Deadly striker Neymar Jr., renowned for hitting the back of the net for Barcelona and Brazil, is taking aim at a new target: the deadly illegal trade in wildlife.
He has joined forces with supermodel and friend Gisele Bündchen, fellow footballer and four-time African player of the year Yaya Touré, movie star Li Bingbing and other global celebrities to back a United Nations campaign, which has just expanded to China.
“When my friend Gisele told me about the Wild For Life campaign to protect so many endangered animals, I had to act,” Neymar Jr. said. “Football unites us all in a common goal. Winning as part of a team. We need to think of ourselves as global citizens, one great team that can win against the greed and ignorance that is allowing wildlife crime to flourish.”
The footballer is also involving children from The Neymar Jr. Project Institute – a huge education complex with classrooms, playing fields and a swimming pool that provides sporting activities for underprivileged children in Praia Grande.
The illegal trade in wildlife is a global problem that threatens species great and small from elephants, rhinos, and tigers to pangolins, sea turtles, and rosewood. The #WildforLife campaign, which calls on the public to find their kindred species and use their own sphere of influence to end the trade, has engaged millions of people already.
UN Environment chief Erik Solheim on Friday opened an exhibition on Wild for Life at Beijing Capital International Airport, the second-busiest airport in the world. The campaign will run across the airport, including on hundreds of boarding screens, to alert Chinese and international travellers to the issue.
“The illegal trade in wildlife is threatening precious species, robbing countries of their natural heritage and profiting criminals,” Mr. Solheim said. “You do not need to be a wildlife ranger or politician to do your part.
“Not buying illegal wildlife products, and taking part in the global movement that is Wild for Life, can also help ensure that the animals we love, and upon which communities depend, are here for centuries to come.”
The Great Elephant Census, released earlier this month, featured shocking data that showed poaching has driven a 30 per cent decrease in African savanna elephants over just four years.
Three rhinos are killed every day, and the Western Black Rhino has already gone extinct. Pangolins – scaly anteaters – are the most illegally trafficked mammal in the world. Great apes are already locally extinct in several African nations.
Profits from the illegal wildlife trade sometimes go into the pockets of international criminal networks, threatening peace and security, and damaging the livelihoods of local communities who depend on tourism.
Stopping this trade is also crucial to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as it threatens countries’ biodiversity, people’s livelihoods, and disturbs peace.
#WildforLife aims to mobilize millions of people to make commitments and take action to end the illegal trade. The campaign is run by UN Environment, the UN Development Programme, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.