By Philip Mansbridge
World leaders, government officials and global decision makers will gather in the presence of HRH Duke of Cambridge, HRH Prince of Wales and David Cameron on 12 and 13 February to talk about a serious issue that is tearing our world apart.
But this time it's not about the economy, not about an invasion or war crime, nor about a new treaty - it's about animals...
So just why is the British government hosting this summit, why are we pulling out the royal big guns, and why should the government be spending so much time and money on such a 'trivial' issue given the other awful things that happen day in, day out, around the world?
Quite simply... because it matters. It matters to all of us, whether we're in Africa, Asia or just sat at home watching EastEnders. Wildlife crime is a big problem, and it's big news right now.
You could argue that there is a serious side to this issue, and a fluffy side. Let's start with the fluffy side: wildlife crime is robbing the world of an irreplaceable pool of beautiful animals that have roamed the earth for hundreds of thousands of years - tigers, elephants, rhinos, chimpanzees, gorillas, bears, reptiles, sea life.
It's robbing our children or our future children of the opportunity to ever see an animal like this in the wild. But hey, why worry - maybe we can show them one pacing up and down in a zoo, maybe we can show them one in a museum or a text book, just next to the dinosaur section perhaps? One thing is for sure, we can't just make more and pop them back into the wild.
Be aware, the size of the issue is massive. Actually, bigger than that - phenomenal, insatiable, at breaking point. Here are some key facts to whet your appetite:
- Tigers - only 3200 left in the wild and at risk just for use as rugs, in tonics and in Traditional Chinese Medicines.
- Elephants - being slaughtered for ivory at the rate of around 35,000 per year (yes - that really is one every 15 minutes). How's that ivory hairclip working out for you?
- Rhinos - over 1000 killed last year in south Africa alone, facing extinction in 10 years and seconds away from a likely irreversible tipping point.
- Lions - now only 250 (in total!) left in the whole West African region. Yes, that's right, we're losing lions. Happy with that?
- Even animals most people have never even heard of like pangolins, slow lorises, giant softshell turtles, (the list is almost endless), could well be gone before you ever even knew they existed just for an ornament, a lunch, or a pointless and medicinally useless potion.
But if the 'fluffy side' has left you unconcerned or unconvinced then let's take a different path: Corruption, terrorism, militia funding, human casualties - should I go on? The game has changed, the rules have changed. Replace spears with AK47s, replace foot tracking with military helicopters. This is a war - it's a war against wildlife and it's a war against high level organised criminality.
It's just like the drug war - in fact, rhino horn is worth up to £80,000 a kilo on the street, that's more than cocaine. It's now recognised that the trade in illegal wildlife is an industry worth around £12billion per year - and the 4th largest global crime, hot on the heels of the drugs trade, human trafficking and counterfeiting.
So that's why the Wildlife Crime Summit is so vital. But we need to ensure it isn't just another talking shop - we need the government to commit to clear and tangible actions.
At Care for the Wild we have formally submitted our six point manifesto in advance of the Summit. The theme is 'Best of British', but it's not some colonial throwback, nor the next Bond movie title, its simply saying let's use this country's might and expertise to end this crisis before it's too late. We call on the Government to:
- Pledge a minimum of 0.5% of the UK's International Aid Budget towards the fight against the illegal wildlife trade (that's £50m)
- Give a clear declaration that the UK will take a leading global role in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade
- Use its expertise and internationally significant bodies and offices to deliver a programme of consumer demand reduction for illegal wildlife products
- Capitalise on its military expertise, manpower and equipment to strengthen and support the fight against wildlife crime on the front-line
- Announce a long term funding commitment for the National Wildlife Crime Unit and the Metropolitan Police Wildlife Crime Unit alongside an expansion of their operations
- Give a clear declaration that it will oppose any future selling of stockpiles of ivory, rhino horn or similar and use its influence within the international community to gather support for a 'no to stockpile sales' position globally
Let's hope we see the outcomes we need - before it's too late.
You can join us for a 'welcome' demonstration outside the summit on Thursday February 13th to ask the delegates not to forget the elephants. Read more about the issues at careforthewild.com/lastchance.