“Healthy Wildlife – Healthy People”. With this motto the 62nd International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) General Assembly in Pravets, Bulgaria raised awareness on the fact that the purpose of wildlife conservation is not only to promote biodiversity richness, but also to keep our own human existence at a healthy, balanced level.
Wildlife diseases are of great concern to hunters everywhere in the world. Wildlife diseases may result in declining wildlife population numbers and genetic diversity and may have long-term effects on habitats and ecosystems. Certain wildlife diseases can be transmitted to domestic livestock or vice versa, resulting in economic stress being placed on rural communities and national economies. Some zoonotic diseases entail great health risk to the human population with a range of serious consequences.
Hunters are stewards of wildlife. They are the largest group in society that voluntarily interacts with wildlife closely and frequently. Hunters have accepted a social obligation, as a group, to detect, and assist in managing wildlife diseases as a pro bono service to society.
The World Organization of Animal Health (OIE), being the global platform of veterinarians, and the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC), as a global organization promoting conservation through the sustainable use of wildlife, understood this need for strong cooperation and took action.
As keynote speaker Dr. Bernard Vallat, OIE Director General, addressed the CIC General Assembly during the Opening Ceremony. He called upon hunters and the CIC, to make the most of the force they represent in the field: protecting biodiversity, and acting as sentinels for the protection of public health. Dr. Vallat made a strong case for hunter training in the detection, monitoring, and control of wildlife diseases.
To that end, the OIE and the CIC have formed an important partnership. As a first initiative, a joint meeting on animal health issues took place in Paris during the summer of 2014. Representatives from both the veterinary and the hunting communities participated and discussed the threatening global spread of Avian Influenza and African Swine Fever. The next step followed during the 62nd CIC General Assembly in Pravets, Bulgaria. At this occasion, the two organizations formulated their determination to cooperate to:
• Improve the awareness level of hunters concerning all wildlife diseases
• Enhance communication and cooperation between the hunting and veterinary communities
• Provide training for hunters in the early detection and response to wildlife diseases, together with national veterinary services
• Establish a CIC Center for Wildlife Diseases in Bulgaria.
The patron of this year’s General Assembly, the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, H.E. Boyko Borisov, addressed the participants and thanked the CIC for organizing this important gathering in Bulgaria. The Prime Minister viewed the selection Pravets as place for the 62nd General Assembly as recognition of Bulgaria’s successful and well-known wildlife management in recent years. After a strong decline of big game 10 to 15 years ago, Bulgaria managed to bring back the wildlife populations to a healthy level for the benefit of future generations.
The government of Bulgaria was also represented by the Minister of Agriculture and Food, H.E. Desislava Taneva. Her department is also responsible for wildlife and forest management in Bulgaria. The Minister highlighted that Bulgaria ranks third in Europe in biodiversity richness. The preservation of this unique richness remains the main focus of the Bulgarian Cabinet. The ministry plans to present a new hunting law within a month to the Parliament. The proposed law is the result of a public discussion, which included all stakeholders. Mrs. Taneva emphasized that the attraction of 2000 tourist hunters annually shows the great interest in Bulgaria and how the activities of the Cabinet are increasing the popularity of Bulgaria as a hunting destination.
Ivan Petkov, President of the GA host organisation, the Union of Hunters and Anglers in Bulgaria, outlined the long-standing history of the CIC and Bulgaria. In 1931, the Bulgarian Falconers Organization, the predecessor of the Union, acted as one of the founding members of the CIC. Mr. Petkov stressed that the alarming loss of biodiversity calls upon the CIC as an expert consultant and desired partner to build a strategy to conserve nature through sustainable use. He underlined that the work of this General Assembly would definitely contribute to a common objective: restoring and maintaining a clean and healthy natural environment.
CIC President Bernard Lozé reviewed the activities of the past year related to the strategic vision of the CIC, which was formulated in Milan in 2014. There, the 61st CIC General Assembly agreed on four priority areas for the future work and launched four distinct campaigns: Priority One – Contain Wildlife Crime; Priority two – Promote Wildlife Conservation through science-based sustainable use options; Priority three – Strengthening the network of the Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management; Priority four – Recognize our Global Cultural Heritage. This was an important milestone in the history of the CIC. President Lozé emphasized that responsibilities for the work on the different priorities have been clearly distributed among the three Divisions and their respective leaders.
