On 25 March high-level political representatives from around the world will gather in Kasane, Botswana, to agree upon urgent action to tackle the illegal wildlife trade.
Lord De Mauley, the British minister of natural environment and science and research, said the illegal killing and trading of endangered wildlife for profit is abhorrent.
“The poachers and traffickers who conduct these dreadful crimes must be stopped. Organised criminal networks are stealing resources from communities that depend on them, preventing them being used to secure a sustainable future,” De Mauley said.
“The illegal wildlife trade drives corruption, devastates communities, undermines efforts to cut poverty and threatens the existence of some of the world’s most iconic and treasured species. There is anecdotal evidence that it is being exploited by terrorist organisations. The illegal wildlife trade must end on our watch.”
De Mauley said he believes the international community can achieve this. In February 2014 the United Kingdom hosted a high-level international Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in London. The presidents of Botswana, Gabon, Tanzania and Chad, their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, Namibia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, representatives from 41 countries, the EU and 10 international organisations, including the World Bank and UNDP, attended.
They all agreed the need for urgent and decisive action, and signed up to an ambitious declaration to reduce demand, strengthen enforcement and support sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by illegal wildlife trade. They committed to supporting a commercial ban on international trade in elephant ivory, to renounce the use of any products from species threatened with extinction, and to treat poaching and trafficking as serious organised crime in the same category as drugs, arms and people trafficking.
Since the London Conference, Chad, Belgium, Hong Kong and China, among other countries, have destroyed stockpiles of seized illegally traded wildlife products. A new Wildlife Enforcement Network has been established in southern Africa. The first ever UN resolution on IWT was adopted by the UN Environment Assembly in June 2014. New programmes of work are underway in destination states to reduce consumer demand for IWT products, and countries around the world are strengthening their legal frameworks against the trade.
“All of this work is commendable, vital. But there is more to do,” De Mauley added.
“In January South Africa and Namibia reported that rhino poaching is on the increase. Thousands of elephants are still being killed across Africa. The illegal trade in pangolins has rocketed in recent years, to the extent that they are now the most illegally traded mammal in the world, with all eight species now considered to be endangered. The illegal wildlife trade is still an urgent global issue.”
Very real challenges are faced by countries at the sharp end of this brutal trade.
“On a visit to Botswana ahead of the London Conference I had the opportunity to see the Botswanan defence force anti-poaching patrols in the Okavango Delta. In some parts of Africa the illegal wildlife trade is no less than a war, with rangers being shot on a shockingly regular basis,” De Mauley said.
“Last year, on a visit to Vietnam, where the UK is funding work by local NGOs to reduce consumption of rhino horn, I saw for myself how the Vietnamese Government is determined to catch the smugglers and impound their goods.”
According to De Mauley the UK is committed to continuing to play its part in wiping out the trade.
“We are managing a £10m package over four years to help reduce demand, strengthen enforcement and support sustainable livelihoods. Around £5.3 million has been allocated through our Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund to 19 projects in developing countries around the world.”
Work supported through the funding includes a project in Mozambique which aims to protect rhinos by linking communities and conservation, the Mali Elephant Project, support for improved border enforcement in the Horn of Africa and training in enforcement in Malawi.
This is in addition to the £8m a year Darwin Initiative, a UK government grants scheme that helps to protect biodiversity and the natural environment through locally based projects worldwide.
Being hit by an alarming increase of rhino poaching in 2013/14, the UK decided to assist Namibia to the amount of £7 000 (about N$129 000), supporting a local initiative in 2014/15. In order to intensify security measures and curb rhino poaching more effectively, the support covers training in Scene-of-the-Crime, offered to all parties involved such as SRT trackers, MET field staff, Community Rhino Rangers and Nampol Protected Resources Unit.
The UK has committed its financial support to the Governments of Botswana, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon and Tanzania in implementing the ground-breaking Elephant Protection Initiative.
“The Kasane Conference on 25 March is an opportunity to maintain the high level of political commitment we saw in London a year ago. It is an opportunity to continue the war against this illicit trade, and I am delighted to be leading the UK delegation,” De Mauley concluded.