Standing side by side with enforcers in the fight against wildlife crime

IFAW UK’s Campaigns and Enforcement Manager Tania McCrea-Steele addresses delegates at the 25th National Wildlife Crime Conference.The end of November marked the beginning of the UK’s 25th National Wildlife Crime Conference which brought together police, Customs and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which work to protect wildlife by upholding the rule of law as well as organisations with an interest in trading, shooting or hunting animals.

This year’s gathering was particularly significant as not only was it a milestone for the conference itself, but we were coming together in the run-up to the UK Government’s international Illegal Wildlife Trade summit which is due to take place in February 2014. We heard about how the Prince Wales and the Duke of Cambridge had rallied together representatives from around the globe in May in order to try to stamp out the killing of elephants, rhinos and tigers for unnecessary, luxury products.

The UK Government has now stepped in with the aim of maintaining momentum to tackle this complex network of organised criminals profiting from the killing of wildlife as well as working to reduce demand in the Far East for rhino horn, ivory and tiger bone.

I was pleased to have the opportunity to share with enforcers the work that IFAW has been doing in partnership with other NGOs to ensure the UK has its own house in order when it hosts the international summit that will bring together Heads of State and senior level politicians from around the world.

My presentation included our approach to the Environmental Audit Committee (a cross-party parliamentary select committee) to look at the UK’s approach to wildlife crime enforcement. This led to calls for the long-term funding of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) and the establishment of expert prosecutors in England and Wales, amongst other things. Although our push for funding of the NWCU resulted in its survival for another year the Unit remains endangered. We are also waiting to see what action the Crown Prosecution Service will take to ensure wildlife crime does not remain a low risk, high-profit criminal activity.

I was also able to highlight that there is strong support for this work within the Police and Crime Commissioner community with a third of those elected having signed a pledge to tackle wildlife crime following correspondence from IFAW supporters as well as contact from Wildlife and Countryside Link, which facilitates partnership working between conservation and animal welfare NGOs.

During the course of the conference my colleague Jordi Casamitjana, myself and many other enforcers  saw some very harrowing images. From Africa there was a photo of a rhino that had collapsed on the ground, its face a bloody stump after its horn had been shorn off, while footage from the UK showed men setting fighting dogs on foxes for their ‘entertainment’. These pictures will haunt me and the others who endured them, but I was encouraged to see how many people had come together to stamp out this suffering.

In the UK we have reason to be proud of the fact that we have first class enforcers and expert investigators working for NGOs who are specifically trained to catch criminals that seek to take pleasure from cruelty to animals or make money by endangering protected wildlife.

This was made very clear when Jon Palfrey, a long-standing wildlife crime police officer from Gloucestershire Constabulary, spoke at the conference. I have known him for many years and have always been impressed by his passion and commitment to protecting wildlife and therefore was deeply saddened to hear he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Being seriously ill didn’t prevent this officer from coming to the conference and giving a heartfelt, impassioned speech about how we must all continue to fight wildlife crime long after he is gone.

This was the first wildlife crime conference for the newly appointed Association of Chief Police Officer Lead on Rural and Wildlife Crime, Chief Constable Simon Prince of Dyfed Powys Police. He noted how struck he was with the commitment of officers and NGOs to combat wildlife crime and I look forward to his support in ensuring this serious crime is given the attention and support it needs from UK police forces.

--TM

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