World Heritage Species: A New Legal Approach to Conservation


60 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2019

Date Written: August 1, 2008


With habitat loss, hunting and other threats bringing many great apes — gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, and bonobos — close to extinction, scientists and conservationists have begun investigating the case for stronger international legal strategies to protect the great apes. A new conservation tool is needed, because when species, such as the great apes, suffer from a variety of threats, current biodiversity-related multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) are ill-suited to conserve such species. For example, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) restricts only international trade in species of conservation concern. CITES does not regulate domestic trade or protect species from habitat destruction. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) does not require governments to enact any specific conservation obligations.

Taking the moniker of “world heritage” from the World Heritage Convention’s “World Heritage Sites,” conservationists have begun promoting the “World Heritage Species” concept to protect great apes and other species of falling through the cracks of international law. With little enthusiasm for a new biodiversity-related MEA, discussions turned to the coordinated and cooperative use of existing MEAs. With respect to mountain gorillas, for example, the range States could combine the provisions of the Convention on Migratory Species, which requires habitat restoration and prohibits domestic and international trade in endangered species, with the enlargement of existing national parks and World Heritage sites under the World Heritage Convention. A “Mountain Gorilla World Heritage Species Protected Area”, and the monitoring and reporting requirements associated with those MEAs, could provide the legal, political, and financial motivation for the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda to collaborate for the enforcement of conservation and management measures. This article concludes that a need exists for a “World Heritage Species Program” and proposes that UNESCO, which already administers the World Heritage Convention and the Man and Biosphere Program, implement it. It further proposes criteria for designating “World Heritage Species” and designs an institutional framework for UNESCO to move forward with such a program.

Keywords: World Heritage Convention, World Heritage Species, conservation, habitat

JEL Classification: K32, K33

Suggested Citation

Wold, Chris, World Heritage Species: A New Legal Approach to Conservation (August 1, 2008). GEORGETOWN INT’L ENVTL. LAW REVIEW, Vol. 20, 2008, Available at SSRN:

Chris Wold (Contact Author)

Lewis & Clark Law School ( email )

10015 S.W. Terwilliger Blvd.
Portland, OR 97219
United States

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