The London Conference aims at agreeing a high level political commitment to take urgent action to tackle illegal wildlife trade. It also aims to tackle three interlinked aspects of illegal wildlife trade: strengthen law enforcement and the criminal justice system, reduce demand for illegal wildlife products and support the development of sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by illegal wildlife trade.
UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said illegal wildlife trade was not just an environmental crisis, but it had become a global criminal industry, to be ranked alongside drugs, arms and people trafficking. He noted that it was driving corruption and insecurity, and undermined efforts to cut poverty and promote sustainable development, particularly in African countries. It was a global problem that demanded deep attention from governments and organizations around the world.
He added that there was anecdotal evidence that showed insurgents and terrorist groups could benefit from the trade. He urged concerted action, noting that tackling the problem successfully would build growth, enhance the rule of law, increase stability and embed good governance. It was necessary to demonstrate political commitment at the highest levels across the world. The UK government has sponsored The Elephant Protection Initiative, and Ethiopia along with Botswana, Chad, Gabon and Tanzania has launched the initiative at the conference.
Dr. Tedros noted that Africa was particularly hard hit by the upsurge in the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products. The tourism industries in many countries in Africa depended largely on wildlife as a major attraction. He noted that wildlife tourism had become a priority area in Ethiopia's development agenda, and the country was making efforts to promote the national parks equally along with cultural heritage sites. Measures were being taken to prevent poaching by reinforcing the law enforcement capacity, adopting appropriate legislation, he said.
He also emphasized the need to support local communities that were negatively affected by the growing illegal trade in wildlife, noting the need for their full cooperation to prevent the killing and to protect wildlife resources. Without this, he said, efforts to stop illegal trade and achieve successful conservation programs will not yield results. Cooperation, he added, could best be achieved through the creation of a conducive environment in which local communities could generate income from wildlife based activities like tourism or wildlife utilization schemes.
Emphasizing that the matter needed urgent action, Dr. Tedros noted the fact that the illegal trade was being run by well-organized criminal networks and it was also being used to finance terrorism. For Ethiopia, the commitment to combat terrorism had to be linked to efforts to contain the illegal wildlife trade. Fighting wildlife crime, said Dr. Tedros, could not be viewed in isolation from politically motivated terrorism funded by trade in ivory.