In line with the review of the accomplishments related to the Four Priorities outlined by the CIC President, H.R.H. Senior Chief Inyambo Yeta gave a moving speech on the state of wildlife conservation of Zambia, in particular referring to his chiefdom in Barotseland. Senior Chief Yeta outlined the importance of community involvement in conservation with the following important statement: “Conservation in Africa has moved from being government-driven, to one of collaboration between the state and communities. Firearms, fighting and fences, have proven to be ineffective tools in the battle against poaching. By allowing communities to reclaim historical rights to managing wildlife, forest and related resources, conservation has forged a strong allegiance that does not rely on conventional methods of policing, but on the collaboration and support of individual community members.”
The roundtable discussion on the future of African wildlife conservation, moderated by Dr. Ali Kaka, CIC Ambassador for Africa, and with the participation of the distinguished guests from Africa, showed general consensus that the key of conservation success is the empowerment and ownership of the rural communities in wildlife. Wildlife tourism is crucial for every African country. Rural communities receiving ownership and necessary education can be the best protectors and managers of wildlife, resulting in less human-wildlife conflicts and poaching. Agriculture and mining are increasingly threatening habitats. Sustainable hunting is one of the few types of land use, which provides enough incentives and benefits to preserve landscapes in their natural form.
Ms. Pia Bucella, Director in charge of Natural Capital in Directorate General: Environment of the European Commission, started her speech by quoting the EU biodiversity campaign of 2010: “We are all in this together”. As Ms. Bucella outlined: “we live in Europe in a crowded multiple-use landscape where there are many competing demands on space”. She then urged the CIC and hunters to continue the global fight on halting the loss of biodiversity and to promote sustainable use of our natural resources which in turn will protect “our health and our wealth”.
Dr. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was represented through a video message to the CIC General Assembly. He also emphasized the importance of the empowerment of local people in nature conservation, by recognising the rights and stewardship responsibility of rural communities. He conveyed the readiness of the CBD Secretariat to assist all countries in updating their national biodiversity strategies.
In the framework of this year’s General Assembly, the CIC successfully held its very first State Members’ meeting where an impressive thirteen countries were represented. The Four Strategic Priorities were discussed in detail followed by further discussions on how the CIC could increase cooperation with its member states.
During the Closing Ceremony of the General Assembly, Karl-Heinz Florenz, Member of the European Parliament and President of the Parliamentary Intergroup Biodiversity, Hunting and Countryside, invited CIC members to his office in Brussels to discuss solutions on the problems hunters may see in European policy-making. He encouraged the CIC to join and support the Intergroup in their work in Brussels. Hunters need to show other parliamentarians and their relevant fora in Brussels that hunters are the key to biodiversity conservation. With this in the background, he very much welcomed that the Belgian Delegation will host next year’s CIC General Assembly in Brussels, the heart of Europe.
Ladislav Miko, Acting Director General of DG Health and Food Safety of the European Commission emphasized that hunters are counted upon as very important partners by the European Commission. Hunters are out in the field and can see daily changes in wildlife and nature. Wildlife diseases, such as the avian influenza and African swine fever were eye openers on the importance of collaboration with hunters. He very much welcomed the start of the OIE-CIC initiative on hunter training, awareness raising, and education. These activities are crucial for future successes. Collective efforts can only be successful if all parties are well informed.
The technical sessions of the Pravets General Assembly dealt with issues on large carnivore conservation in the regions of the Carpathians and the Balkans, the role of hunters in detecting and managing wildlife diseases, and the role and means of education in sustainable hunting towards children and young people (these presentations will be available soon on this website).
The upcoming 63rd CIC General Assembly on 22-23 April 2016 will be celebrated in Brussels and hosted by the CIC Belgian Delegation in cooperation with the European Landowners Organisation (ELO) and the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the European Union (FACE). We hope to see you there!