By Tania McCrea-Steele
Just over a year ago I was watching as Bill Oddie lowered ivory into an aptly named ‘Red Rhino’ cement crusher in front of a host of supportive politicians.
The occasion marked the end of our ivory surrender, which resulted in over 90 kilos of ivory donated by our supporters, being publicly destroyed shortly before the London Summit on Illegal Wildlife Trade.
Our message was clear – the illegal and inhumane poaching of elephants for their ivory must end now.
The London Summit saw the UK Government, with the support of HRH Prince Charles and the Duke of Cambridge, bring together representatives from across the globe to focus attention on stamping out wildlife crime.
41 governments signed the London Declaration, which acknowledged the significant scale of illegal wildlife trade; recognising that poaching and trafficking of animals and their parts and products undermines the rule of law and has links to corruption and organised crime.
The London Declaration outlined how countries intended to bring about the end of the poaching crisis by eradicating the market for illegal wildlife products, ensuring effective legal frameworks and deterrents were put in place, and strengthening law enforcement. In addition, governments made commitments to supporting the pursuit of sustainable livelihoods for local communities and eradicating poverty.
On the 25th of March those very same government officials will meet again in Kasane in Botswana to take stock of what progress has been made and where further work needs to be done to end illegal wildlife trade.
Tragically, the past year has seen the numbers of poached rhinos soar, with South Africa losing a record 1,215 rhinos in 2014, approximately a 21% increase on 2013. Meanwhile, elephants continue to be slaughtered in their tens of thousands to supply the illegal ivory trade, with recent reports of an elephant massacre in Mali. However, the increase in tigers in India by almost a third in the last three years (from 1,706 in 2011 to 2,226 in 2014) is a success story that demonstrates conservation measures can have a positive impact.
So how is the UK Government performing?
Its commitment to galvanising the international community in its fight against wildlife crime has unquestionably remained very strong. I have personally met with Ministers, politicians and policy makers who passionately want to stop elephants, rhinos and tigers being butchered for their body parts.
And the Government is putting its money where its mouth is, with the allocation of around £5 million to 19 conservation projects as part of its Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund. In addition, the Government has promised to fund the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) until March 2016, which is vitally important as in order to have any credibility in the international arena we must lead by example.
However there is more that could be done on the home front.
Disappointingly, the UK Government has not delivered on its commitment to update the law which protects endangered species from illegal wildlife trade.
More could also be done to ensure that wildlife crime is included as part of the Serious and Organised Crime Strategy, which was promised in the UK Commitment to Action on Illegal Wildlife Trade.
I hope that whoever holds the reigns after the UK General Election on the 7th of May will continue to lead the vanguard in the fight against wildlife crime overseas, whilst also ensuring that the UK has its own house in order so we can inspire other nations to follow suit.