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) finds “sustained interest among consumers in tourism products and services that protect the environment and respect local cultures” and that “sustainability is becoming much more mainstream within the tourism industry.” CREST’s newly released 2015 report, The Case for Responsible Travel: Trends and Statistics, updates earlier editions based on surveys and studies of consumer and industry demand for responsible travel done in the past five years. 

According to a 2014 survey, for instance, “some 43% of respondents said they would be considering the ethical or environmental footprint of their main holiday” while, a 2012-2013 Trip Advisor survey finds “the majority of businesses” – 91% -- “agree that operating in an eco-friendly manner is important.” In addition, a 2012 United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) study states that “tourist choices are increasingly influenced by sustainability considerations” and that over the next two decades, “global spending on ecotourism is expected to increase at a higher rate than the tourism industry as a whole.”

Based on the data collected for this report, CREST concludes that today sustainability is not long a life style choice; it is a requirement for business success. “The social and environmental imperative for responsible tourism,” states the report, “is mounting as inequality between the worlds’s richest and poorest continues to widen and the realities of climate change become even more apparent.” In 2014, for instance, Oxfam research revealed that the world’s 85 richest people control US$ 1.7 trillion – the same amount as the bottom half (3.5 billion people) of the global population. At the same time, 2014 was, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the hottest year on record, a sign of the increasing impact of climate change. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon argues that tourism, as one of the world’s largest economic sectors, “is especially well-placed to promote environmental sustainability, ‘green’ growth, and our struggle against climate change.”

CREST’s findings coincide with continued growth of international tourism. In 2014, international tourism arrivals reached 1.138 billion, a 4.7% growth over 2013. And 2014 marked the tourism industry’s fifth consecutive year of above average growth since the 2009 economic crisis. 

“This CREST analysis documents the strength and resilience of responsible travel among consumers, businesses, and destinations,” says CREST Executive Director, Dr. Martha Honey. “But,” she notes, “it also demonstrates the critical necessity of adhering to sustainable environmental and social practices if tourism is going to help to address two of our most critical global problems, the wealth gap and climate change.” 

The CREST study is published and distributed in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and ten other leading tourism organizations and institutions.

Download the full report for free

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Illegal pseudomedicinal poached animal parts sold at an open market - Credit Avlxyz, Source: pseudomedicinal poached animal parts sold at an open market - Credit Avlxyz, Source: Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network

CAMBRIDGE, UK, Mar 23 (IPS) - On Feb. 13, 2014, heads of state and ministers from 41 countries met in London to inject a new level of political momentum into efforts to combat the growing global threat posed by illegal wildlife trade to species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers.

The UK government-hosted meeting adopted the 25-point London Declaration, with ambitious measures agreed to eradicate the market for illegal wildlife products; strengthen law enforcement efforts and ensure effective legal frameworks and deterrents are in place; and promote sustainable livelihoods through positive engagement with local communities.

More than a year on, representatives from these governments will gather again March 25 in Kasane, Botswana, to review progress on the implementation of that Declaration and, hopefully, commit to new and tangible actions to further strengthen their implementation.

The scale of the crisis governments in Kasane are facing is daunting: Africa-wide, almost 1,300 rhinos were lost to poaching in 2014, 1,215 of them in South Africa alone.

The situation with elephants remains dire—the most recent analysis of data from the TRAFFIC-managed Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) clearly indicates high levels of illegal ivory trade continuing.

Most worrying is the significant increase in the frequency of large-scale ivory seizures—those of over 500 kg—which are a strong indication of the involvement of organised criminal networks. The 18 seizures made in 2013 collectively constitute the greatest quantity of ivory derived from large-scale seizures since 1989, when records began.

The crisis is not confined to Africa: in Asia, TRAFFIC's tiger seizures database clearly indicates that illicit trafficking of tiger parts remains persistent. A minimum of 1,590 tigers were seized in tiger range countries between January 2000 and April 2014, an average of two per week and increasing numbers of seizures have been made by most range States.

With over 218,000 pangolins reported to have been seized by enforcement agencies between 2000 and 2012 world-wide, we must also remember that wildlife crime is an issue that goes well beyond elephants, rhinos and tigers.

While these figures paint a bleak picture of the illegal wildlife trade landscape, it would be wrong to conclude that countries will have little to report in terms of progress at Kasane. Although the ivory seizure figures do demonstrate high levels of trade, they also demonstrate higher levels of law enforcement action, especially in Africa, and we hope these countries remain vigilant.

High-level political attention to the issue continues to be significant, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this month expressing concern over the environmental, economic and social consequences of wildlife crime and Premier Li Keqiang of China last May pledging financial support for African countries to combat poaching.

Some countries have made improvements to legislation, including Thailand, which probably had one of the largest unregulated ivory markets in the world but has recently taken steps to improve the legislation governing its domestic ivory market.

There is still a very long way to go for Thailand before its illegal ivory markets are shut down, but this was an important step in the right direction. China has recognised the importance of a more targeted approach to reducing demand for ivory and this January organised a workshop to discuss strategies for curbing illegal ivory trade—particularly targeted at the collection and art investment circles.

Countries in Africa are working together on a common African Strategy on combatting illegal wildlife trade that will be discussed at an African Union conference just a month after Kasane.

While these green shoots of progress are promising, there is little doubt that much more needs to be done and it is hoped that Kasane can be the turning point where the lofty declarations of London can be translated into tangible actions on the ground.

Wildlife criminals are responding to the actions of last year by changing their trade routes and methods, using new technologies and getting more organised. To keep up with these developments, new approaches need to be agreed at Kasane that make it significantly harder for criminals to operate, increasing the indirect and actual risks they face and reduce the rewards they reap.

New players will also need to be brought into the fray. For example, with traffickers typically using the same transportation means as legal importers, the transport sector is inadvertently becoming a critical link within illegal wildlife trade chains.

Much more outreach is needed to the private sector, to prevent criminals abusing other legitimate business services in the finance, insurance and retail sectors.

Meanwhile the power of local communities, who live with and adjacent to wildlife, needs to be harnessed for they are the eyes and ears, the very guardians of the wildlife within their realm.

Community-led approaches need to strengthen the role these communities can play in reducing illegal wildlife trade—while safeguarding their dependence on natural resources.

The world's governments in London last year declared they were up to the challenge and committed to end the scourge of illegal wildlife trade. A year later, Kasane provides the venue for those governments, and others, to show that they are able and willing to turn those words into action.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2015)

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