When it comes to the Illegal Wildlife Trade, Thursday February 13th 2014 will either go down in history or will simply be forgotten in time – but which will it be?
It was this day in February that many of the world’s leaders and their representatives gathered in London to discuss and agree a way forward in tackling the growing crisis that is the trade in illegal wildlife. Hosted by the UK’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and attended by HRH the Prince of Wales, HRH The Duke of Cambridge and HRH Prince Harry, 46 different countries were represented at the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, including many Heads of State, and the outcome was the signing of the ‘London Declaration’ – and comprehensive action plan that, if achieved, has a very real chance of significantly reducing a trade that is threatening a large number of species with extinction.
But why was such a gathering even needed? The illegal wildlife crime is now the 4th largest illicit trade in the world, behind only the illegal trade in drugs, arms and human trafficking. The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth between $10 billion and $20 billion per year.
But why should we care? The trade is threatening a large number of species with extinction, and while the conference itself focused on species of rhino, elephant and tiger, the outcome will support all species impacted by the trade. But it is not only this very real threat to some of our most loved wildlife. The trade is also known to fund a number of of different terrorist groups, and with the penalties associated with the trade in illegal wildlife much less than those associated with drugs, arms and human trafficking, many criminal networks have turned their focus on the wildlife trade.
There is also a human impact resulting from the trade in illegal wildlife. Currently an average of 2 rangers lose their lives every week while simply doing their job of trying to protect our wildlife. That is 2 families every single week that lose a husband and father, and very often lose the only member of the family bringing in a wage to help feed them and keep a roof over their heads. The consequences are devastating!
This gathering in London of some of the most influential people in the world is of vital importance on so many different levels. The ‘London Declaration’ is a strongly worded action plan and focuses on the following key areas:
- Eradicating the market for illegal wildlife products
- Ensuring Effective Legal Frameworks and Deterrents
- Strengthening law enforcement
- Sustainable livelihoods and economic development
At Helping Rhinos, we are delighted to have been invited to the reception event for the conference, held at London’s Natural History Museum, and to have had the opportunity to talk to many of the conference delegates about the importance of not just the creation of the London Declaration, but also the importance of ownership and accountability in the delivery of the actions. So will Thursday February 13th 2014 be a game changing day or just a lot of words? Only time will tell, but the signs are good and our feeling is that we will look back on this day and reflect how it did help to stop a trade threatening the survival of so many species.