Il­le­gal wildlife trade is caus­ing great dam­age world­wide

The Sunday Guardian - - Profile -

On av­er­age, 55 African ele­phants are killed ev­ery sin­gle day. Last week, a young baby ele­phant in Malawi was al­most part of that sad statis­tic. The calf lay trapped in a cruel wire snare un­der the sear­ing African sun as her mother and their herd looked on help­lessly.

For­tu­nately, the tragic scene was dis­cov­ered by a pa­trol of African Parks rangers and Bri­tish soldiers who had been pro­vid­ing counter-poach­ing train­ing. Led by Lieu­tenant Alex Wil­son on duty with the Gre­nadier Guards, the pa­trol called a lo­cal vet and used a he­li­copter to ap­proach the wounded calf with equip­ment to save her life. Even­tu­ally, the calf was treated suc­cess­fully and re­united with her mother.

This story had a happy end­ing. But all around the world, the il­le­gal wildlife trade (IWT) is caus­ing unimag­in­able dam­age. Worth up to £17bn ev­ery year, it is one of the most lu­cra­tive forms of or­gan­ised crime, and it isn’t limited to species such as the ele­phant and rhi­noc­eros. For ex­am­ple, IWT is also a threat to the scar­let macaw, the jaguar and rose­wood, a valu­able type of trop­i­cal hard­wood, which is the most il­le­gally traded genus in the world.

IWT is one of many pres­sures threat­en­ing the sur­vival of en­dan­gered species, and sits along­side threats such as ris­ing hu­man pop­u­la­tions, cli­mate change and change of land-use. To­gether, these is­sues put 1,003 species of plants and an­i­mals un­der threat of ex­tinc­tion ac­cord­ing to the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species (Cites). Such dev­as­ta­tion could have unimag­in­able ef­fects on our planet’s frag­ile ecosys­tems. As the story from Malawi shows, how­ever, there is good rea­son for hope. The ac­tions we have taken as an in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, be­yond bor­ders and across govern­ments, have had un­de­ni­able ef­fect.

This week, the work will con­tinue, as global lead­ers, NGOs, busi­ness lead­ers and con­ser­va­tion­ists meet in Lon­don for the fourth Il­le­gal Wildlife Trade Con­fer­ence. With more than 1,000 del­e­gates at­tend­ing, in­clud­ing of­fi­cial del­e­ga­tions from 82 coun­tries, this will be the largest con­fer­ence of its kind ever held. We will be build­ing on the suc­cesses of pre­vi­ous meet­ings in Lon­don, Kasane and Hanoi. But we must yet go fur­ther. We are still at cri­sis point.

The con­fer­ence will fo­cus on how to tackle IWT as a se­ri­ous and or­gan­ised crime, which has dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects not just on rare plant and an­i­mal species, but also on lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. IWT fu­els cor­rup­tion and in­se­cu­rity, un­der­mines de­vel­op­ment, and brings crime and in­sta­bil­ity into some of the world’s poor­est com­mu­ni­ties. We are tack­ling the un­der­ly­ing is­sues driv­ing this trade, in­clud­ing pro­vid­ing al­ter­na­tive and sus­tain­able liveli­hoods to peo­ple in poor com­mu­ni­ties to en­sure they can sup­port their fam­i­lies with­out be­ing forced to turn to crime and to be able to stand up to pres­sure from or­gan­ised gangs.

To achieve this, we will be strength­en­ing and ex­pand­ing in­ter­na­tional coali­tions be­tween the pri­vate sec­tor, na­tional govern­ments, NGOs and aca­demics. By work­ing to­gether we can cham­pion best prac­tice, achieve re­sults that are im­pos­si­ble if we act alone and make use of the kind of in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies that have the po­ten­tial to trans­form the in­ter­na­tional ap­proach to IWT.

Or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the Zo­o­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of Lon­don are lead­ing the way with in­no­va­tive tech­ni­cal so­lu­tions such as “In­stant De­tect”, which uses satel­lites to mon­i­tor the flora and fauna of some of the world’s most chal­leng­ing en­vi­ron­ments, from the Antarc­tica to the Sa­hara. In­stant de­tect is also be­ing used to help pro­vide early warn­ing of poach­ing ac­tiv­ity. Live in­for­ma­tion is sent to rangers who can then act quickly.

Fi­nally, we will be fo­cus­ing on how to close the mar­kets that con­trib­ute to the il­le­gal wildlife trade. The UK is in­tro­duc­ing one of the tough­est ivory bans in the world, with some of the strong­est en­force­ment pro­vi­sions, and 32 African states have called for all Euro­pean coun­tries to close their ivory mar­kets. I am de­lighted that the UK has cho­sen to lead the way on this is­sue.

Although we have made valu­able progress, the scale of wildlife crime has in­creased dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years. Poach­ing lev­els for many species re­main un­sus­tain­ably high and or­gan­ised crim­i­nal net­works con­tinue to profit from the pro­ceeds of the trade. Our fear is not just for the fu­ture of in­creas­ingly rare and beau­ti­ful mam­mals such as the African ele­phant, rhino and pan­golin, but also for en­dan­gered trees and plant life as var­ied as cacti, orchids and rare palm trees.

Il­le­gal wildlife trade both fu­els and en­cour­ages cor­rup­tion. It un­der­mines the rule of law, gov­er­nance and se­cu­rity; it dam­ages eco­nomic growth and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment; and it de­prives so­ci­eties of their valu­able and fi­nite nat­u­ral re­sources, threat­en­ing the health of lo­cal economies.

It is vi­tal the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity—rep­re­sented by the im­pres­sive global coali­tion now gath­er­ing in Lon­don—unites to tackle these prob­lems be­fore it is too late. THE IN­DE­PEN­DENT

1,003 species of plants and an­i­mals un­der threat of ex­tinc­tion ac­cord­ing to the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species (Cites).

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