‘The future of wildlife is in our hands’ – the theme of this year’s World Wildlife Day and a call to action. The issues raised are serious and affect us all. The Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) is a major criminal industry worth more than £6bn each year. It threatens the existence of some of the world’s most iconic species, such as elephants, rhinos and tigers. It drives corruption and instability, undermines the rule of law and steals valuable resources from some of the world’s poorest communities.
The facts are stark. The illegal ivory trade worldwide has more than doubled since 2007. At least twenty thousand elephant poaching deaths were recorded in 2013. 2014 was the worst year on record for rhino-poaching with 1,293 killed across Africa. 2013 saw the Western Black Rhino declared as extinct - all species of rhino could be extinct in our lifetime. At least 1,000 park rangers have been killed while protecting wildlife over the last decade. I could go on.
The illegal wildlife trade threatens the security, stability and prosperity of all the communities it touches at every point along the chain. It erodes state authority and fuels conflict, costing lives and livelihoods.
So what can we do about it? The British Government, with our Embassies and High Commissions across the world, is actively working with international partners, governments and NGOs, to offer practical support to combat IWT: reducing demand, strengthening law enforcement, and developing sustainable livelihoods for affected communities. In 2014 the UK hosted the London Conference on IWT with the participation of Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry. At that conference, and at the follow up conference last year in Botswana, 40 countries endorsed a total of 40 commitments to action. The UK’s IWT Challenge Fund is funding 19 projects, and has just awarded a further 15, covering a range of species including elephants, rhinos and pangolins, lions, great apes, and tigers. The British military is training park rangers in Gabon. We have supported the African-led Elephant Protection Initiative, which has doubled in membership since its launch in London two years ago. And we sponsored the first ever UN resolution on IWT. But there is more to be done.
This year we will be supporting the government of Vietnam as it prepares to host in November the 3rd international conference on IWT. We are looking forward to supporting The Royal Foundation and United for Wildlife’s Transport Taskforce on IWT and working with international partners to ensure IWT is kept on the political agenda at UN General Assembly and the G20. Next week I will be in Tanzania where we have been working closely with the government to help protect that country’s incredible natural heritage.
The future of wildlife, and the communities and countries that are its home, is in our hands. We mustn’t let them down.