Born free calls on world conservation congress to prioritise one health and forest protection


The World Conservation Congress, a major gathering of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) held every four years, will take place in Marseille, France from 3-11 September.

Originally scheduled for 2020, this event has been postponed twice due to COVID-19 restrictions, and will take place in a hybrid (in-person and online) format for the first time to accommodate those IUCN Members who cannot travel to France.

The Congress offers IUCN members an opportunity to showpiece conservation practices, and acts as a debating and decision-making mechanism. Policies and positions adopted by the IUCN, the world’s largest and arguably most influential conservation network, can have profound implications for nature’s protection.

The Marseille Congress comes at a particularly critical time for wildlife conservation, with nature in serious crisis, Governments in the final stages of formulating the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework which will effectively establish international conservation policy for the coming decades, and with the world trying to come to terms with the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Born Free has been an IUCN member since 2016, and has used this platform to promote compassionate conservation and the need to incorporate animal health and welfare considerations into conservation practice.

An adult gorilla sitting on the forest floor, with leaves in the foreground.
“The Ebo Forest landscape is the most important functionally intact ecosystem in the Gulf of Guinea biodiversity hotspot, and home to a myriad of animal and plant species, some of which are unique to the forest.”

To this end, Born Free has drafted and submitted two ‘New and Urgent Motions’ for consideration by the Congress. The first calls on the IUCN to adopt and promote a One Health approach to wildlife protection and wider policy making, which recognises the interconnectedness between human, animal and environmental health and the need to incorporate these considerations into conservation policy and practice. The second encourages the IUCN to proactively lobby the Government of Cameroon to support community-led conservation management of the Ebo Forest landscape, the most important functionally intact ecosystem in the Gulf of Guinea biodiversity hotspot, in order to secure the future of its myriad of animal and plant species, some of which are unique to the forest, as well as the rights of the indigenous Banen communities that call it home. 

We have also co-sponsored a Motion submitted by our friends at the Natural Resources Defense Council in the United States and calling for the prohibition of trade in and closure of markets for live wild animals, strong associated action by the International Community through the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, and the revision of the IUCN’s Position Statement on Sustainable Use of Wild Living Resources to reflect the crisis facing biodiversity and the need to reduce future pandemic risk.

In relation to the One Health motion, Born Free’s Head of Policy Dr Mark Jones said: “Nature is in unprecedented decline thanks largely to habitat destruction and the overexploitation of wild animals and plants. The emergence of COVID-19, with its likely origins in wildlife, has resulted in the consequences of our destructive and exploitative relationship with nature being felt directly by people and policy makers across the world. This is a time like never before for wildlife advocates and organisations to work collectively, in order to hammer home the message that ‘business as usual’ cannot be an option as the world emerges from COVID-19, and the IUCN, its institutions and members have an important role to play. Our Motion asks the IUCN to promote the adoption of a One Health approach throughout its efforts to conserve nature and move towards a more sustainable society as we emerge from the pandemic. In particular, it calls on the IUCN to adopt a precautionary approach to wildlife exploitation and trade, and to apply One Health principles to policy making at all levels, including biodiversity financing mechanisms. We firmly believe this approach is key if we are to ‘build back better’, help nature and wildlife recover, and reduce the risk of future pandemics.”

On the need to protect the Ebo Forest landscape, Born Free’s Head of Conservation Dr Nikki Tagg added: “Spaces available for wildlife are being chipped away at, resulting in dramatic population declines and losses of some of the world’s most stunning animals, such as those living in tropical rainforest ecosystems across the Congo basin. As the world wakes up to the fact that we’re in the middle of a climate and ecological crisis, we simply cannot afford to keep losing wild spaces and the wildlife that persists within them. We must turn the tide and let nature thrive again. We must fight for every acre of nature. Ebo Forest in Cameroon is one particularly striking and important space, being a biodiversity hotspot, home to western gorillas, forest elephants, the rare Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, drills and Preuss’s red colobus; all classed as Endangered or Critically Endangered by IUCN and all at risk of being lost forever. To prevent this, we must act now. Born Free strongly believes that wildlife conservation can only be ethical, sustainable, and effective if conducted in close liaison with local communities, so we are urging IUCN members to help the government of Cameroon to carry out land use planning with the Banen communities living in Ebo Forest, for the security of the people and wildlife dependent on this remarkable pocket of nature.”

Born Free has been joined by several like-minded IUCN member organisations who have co-sponsored these urgent motions, which will be considered during the Members Assembly at the Congress in Marseille. 

In October 2020 Born Free launched the Global Nature Recovery Investment Initiative (GNRII) aimed at bringing about the transformative changes needed to protect people and wildlife around the globe. The Initiative identifies the key actions needed to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and wildlife overexploitation; deliver enhanced ecosystem viability and services, alongside climate change mitigation; and promote public and animal health, sustainable livelihoods, and food and societal security.