Azzedine Downs

President and CEO, International Fund for Animal Welfare

At the International Fund for Animal Welfare, we believe that a world where animals are respected and protected is a better world for both animals and people.

A world without wildlife and wild places would be a bleaker place for us all.

So many species today are in danger of extinction due to the actions of one species: people. Yet this also means that we have the ability to solve this problem.

Often where we find intense animal suffering or population loss, we also find people who are struggling for their survival. It’s imperative that those concerned with wildlife protection also take the welfare of communities living in and around wildlife reserves seriously.

Creating safe environments for wildlife, while also ensuring the safety of the people living close by, will require resources far greater than any one country can provide. In fact, it will require large-scale cooperation among international organizations, national governments, and local communities.

First and foremost, however, it is a question of collective will. Nations must first agree that they want, as a people, to share the planet with animals, both large and small.

Wildlife is part of our shared global heritage. We derive quantifiable benefits from the ways in which animals help maintain healthy ecosystems and support tourism. And we derive difficult to quantify, but equally important social benefits from the joy that animals bring to our lives.  A world without wildlife and wild places would be a bleaker place for us all.

Animals have the ability to feel pain and fear, and to form relationships. While observing the Amboseli elephants in Kenya, I was struck by their family bonds—how they traveled together and responded as a family to protect their young. These are thinking and feeling beings, not just property like a house or car, and not just natural resources like trees or water. We have an obligation to protect animals from human-induced suffering, as well as to protect populations from extinction.

The Endangered Species Act not only protects endangered and threatened species nationally, it also plays an important role in protecting wildlife globally. More than 600 species not found in the U.S. are covered by the Endangered Species Act; this serves to ensure that the U.S. upholds its international treaty obligations to prevent international trade in protected species.

Many countries do not have sufficient laws in place to protect animals. As numerous species—including elephants, rhinos, sharks and polar bears, to name a few—face a crisis due to poaching and increasing pressures on their habitats, it’s more important than ever for the U.S. to leverage its international influence to help turn the tide. And to do that credibly, we must make sure we are being true to our values at home. Now is the time to preserve – not dilute – the Endangered Species Act.