UNITED NATIONS (APP) – The United Nations has launched an unprecedented campaign against illegal trade in wildlife, warning that such trade is pushing various species to the brink of extinction, robbing countries of their natural heritage, and profiting international criminal networks.

“Each year, thousands of wild animals are illegally killed, often by organised criminal networks motivated by profit and greed,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement on Thursday.

“I call on all Governments and people everywhere to support the new UN campaign, Wild for Life, which aims to mobilize the world to end this destructive trade. Preserving wildlife is crucial for the well-being of people and the planet alike,” the secretary-general added.

The campaign, which was launched at the second UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) in Nairobi, Kenya, aims to mobilize millions of people to take action to end the illegal trade in wildlife.

The campaign will jointly be run by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

A number of high-profile celebrity ambassadors have also been brought on for the campaign, including Brazilian model Gisele Bundchen, who is fighting for sea turtles; four-time African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure (Manchester City, Ivory Coast), who is backing elephants; and actor Ian Somerhalder (Vampire Diaries, Lost), who is rooting for pangolins.

They are being joined by major celebrities from China, India, Indonesia, Lebanon and Vietnam battling to conserve species such as orangutans, tigers, rhinos and helmeted horn bills, and calling for citizen support to end the demand driving the illegal wildlife trade, agencies said.

“It saddens me that in the 21st century, with all our knowledge and power, we are still hearing stories of wildlife facing the possibility of extinction at the hands of man,” Bundchen said.

On Tuesday, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) issued a report on the global wildlife crime in 120 countries, which illustrates the extreme diversity of this illegal activity.

Angola, the global host of this year’s Day, will be making significant pledges to tackle the illegal ivory trade at the event. John Kay, the lead singer of Steppenwolf, a Canadian-American rock group, donated the use of the group’s iconic 1968 hit song Born to Be Wild to the campaign.