The Illegal Wildlife Trade is booming; it is now worth up to 19 billion dollars each year and rising, a figure that is absolutely shocking. The current level of Rhino poaching is particularly concerning with a 3,000 per cent increase between 2007 and 2011. As a result, a rhino is now killed by a poacher every 11 hours. If this rate continues, rhinos will be extinct in our lifetime, something that was inconceivable just ten years ago. This same story is true for other iconic species such as elephants, tigers and orang-utans, and it makes me utterly ashamed to think that our generation could be the ones to wipe out these incredible animals due to the actions of criminals and the inaction of the international community.
But the illegal trade in these animals is not just an environmental tragedy; it strikes at the heart of local communities by feeding corruption and undermining stability in what are already fragile states. And the profits from the trade pose an increasing threat to security by funding criminal gangs and terrorism.
So communities that want to protect and cherish their wildlife, their heritage, and their economies now have to tackle highly effective networks of organised crime.
They need our support and the international community must take action.
We need to ensure that we understand fully how the illegal trade causes corruption and instability.
We need a political commitment to addressing this issue at the highest levels of government.
And we need to work together, as this is an issue that affects us all.
I want to applaud the leadership shown by Gabon and Germany in organising this event and I hope that we can consider how to build on the many excellent initiatives which are already in place – through the UN system, CITES, the World Wildlife Fund, , the new United for Wildlife partnership brought together by the Duke of Cambridge, and all the other organisations and individuals who recognise the threats posed by the Illegal Wildlife Trade and who are working tirelessly to combat it.
The UK government is determined to play its part in this global effort. We will host a conference in London on 12th & 13th February next year, at the highest levels of government. This is an opportunity to galvanise the international community into taking determined and swift action. It too will consider how to build on the many initiatives already underway, and we are committed to working closely with partner countries and organisations through a virtual International Task Force, so that we can agree on the aims and actions of the conference. So I hope to welcome many of you to London next year.
In the meantime, the UK is developing its own national action plan on Illegal Wildlife Trade, to ensure the UK is doing all it can at home and abroad to help tackle issues of demand, enforcement and poverty alleviation. We will also continue to play an active role in CITES and urge implementation of the ambitious decisions taken in March in Bangkok.
The challenge that we face is significant; the criminals involved in the Illegal Wildlife Trade are ruthless and highly organised. But they can be defeated if the international community works together to reduce demand, to enforce the law, and to provide sustainable alternatives. If we do, then there is every chance that we will reverse these desperately sad statistics before it’s too late.