Cause for Hope or Missed Opportunity?

I’ve been to many international wildlife meetings over the years – perhaps too many. You either leave with head low, despairing at the lack of action, or with a sense of optimism that things are actually getting better.

So it was at the Kasane Meeting on Illegal Wildlife Trade and Elephant Protection that just ended at the Cresta Safari Resort on the banks of the Zambezi. I feel that perhaps there is cause for optimism. Why?

Countries are doing something (at last)!

Ivory stockpiles – a relentless temptation to trade – are being destroyed or will soon be. Ethiopia and Kenya’s Ivory burns, which took place over the last couple of weeks, will be followed by Malawi, Uganda and the UAE.

Enforcement efforts are improving – no doubt helped by significant German financial support, the forensic training of hundreds of rangers in Botswana, sponsored by the Netherlands, and better border security in hotspots like Ethiopia thanks to Born Free and the UK government’s Wildlife Challenge Fund.

Open admission at the meeting that corruption plays a major role in facilitating illegal trade was explicit and countries lined up to pledge additional support for the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC). Furthermore, the meeting made clear its intentions to apply anti-money-laundering protocols (wildlife crime now to be designated a ‘predicate offense’) and to include measures which permit the sequestration of assets, so criminals don’t get away with it.

The setting up of the Transport Task Force under the leadership of the UK’s former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, will bring far more attention to the transport links and weaknesses in shipping security which currently make it all too easy for wildlife products, including ivory, to be smuggled with relative impunity.

Vietnam and China, so often painted in a very unfavourable light by the international community and the media alike when it comes to wildlife trade-related issues,  announced improved enforcement effort, increased public education programmes to reduce demand and extensive further reviews of internal trade controls (although falling short of the outright prohibition of domestic ivory trade in China, that so many, including Born Free, are calling for).

But, make no mistake, the situation remains grave, indeed desperate.

Over 1,200 rhino poached in South Africa in 2014 alone.

Nearly 90 wild tigers confirmed poached in that same year.

Real decline in elephant populations which, at best, may be 470,000 across the entire Continent (with 130,000 of those – or 30% – found in Botswana).

Recognition that massive, out of control illegal trade in little-known animals such as pangolins (also known as ‘scaly anteaters’) may be driving the 8 species towards extinction.

However, while there were the positives, of some concern, from my point of view, was the lacklustre contribution made by a number of technical delegates, the organisations and people that countries turn to for the facts. Their contributions were confused, inconsistent and there are still major gaps in the data which, after all this time and all this money, you would have thought they would have nailed. Maybe we make it all too complicated and when it gets too complicated decisions are hard to make.

To me, it is simple.

There are too many of us and too few of them (however you define them – elephants, rhino , lions, tigers, etc.) for us any longer to think we can try to justify our continued terminal exploitation of so many species by dressing it up as ‘sustainable use’. My view is we need to regard these species – maybe they should be called World Heritage Species – as a precious part of our common inheritance and we should, as a matter of obligation, provide the resources for their future protection and conservation (and the wild lands they need in order to flourish) regardless of whether we can ‘make them pay their way’.

Just as when, as nations, we invest in admiring and conserving great works of art for the common good of humanity, and are appalled when they are wantonly destroyed, so we should regard the living treasures of our natural world – and make the resources available to so discharge our responsibility for their long term survival.

Kasane may mark a watershed. Stimulated by the London Conference in February 2014, nations may have discovered that they care a bit more than they thought, can do more than they’d had originally intended – and are willing to be held to account for their actions.

The next meeting will be in Vietnam. That is when we will truly discover whether our new and increasingly global efforts to end wildlife crime, and bring security to threatened wildlife species and the fragile human communities that they live alongside, will have made the difference we – and the wildlife we care about – need to see.

Blogging off

Will Travers

15 Responses to “Cause for Hope or Missed Opportunity?”

  1. Donna Mackenzie Says:

    World Heritage Species – what a fantastic idea. Gets my vote. How about another campaign Will – you for Prime Minister? You talk more sense than most of the politicians put together.

  2. Gill Gilbey Says:

    Dear Will,
    I’m a bit tired of hearing about stockpiles being burned(these are dead elephants after all). I would rather hear that those who have purchased ivory had been caught.I still think that unless something major is done to reduce demand little will change.I agree with your idea of World Heritage protection.Why is the ivory trade allowed to continue ?

  3. Red Williams Says:

    Setting up World Heritage Species is a brilliant way forward – as long as we give countries poorer than ours the hard cash, training, kit and expertise to protect our treasured wildlife.
    It always boils down to words and actions.
    And we can come up with all the fancy dan terms and tags we like but they’ll mean nothing unless we back them up with more well-enforced bans, much greater protection and hard action.
    But keep up the great work, Will, the world’s wildlife needs you!

