Defeating the Illegal Wildlife Trade

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs addresses the 3rd Illegal Wildlife Trade conference in Hanoi.

The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP


Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here in Vietnam, a part of the world that is so critical to defeating the illegal wildlife trade.

Meeting here to combat this barbaric trade is symbolic of how far we have come in such a short time.

Thank you Vice President Thinh for hosting this meeting.

I am also grateful to His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge for his long-standing dedication to this cause. Just a few weeks ago I listened to him speak at an event organised by the UK charity the Tusk Trust.

The Prince made some powerful remarks that will resonate with many of you gathered here today.

He said he was not prepared to explain to his children why we lost the battle to save our endangered species.

Like him, we should not be prepared to explain to future generations why such majestic creatures are no longer roaming free.

Rather than sleepwalking towards a vision where images of lost species are consigned to history books - we are gathered in Hanoi to show the world we can stop this sickening trade.

The situation we are in today

Before we celebrate some of the very positive progress taking place, let us take stock of the stark situation we find ourselves in; our wildlife is facing a global crisis.

The illegal wildlife trade is responsible not only for pushing species such as elephants, rhinos and pangolins towards extinction, but it is also causing corruption and instability in vulnerable states around the world.

In less than ten years, 150 thousand elephants have been lost to poaching. More than two rhinos are killed every day.
Whether on the land or in the sea, few creatures are safe from harm.

And behind this bleak outlook, there are stories of human tragedy, too.

The ranger, killed whilst protecting animals targeted by poachers. The family he won’t return to. The village, torn apart by poaching. And the international community that didn’t do enough to stop this.

The tide is turning

Thankfully, the tide has started to turn.

Everyone in this room can be proud to be part of this shift.

I have mentioned the significant role that His Royal Highness has played.

But I would also like to commend the personal commitment of Mr. Scanlon of CITES and Mr Fedetov of the UN Office for Drugs and Crime to this cause.

And working with and alongside us are the many non-profit organisations, private sector pioneers and individuals on the front line.

They not only bring a huge amount of energy to this work, but hold all of us here to account on our pledges.

I am proud to say the UK is bringing together nations to defeat the illegal wildlife trade and investing on the ground.

Two years ago my Department launched a £13 million fund to invest in projects around the world tackling the illegal wildlife trade at its root.

So far we have supported over 30 projects through our Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund and will soon announce more that will benefit from an additional £5 million early next year.

Just yesterday I visited bears that had been destined for the cruel and unnecessary bear bile trade, and have since been rescued from for a better life.

This is a great example of the hard work of NGOs and I am delighted that we will help projects like these to provide sanctuary to other animals in need.

To defeat this trade, the UK’s partnerships focus on developing sustainable livelihoods, strengthening law enforcement and reducing demand.

Our work also aims to inform decision makers at the highest levels, helping to fund the first ever global wildlife crime report by the UN Office for Drugs and Crime.

We have also provided financial and practical support to Vietnam to bring global leaders together at this very conference.

But vitally our work is also making a real difference on the ground.

Our British military trains anti-poaching rangers on the frontline in Gabon, home of Africa’s largest population of forest elephants.

The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service supports the judicial system in key states like Kenya and Tanzania. UK Border Force shares their expertise overseas, most recently with counterparts in Malawi and Mexico.

We also support the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Wildlife Crimes Unit, which recently exposed Indonesia’s largest pangolin smuggling case this year.

We are also sending a strong message to the world on ivory.

In September, I announced UK government plans to ban the sale of modern day ivory - an important first step as we press for a complete ban.

Stopping the trade in poached ivory will require truly global and concerted action.

But the more we can do to tackle this international problem with an international response, the sooner we can make change happen.

Because for every battle won, there is always more we can do.

There is always more that can be done

There are those that offer warm words of encouragement, but take little action.

All of us here today share a desire to stop this trade once and for all.

Which is why I believe the action we commit to here, as individual nations and as partners in defeating this trade, will be the most important achievement of this conference.

That is, after all, what we will be judged on when we return to our home countries and to our families.

The UK is doing more than ever to protect global wildlife populations but we need to do even more.

That’s why I am proud to announce the UK will commit an additional £13 million to new measures tackling the illegal wildlife trade, doubling our investment.

Working in partnership

Starting next year, the British military will train an elite force of anti-poaching trackers deployed to African range states such as Malawi to trail criminals and to bring them to justice

During a visit to China last week, I confirmed that the UK and China will work together with border forces in southern Africa to build skills in identifying wildlife smugglers, detecting hidden wildlife products and preventing illegal goods from leaving the region.

And later today I will be discussing plans for joint working between the UK and Vietnamese border forces, national airlines and airports, to lockdown criminals transporting illegal wildlife products.

This builds on vital work by the Duke of Cambridge in securing commitment from the global transport industry to halt the carriage of illegal wildlife goods.

Funding international action

And the UK will provide up to £4 million for international organisations including CITES and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to help bring criminals to justice across borders through the International Consortium for Combatting Wildlife Crime.

We are also supporting Interpol to expand their work with key nations, tracking and intercepting illegal shipments of ivory, rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products.

Looking to the future

And so, looking to the future.

In 2014 the UK, working with many countries here today, put the illegal wildlife trade at the top of the political agenda with our ground-breaking London Conference.

Since then, Botswana and Vietnam have brought leaders together and maintained this momentum. I congratulate them for their work.

I am now delighted to announce that the UK will host a fourth high level meeting on the illegal wildlife trade in 2018. This is designed to continue the momentum seen here today.

It will celebrate our successes but most importantly, make sure we are delivering on our promises.

Concluding remarks

So in conclusion your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that in this room, there is a powerful coalition of committed partners, who together are greater than the sum of our parts.

In London, we asked the UN to address the illegal trade in its 69th session, and we were successful.

In Kasane, we asked more countries to take part, and we were successful, with new countries like Cambodia joining us this year.

When we look back at the Hanoi statement, I hope we will be judged not just on our words, but on the actions we took, and I am confident we will be successful.

The UK will stand shoulder to shoulder with any country fighting this barbaric trade; we will act swiftly and without exception against those who uphold this trade.

And we will do what we can to keep the world focussed on this issue.

I am determined that future generations should get to see all the wonderful wildlife we have today still roaming the earth.

And I hope you will join me in striving to destroy this trade and protect our natural legacy for future generations.

Published 17 November 2016