Dear Friends of Wildlife
“We are all responsible and we can all do something about it”. That was the message delivered by HRH Prince William in an address marking the start of China’s President Xi Jinping’s visit to the UK on 19th October 2015. That same message will be transmitted (once it has passed the Chinese censorship rules) to an estimated 100 million Chinese television viewers in about a week’s time. And, as I said on Sky TV immediately after his speech, William is right.
We really do all have a role to play. Governments in countries where species such as elephants and rhinos are being poached have a responsibility to increase their investment in greater security and wildlife law enforcement. They also have a responsibility to ensure that the judicial system is both effective and efficient and that it delivers deterrent sentences to those convicted of committing wildlife crimes. No-one is above the law. No matter what position they hold. No matter how high-up the political ladder they may have climbed.
The international community has a responsibility to make sure that the globalisation of international trade is not seen as a soft touch for ‘criminal syndicates’ trafficking in wildlife products. If ports of export along the East African seaboard need more equipment, better training for officials, sniffer dogs and x-ray machines then we have to step in and help. If intelligence gathering agencies, already working to tackle terrorism, drug cartels, people trafficking and arms smuggling, must include organised wildlife crime as well, then so be it.
“Consumer countries”, the markets for ivory, rhino horn, lion bone, tiger and bear body parts, pangolin scales and more, need to raise their game. The illegal wildlife trade is now regarded as a ‘serious crime’ as described by Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations. That means it should carry a minimum four-year tariff for anyone caught trafficking. It is also now a predicate agreement which means that wildlife law enforcement authorities can use all measures at their disposal, including the confiscation of the assets of crime, to ensure that criminals are severely punished rather than getting away with a short sentence and a big bank account. The ‘consumer countries’ also have a responsibility to educate, to explain why for the sake of saving species currently being driven towards extinction, consumption must give way to conservation and traditions (activities rooted in the past and often based on spurious medicinal claims) simply cannot endure.
We, the individual members of the public, can play our part. We must make sure that we do not buy wildlife products and unwittingly contribute to the growing crisis. I cannot imagine that anyone reading this blog would ever consider buying ivory or rhino horn but what about seashells, tropical hardwoods (that lovely carving you see near the beach) and coral? I was in Italy recently and was appalled to see the tidal wave of coral jewellery in just one city. Shop after shop! The cumulative impact of the coral trade on the world’s remaining and threatened coral reefs can only be imagined. Wildlife products are neither souvenirs nor status symbols.
And we can put our money where our mouth is. Born Free is committed to helping the Border Agency in Ethiopia, the Kenya Wildlife Service in Kenya, the authorities in Malawi, Sri Lanka and many other countries, to carry out their duties as effectively as possible and so I make no apology that we do ask for financial support from companies such as our partners, Land Rover and Kenya Airways, and from the British government, from the EU and from our supporters everywhere.
Prince William said that “This is a battle that we can win”. I agree. But we can only win if we all become guardians of wildlife and make sure that those who would exploit wildlife, sell its body parts and make a killing, have nowhere to hide.