Good omen in Prince Charles' announcement of UK Heads of State Summit on wildlife crime
At the invitation of their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and his son William, the Duke of Cambridge, I attended what I hope will be a landmark meeting on the issue of international wildlife crime.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has worked on this issue for many years and has called for resolute action on the devastating impact it has on the conservation and welfare of iconic species such as elephants, rhinos, tigers and sharks.
Over the years, IFAW and other NGOs have been warning governments around the world about how the trade in these species endangers not only biodiversity but human security, stability and economic growth.
So, it was hugely gratifying to hear both the Prince and his son describe the growing “battle” for wildlife being driven by the “sky rocketing demand” in Asia and other parts of the world.
Before they both spoke, we were given a variety of presentations about the connections between wildlife protection and global security; demand reduction programmes; the need for enhanced law enforcement; the role of local communities in protecting wildlife and the need for a cross-cutting approach to combating illegal wildlife trade.
The overwhelming and repeated messages we heard were that wildlife crime is huge, and it is growing.
Estimates between $7 and $20 billion were given about the value of the illegal trade.
We also heard from INTERPOL, whose projects IFAW supports, about how this type of crime is inextricably linked to organised crime and terrorists.
We know that the Chinese government actively encourages organisations like IFAW to spread the word to their new consumers that the trade in ivory threatens elephants.
We also heard that there is hope, as demonstrated by the fact that the ivory trade in Japan has shrunk enormously in recent years.
However, it was also noted that consumers in emerging economies, particularly across Asia, are the new key threatening markets – this is where public messaging against wildlife trade is crucial.
Everything we heard was in perfect sync with IFAW’s analysis of the problem and the solutions that are needed.
At the top of the list of solutions is Government will – that spectral commodity that only becomes evident when words become action.
So far, the omens look quite good as Prince Charles and later Owen Patterson, the UK Secretary of State for the Environment, announced that the UK Government will be hosting a Heads of State Summit this autumn to address the issue and develop an international action programme to tackle international wildlife crime.
Prince Charles said in his address that, “the destruction of these species would diminish us all” and his son added that there seem to be only two alternatives, “either to take joint concerted action or to run out of animals”.
After a networking buffet lunch, the NGO participants went on their way, leaving the Government representatives to start the planning process for the summit later in the year.
IFAW was in at the beginning, and I look forward to our continuing participation in action that defends animals by building enforcement capacity at the local and international level whilst also spreading the message to potential consumers that if they buy, animals will continue to die.