United Nations Marks World Wildlife Day with a Call to Bridge Conservation Technology Gaps

Updated on 03 April 2024


New York / Geneva, 15 March 2024 – On 4 March 2024, the spirit of conservation resonated across the globe as World Wildlife Day celebrations took place under the theme, "Connecting People and Planet: Exploring Digital Innovation in Wildlife Conservation," bringing together global leaders, innovators, and conservationists to highlight the transformative power of technology in safeguarding our planet's biodiversity.

As digital solutions become increasingly integrated into various facets of human society, we find ourselves in the midst of a global digital transformation where ambitious policy and funding approaches are essential - uniting researchers, civil society, the tech industry, and many others for the conservation and sustainable use of our natural world.

From environmental DNA technology used to identify dolphins through genetic material in seawater, to AI-enabled drones for monitoring gorilla health in remote areas, innovative tools and services for wildlife conservation have become increasingly available, user-friendly and data-efficient. At the same time, challenges persist in digital literacy, technology access and capacity, requiring creating solutions to ensure equitable benefits for all, leaving no one behind.

This year’s celebrations sought to shed light on the latest applications of digital technologies in wildlife conservation and trade, their impacts on ecosystems and communities around the world, and the cutting-edge digital solutions being applied to tackle both common and unique conservation challenges.

The official World Wildlife Day Celebration took place at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. The event started with a performance by Ben Mirin, a Cornell University PhD candidate and ethno-ornithologist known as a "Wildlife DJ". Mr. Mirin combines wildlife sounds with technology to create music that inspires conservation efforts. 

As the host and moderator of the event, CITES Secretary-General Ms. Ivonne Higuero highlighted our shared duty towards wildlife conservation, promoting innovative technological solutions to address the triple planetary crisis. This sentiment was echoed in the opening statements by key UN figures. ITU Secretary-General Ms. Doreen Bogdan-Martin who conveyed a message of hope and recounted how technology can transform life on land and below water, improve economies and protect our ecosystems. The UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology Mr. Amandeep Singh Gill underscored the critical role of technological advancement for environmental conservation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

In his opening statement, UNDP Administrator Mr. Achim Steiner said: “This year’s focus on the power of digital innovation to advance wildlife conservation comes at a moment when our world stands on the cusp of pioneering breakthroughs for the protection of our world's flora and fauna. With key partners like CITES, UNDP is supporting countries and communities to leverage the immense power of digital technologies to protect and restore our natural world. That includes ensuring the accessibility of these leading-edge solutions as they can help to energize new connections between humanity and our natural world - and amongst ourselves."

Mr. Peter Houlihan, Executive Vice-President of Biodiversity and Conservation at the XPrize Foundation, delivered an inspiring keynote with his vision for leveraging technology to address ecological challenges by empowering communities on the ground with the tools to manage, monitor and protect species autonomously.

The event showcased the potential of digital innovations in conservation across four sessions: 

Digital Innovation Shaping Wildlife Conservation Today: Ms. Stephanie O’Donnell, WILDLABS Executive Manager, shared insights into the #Tech4Wildlife Challenge, demonstrating the importance of cross-sectoral collaboration in advancing cutting-edge technologies, followed by MIT Assistant Professor Dr. Sara Beery’s presentation on how the AI application helps address actual conservation questions today. 

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Youth Art Contest: This popular global contest reached new heights this year, receiving more than 3000 entries from 141 countries. The introduction of the finalists and winners by IFAW CEO Mr. Azzedine Downes and U.S. Office Director Ms. Danielle Kessler was complemented by a musical performance by renowned Broadway singer, Kara Lindsay, which added an artistic flair.

Bridging Conservation Technology Gaps for a Sustainable Tomorrow: The panel discussion facilitated by the CITES Secretary-General featured experts who provided their messages on opportunities and challenges of integrating technology in conservation work. Dr. Krithi Karanth of the Centre for Wildlife Studies called for scalable solutions that foster human-wildlife coexistence. Mr. Adams Cassinga of Conserv Congo spoke on people-centered digital governance and empowerment in conservation. Dr. Jorge Ahumada of Wildlife Insights emphasized the need to harness innovative data collection solutions that serve all wildlife and indigenous communities. Ms. Sophie Maxwell of Connected Conservation Foundation called on technology companies to step up their technical support to conservancies worldwide.

Member States also shared their advancements in applying digital technologies for wildlife conservation, underscoring the global interest and commitment. Statements were made by H.E. Ms. Ilana Seid, Permanent Representative of Palau to the United Nations, H.E. Ms. Mathu Joyini, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, Mr. Mark Seah, Deputy Permanent Representative of Singapore to the United Nations, H.E. Mrs. Alicia Buenrosto Massieu, Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico the United Nations, and Ms. Daphne Carlson, Chief of the Division of International Conservation at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Jackson Wild Showcase: Under the new leadership of Executive Director Mr. Geoff Daniels, the showcase offered a glimpse into the role of storytelling in environmental advocacy through various digital media, demonstrating the compelling nature of conservation narratives. He also announced a pioneering education initiative with NatureEye that aims to bring the wild into classrooms through a unique immersive virtual reality (VR) experience. 

The event concluded with a message from the youth organizers of the World Wildlife Day Regional Youth Symposium and the soon-to-be-launched CITES Global Youth Network (CGYN). The Youth Network is set to be launched at the first CITES Youth Leadership Programme, looking forward to the youth leadership in conservation efforts.

Sharing her take-home message for this year’s World Wildlife Day celebration, CITES Secretary-General Ms. Ivonne Higuero said: “The digital landscape offers unprecedented opportunities for monitoring, protecting, and conserving wildlife populations. From satellite tracking to artificial intelligence, from drones to virtual reality, the possibilities are endless, and the impact is profound. It is up to us to innovate responsibly, prioritize equity in wildlife conservation tech, and ensure it serves and uplifts communities coexisting with wildlife.” 

A special evening reception of the World Wildlife Day was organized by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), supported by Jackson Wild and WILDLABS and hosted by GitHub. Representatives from many conservation organizations and technology companies engaged in networking and interactive sessions to promote cross-sectoral cooperation for digital innovation in wildlife conservation. 

In Geneva, Switzerland, the World Wildlife Day 2024 Celebration took place at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), organized by Geneva Environment Network (GEN) in collaboration with ITU and the CITES Secretariat.

Moderated by the Chief of the CITES Secretariat Legal Unit, Mr. Juan Carlos Vasquez, the event opened with remarks by Ms. Doreen Bogdan-Martin, ITU Secretary-General, H.E. Ambassador Bathsheba Nell Crocker, Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations Office at Geneva, and Mr. Matthias Lörtscher, Head of the CITES Management Authority of Switzerland.

Ms. Bogdan-Martin noted how the theme of this year’s World Wildlife Day was “a great example of how multistakeholder collaboration is making digital innovation work for people and for our planet – proving that human-wildlife coexistence is possible in an increasingly connected world."

Ambassador Crocker said: “We have made great strides, but we are only still scratching the surface of what will be possible through technological advances... This is an exciting time to work together for wildlife conservation… [and] renew our shared commitment to harness innovative solutions to make a meaningful difference for the health of our planet.”

Mr. Matthias Lörtscher, said: “We have our calls to action and to further collaboration. The partnerships we have seen today are great examples of digital innovation making positive contributions to conservation and the implementation of CITES.”

Presentations covered a range of initiatives, including: Ms. Dao Nguyen of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on the Tech4Nature partnership co-developed with Huawei; Mr. John David from UNCTAD-ASYCUDA on the history and progress of eCITES permitting systems; Mr. Jean-Manuel Canet of Orange Consulting on the recommendations for biodiversity opportunities and ICT solutions; Ms. Simone Haysom, Head of ECO-SOLVE, on using AI to track cyber wildlife trafficking.

Joining online, Ms. Esther Githinji of WILDLABS, introduced the #Tech4Wildlife photo challenge and WILDLABS Women in Conservation Technology Programme. This was followed by Mr. Swabir Abdulrehman of Connected Conservation Foundation on the Satellite for Biodiversity Programme and Mr. Bourhan Yassin of Rainforest Connection, on how a two-dimensional spectrogram of wildlife sounds help advance wildlife research.

The CITES Secretariat, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and represented by Ms. Julia Nakamura, launched CITES-LEX. This is a new information system that provides national catalogues and comprehensive search capabilities of legislation and policies relevant to the implementation of the Convention. 

The three World Wildlife Day 2024 celebrations, and many others that took place on the occasion of the day, served as a call to action for the adoption of innovative technologies, ensuring a sustainable future for our planet’s wildlife. As we move forward, the discussions and insights from this day will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in forging new collaborations, creating new ideas, and shaping conservation strategies worldwide.


Watch the World Wildlife Day 2024 UN Celebration online: https://webtv.un.org/en/asset/k11/k11javm1pk 

Watch the World Wildlife Day 2024 Geneva Celebration online: https://www.genevaenvironmentnetwork.org/events/geneva-world-wildlife-day-celebration-connecting-people-and-planet-exploring-digital-innovation-in-wildlife-conservation/



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About the United Nations World Wildlife Day

On 20 December 2013, the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 3 March as World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild fauna and flora. The date is the day of the signature of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1973. World Wildlife Day has become the most prominent global annual event dedicated to wildlife.

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Find out more: https://wildlifeday.org/

About CITES 

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was signed on 3 March 1973 and entered into force on 1 July 1975. With 184 Parties (183 countries + the European Union), it remains one of the world's most powerful tools for wildlife conservation through the regulation of international trade in over 40,900 species of wild animals and plants. CITES-listed species are used by people around the world in their daily lives for food, health care, furniture, housing, tourist souvenirs, cosmetics or fashion. CITES seeks to ensure that international trade in such species is sustainable, legal and traceable and contributes to both the livelihoods of the communities that live closest to them and to national economies for a healthy planet and the prosperity of the people in support of UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

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Find out more: cites.org/eng