The fight against wildlife trade can’t be won in a single summit

We need to teach our kids, their kids, and our grandparents, anyone who will listen, that the goal of the animal welfare movement is to build a world in which wild animals are respected and protected. Thanks to a number of expansive and diligent multi-nation enforcement operations, staggering amounts of illegal ivory—24.3 tons in 2011, 30 tons in 2012 and 41.5 tons in 2013—have been seized. Through high-profile ivory crush events in the US, China and most recently France, the world watched as governments destroyed tons of figurines, trinkets, jewelry and tusks of dead elephants.

And just yesterday, the Obama White House took a big step toward putting wildlife trafficking criminals out of business and protecting elephants, rhinos, and other animals around the world by releasing the first draft of their US National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking.

Still, news stories that convey the brutal details of poaching incidents from Africa to India for ivory and rhino horn continue to be put on front pages and shared among millions on social media. Ongoing media reports come in telling us that tiger pelts and leopard claws are still hot items among collectors, and just this past summer, despite their IUCN listing as “vulnerable”, a polar bear pelt went for a cool $22,000, an astounding 50 percent increase compared to a price paid for a similar product the previous year.

The fight to protect animals from wildlife trade has gained the world’s attention. And in London this week, leaders have gathered to take a bold stand as a united front for animal welfare.

These public demonstrations of concern are great for inspiring change.

But they are just a few steps in the generational fight against wildlife trade.

We need to be sure to use the momentum from these events to carry us through the long, hard work necessary to create a sustainable future for elephants and other wildlife as well as the communities that live near them.

We need to teach our kids, their kids, our grandparents, anyone who will listen, that the goal of the animal welfare movement is to build a world in which wild animals are respected and protected. And ask them to join our efforts.

In the short-term, we need to address the immediate crisis and stop the killing of elephants for ivory. Like many animal welfare organizations, IFAW trains officers on the frontlines in range states, nearly 2,000 to date. However in order to make sure the work these officers perform can have the most impact as possible, IFAW became the first NGO to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with INTERPOL to track these criminals as they operate across national borders.

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Our financial support for investigations has led to prosecutions and subsequent convictions, helping governments around the world target the power bases of warlords and crack terrorist networks in places like Somalia, DRC and Mali.

Now is the time to increase in-country support for the legal work that must be done to ensure anti-poaching efforts’ effectiveness. Many developing nations need to draft legal frameworks and build capacity within their existing systems. And those developed countries including the US and the United Kingdom need to provide guidance based on their established regulations and case law.

It’s not that those country’s citizens are not willing or able to follow a rule of law; many countries just don’t have the resources to establish wildlife law enforcement—outgunned, in some cases literally— to tackle worldwide sophisticated crime syndicates.

Moreover, what it is needed right now, and what I hope will be declared by world leaders at the conclusion of this weeks’ London Summit is an investment of trust for local enforcers, national governments, NGOs and INTERPOL to share information and coordinate efforts.

There is also a need for caring animal welfare supporters to work with groups like IFAW as we help nations to develop the legislative and economic infrastructure so important to enforce these much-needed wildlife protection laws.

The future of wildlife threatened by commercial trade, including elephants, rhinos, tigers and other charismatic megafauna, depends on it.

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For more information about IFAW efforts to combat wildlife crime, visit our campaign page.

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Elephant Expert
IFAW Elephant Expert
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia