Among the Elephants Blog
November 23, 2016
By Benson Okita, Head of Monitoring
Governments around the world should act quickly and save vulnerable species before it is too late as those species are being killed at a horrifying rate. This was the dire warning delivered by Prince William of Britain when he addressed the Hanoi-Vietnam Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) that was held on 17th and 18th November 2016.
The Hanoi-Vietnam conference was the third after the London and Kasane-Bostwana conference on IWT. The conference helped to regenerate political interest and momentum for finances and legislative changes that are so essential for tackling illegal trade in wildlife and their products. It was the largest of IWT meeting with over 40 countries represented along with NGOs and conservation groups including Save the Elephants.
The fact that Vietnam, a highly implicated state in illegal wildlife trade hosted the conference, was a strong statement of the Country’s commitment to find solutions to curb the illicit trade.
The level of consensus during the IWT discussions in the approaches of tackling the four pillars of tackling IWT namely; law enforcement, demand reduction, community livelihoods and legal framework were encouraging. Consensus and renewed commitments on the Hanoi Statement on combating IWT (http://iwthanoi.vn/hanoi-statement/ ) was a reflection of recent CITES COP 17 in South Africa where most decisions were adopted by consensus.
Just as was at the CITES CoP 17 Conference, every party seemed pragmatic in their approach and in offering solutions and in making continued improvements and on where there are weaknesses. This was a clear deviation from other previous international meetings on wildlife trade where Parties would apportion blames.
Transnational criminal groups are driving illegal wildlife trade. The only way to address it is to use all the available legal tools to address the four pillars mentioned above. Some notable feedback from the Hanoi IWT conference to address these pillars included the need to fast track application of law enforcement tools such as International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC).
ICCWC’s mission is to strengthen criminal justice systems and provide coordinated support at national, regional and international level to combat wildlife and forest crime. While so much work has gone into demand reduction of illegal wildlife products, the conference noted that the least developed pillar was the demand reduction.
It is less funded with poorly developed tools for data collection and analyses. The need to develop a toolkit that deals with demand reduction strategies was emphasized. For example, education and awareness campaigns need to consider languages that can reach and be understood by large masses.
The need for the local and rural communities to be heard by the international communities including at IWT meetings was reiterated. This is crucial since the long-term survival of the wildlife resource is only guaranteed when communities benefit from the resource. Communities can be a powerful and positive agent of change if they see the benefits of the wildlife resources. Sound legal framework is the anchor for the other three pillars and all governments and NGOs were encouraged to develop further.
The next IWT meeting will be held in London in 2018.