Spotlight Europe: wild animals are afoot in the outermost regions of Europe
The International Fund for Animal Welfare has to get involved where wildlife would otherwise be forgotten. That is why I took part in the recent “2nd European Forum of the Outermost Regions” in Brussels. It was a meeting between European Union representatives and leaders of the eight “outermost” overseas regions that are also an integral part of the EU: the Canary Islands (Spain), Madeira and the Azores (Portugal), Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Martin, French Guiana and Réunion (France).
These regions are remotely located from the European mainland and all share similar problems of high employment and emigration, especially among their younger citizens. They also host a remarkable number of species and are in fact home to more endemic species, meaning species that are only found there, than on the entire European continent. Their membership effectively doubles the marine territory of the EU and they account for more than 20 percent of the world’s coral reefs and lagoons, as well as offering an abundant habitat for whales and dolphins.
The central topics of the conference were economic and social integration along with the development of these regions in the EU. At present the challenge is to place more emphasis on softer development alternatives and so reduce the exploitation of nature and animal protection.
This is where IFAW can help, because we have valuable experience, e.g. in the development of eco-conscious whale-watching tourism and other soft measures that protect animals and their habitats, while at the same time offering the local people an income. Some of the conference participants were already aware of IFAW projects and expressed great interest, especially those from the Caribbean.
The Azores provide a good example for this. They already have a superb range of eco-responsible whale-watching offers. The representatives of the Portuguese group of islands were surprised and delighted as I recounted how the IFAW research ship “Song of the Whale” had studied whales around the Azores in the 1980s. At the time we helped to stop the whaling there and introduce whale-watching tours as an alternative.
The geographical locations of the countries pose special challenges for them with regards to poaching and the illegal trade in wild animals. The training of enforcement officials to monitor the wild animal trade and impound live animals is time-consuming and costly. That is why the subject also tends to be hushed up, even though the losses for the affected countries are enormous. Worse than the material damage for me is that saying nothing and turning a blind eye automatically leads to horrific killings and the trade in wild animals continues unabated.
Of course, I spoke to some of the governments about the problems. What not all of them realized was that IFAW has one of the best training programs in this area, which has already made thousands of government officials in many parts of the world able to more effectively combat poaching and the illegal wild animal trade. Some countries indicated their interest in tackling the problems together with their neighbors and would be pleased if we could assist in this.
My conclusion is that without us, the only animal protection organization at the conference, the topic of animal protection would not have arisen. I set off home with a good feeling, having pocketed some new and highly promising contacts and possibilities. We have again made a small but important step forward so that future economic development plans more frequently benefit both humans and animals – this time particularly for the animals in the outermost regions of Europe.
Translation: Alan Frostick