  4. Shakti muse Says:

    I am so sickened by the treatment of the animals of this planet.
    Those who do this wanton destruction and cause this suffering must stop this immediately. There is no excuse for their cruelty.

  5. Lesley Drew Says:

    World Heritage Speices would be a great first step. Surely all life deserves a status, as we now know, there is very little which divides Homosapiens to the rest of life on our planet. Until Governments learn the true value of our amazing world and the land they are custodians of, we ask you and others in your position to fight on our behalf. Thank you.

  6. Val McClean Says:

    Thank you Will for this update, very pleased to receive anything you may say about our precious wildlife because it breaks my heart to see it abused so much, not to mention the numbers of murders of all our beloved animals, &, although I am not in a financial position to help moneywise I will do everything in my power to help in other ways. I can honestly say that I prefer animals whether wild or tame to an awful lot of so called “humans” nowadays! Thank you again.

  7. Pauline Thomson Says:

    It is disgusting that respect for wild animals is not as prominent in the hearts and minds of people.

  8. Niki Says:

    Dear Will,

    World Heritage Specices, is a fab idea!
    I am so very grateful for all the work that you do and so greatly saddened that we still need to keep campaigning to stop this kind of activity.

    Thank you

  9. Derek West Says:

    The world is still moving to slowly,wildlife crime has not received the funding or attention it requires.The fact that Homo Sapiens are far to numerous and dominate the planet to the exclusion of other species,is something that must be faced.

  10. Kerry Holden Says:

    Dear Will

    Thank you for a great blog and for all that you do towards protecting our precious wildlife. I still believe that China and other Asian countries, who are after all the main culprits with regards to causing the suffering, exploitation and decline in our precious species, need to do so much more and until they do, the horrendous killing will not stop. The concern is also that as species are declining and indeed, if they do become extinct in a few years, then ivory, for example, will be even more highly prized and some say that this is what these vile traders and collectors want to happen. I despair at this thought and I cannot contemplate a world without rhino, elephants, tigers and lions. Unfortunately, corruption and greed will always be present amongst those who have the power to stop this happening. Setting up World Heritage Species, may be the first step towards making all crimes against these innocent and beautiful animals and the related trades, totally illegal around the globe. Surely this must happen sooner than later before it is too late.

  11. Martin Parker Says:

    I think World Heritage Species is a great idea, but agree with Lesley in that surely all wildlife should have a status. Nothing, even the commonest animals, deserves what our threatened species are being subjected to.
    Back to the blog, the actions from the meeting do seem encouraging, but the key seems to be demand. I can’t understand why the demand is still so high for these products that have absolutely no value other than traditional. Reduce the demand, reduce the pressure on our valuable species and their precarious situation.
    Will be interesting to see what happens in Vietnam at the next meeting.
    Thanks for all your and Born Free’s hard work, its great to know people like you are fighting for the world we live in, to keep it that bit more beautiful.

  12. Sharne Brown Says:

    I completely agree with your suggestion for Heritage species, it might help to make people realise the value of these animals for their own right. We cannot continue to abuse and decimate them, they are irreplaceable.

  13. Cally Smith Says:

    Hi Will
    Thank you for the update, although instead of welcoming these ‘get togethers’ i always feel great negativity before i hear the facts because so many global meetings discussing the future of wildlife, just get nowhere. I feel completely helpless to do anything to stop what is going on. I pray that things will change for our precious planet and every beautiful creature living on it. Why oh why can’t everybody see and understand how desperate the situation is? The way to stop poaching and illegal trade is to find a way to make the animal parts worthless, and we all know this but HOW can it be done? All i know is that i NEVER want to turn on the TV and hear the devastating news that any one of these species are gone. We have already heard this in previous years about several species, and my heart will never mend. Keep up the good work and the hope that keeps you going.

  14. Brenda Says:

    Not much will be achieved to save our rhinos until those who use it are convinced that it does not have any medicinal or magical properties. A massive public awareness campaign is needed.
    As for ivory, some people in Asia are unaware of where it comes from and the slaughter involved and a massive public awareness campaign is again one way of combatting that ignorance. Similarly those who know exactly how ivory is obtained but who still demand it, should be shamed into not buying it, again through public awareness campaigns which clearly show the brutality which they are encouraging. It needs to be made “un-chic” and
    unacceptable to possess ivory.
    As for wildlife poaching and trade generally, well maybe governments and other influential bodies would take it more seriously if there was greater awareness that terrorist groups are funding their activities through their involvement in wildlife crime.
    Poverty does not fuel wildlife crime on this unprecedented scale…profit does.

  15. Mary-Eileen Cox Says:

    While poaching and trade generally would be taken more seriously if there was a greater awareness that terrorists groups are funding their activities through involvement in wildlife crime. I work in the education system in the United States and the subject is rarely brought up.The students understand and are anxious to help. I don’t understand why we are not using these young people’s enthusiasm to make a different!