LONDON, UK, February 12, 2014 (ENS) – To combat a global epidemic of criminal wildlife poaching and trafficking, the leaders of 50 countries are meeting this week at the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, convened by the British Government.
The aim of the conference is to agree a high-level political commitment to take urgent action against the illegal trade in elephants, rhinos and tigers by strengthening law enforcement and the criminal justice system, reducing demand, and supporting sustainable livelihoods for affected communities.
The coordinated international effort includes seven large conservation groups taking part in the Royal Foundation’s new umbrella group, United for Wildlife.
Kicking off a week of wildlife protection activities, the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, and the Prince of Wales Sunday released a joint video message on the need to halt the illegal trade in wildlife and their parts.
“We have come together, as father and son, to lend our voices to the growing global effort to combat the illegal wildlife trade,” Prince Charles says in the nine-minute clip. “A trade that has reached such unprecedented levels of killing and related violence that it now poses a grave threat not only to the survival of some of the world’s most treasured species, but also to economic and political stability in many areas around the world.”
Prince William goes on to say, “Despite the terrible crisis that we now face, we both continue to be optimistic that the tide can be reversed. We have to be the generation that stopped the illegal wildlife trade, and secured the future of these magnificent animals, and their habitats, for if we fail, it will be too late.”
The video ends with The Prince and The Duke saying the phrase “Let’s unite for wildlife!” in Arabic, Vietnamese, Swahili, Spanish and Mandarin in order to be understood by people living in the countries most affected by the illegal wildlife trade.
Today at the United for Wildlife Symposium at the Zoological Society London, Prince William said, “I am delighted that our foundation has been able to provide an impetus for the creation of United for Wildlife. I cannot thank our seven collaborators enough for their hard work in getting us to this point.”
The seven United for Wildlife organizations are: Conservation International; Fauna & Flora International; the International Union for Conservation of Nature; The Nature Conservancy; Wildlife Conservation Society; WWF-UK; and the Zoological Society of London.
“The forces that are currently destroying some of the world’s endangered species are sophisticated and powerful. But this week, we are seeing the creation of an equally powerful alliance, coming together to help fight them,” said Prince William. “The commitments set out today will begin to address the challenges of protection, enforcement and demand reduction.”
In a policy paper ahead of the conference, the British Government released data that details the worldwide criminal wildlife trade, worth more than £6 billion a year.
Illegal ivory trade activity has more than doubled since 2007, with ivory selling for up to £1,200 per kilo.
Rhino poaching increased 5,000 percent between 2007-12, with one killed by a poacher every 10 hours. Rhino horn is now worth more than gold and platinum and is more valuable on the black market than diamonds or cocaine.
The Western Black Rhino was declared as extinct in 2013, and all species of rhino could be extinct in our lifetime, the British Government warned.
Three out of nine species of tiger are extinct, with only 3,500 tigers remaining in the wild, and since 2004 the Central Africa region has lost two-thirds of its elephant population. The latest data on elephant poaching shows that every day, somewhere in the world, nearly 100 elephants are killed for their ivory tusks.
The lives of those working to protect endangered wildlife are also at risk, with at least 1,000 park rangers killed over the last decade alone.
The main focus of today’s symposium is solutions. In a statement on solutions, the United for Wildlife groups say they plan to strengthen site protection on areas that contain target species with the use of technologies such as satellite nodes, ground sensors, GPS trackers and drones.
They will try to reduce demand for illegal wildlife parts by working with governments, marketing experts and youth leaders to warn buyers of rhino horn, ivory, tiger and pangolin parts and products of the impact of their purchases.
They will engage with the private sector to encourage a zero-tolerance approach towards the illegal wildlife trade, extend support the judiciary and local authorities in their fight against wildlife criminals and support local communities affected by the illegal wildlife trade.
“We will use our combined resources to ensure they succeed,” Prince William said today, extending a broad invitation for more partners. “Ours is not an exclusive partnership,” he said. “It is my hope that you will all become part of United for Wildlife and the global alliance to stop illegal wildlife trafficking.”
The prince then attended a reception at the Natural History Museum hosted by the British Government to mark the opening of the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade.
Delegates from consuming countries China and Vietnam are attending as are delegates from African countries, where the poaching occurs.
The outcome is expected to be a global declaration of cooperation to tackle wildlife trafficking.
Uganda is benefiting already from the 10 million pounds that Britain recently earmarked to combat illegal wildlife trade. The British High Commission in Kampala announced Friday that it is supporting the construction and equipping of ranger posts in the Murchison Falls Conservation Area. This is Uganda’s largest and oldest conservation area, inhabited by 76 species of mammals and 451 birds, including buffalos, elephants, lions and leopards.
In November 2013, the British Army joined forces with Kenyan anti-poaching groups to crack down on illegal wildlife crime. British Army paratroopers provided patrolling and field training to members of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, Kenyan Forestry Service, and Mount Kenya Trust.
At the symposium on Tuesday, John Scanlon, secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, called illegal wildlife trade a “serious” crime as defined in the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
“Illicit wildlife trafficking increasingly involves organized crime and in some cases rebel militia, which has changed the dynamics of combating this highly destructive criminal activity, in particular as it relates to some mega-fauna,” Scanlon said. “As a result, wildlife trafficking should be treated as a serious crime and States to engage with Customs, the police, rangers or inspectors, the judiciary, and sometimes the military to implement CITES effectively, which may necessitate intervention from the highest political level.”