Dear Friends,

So, the Save Wildlife Conference has started here in The Hague, in the Netherlands.

Day 1 contained few surprises. Many familiar faces who, like me, have been grappling with the challenges of how to control (and in my case end) rampant trade and protect wildlife species, gathered yet again. The challenges presented by the illegal wildlife trade were as stark as ever. How can we give this critical issue a higher international priority when it competes with such great concerns as employment, the global financial slowdown, the refugee crisis and any number of wars around the world?

Set piece morning presentations gave way, in the afternoon, to discussions on various issues, including wildlife law enforcement and the similarities between the illegal wildlife trade and the drugs trade. The audience was given the opportunity to ask questions.

I stuck up my hand. Here’s the gist of what I said (with some extra explanatory words):

“Thank you Chair and thank you to our hosts for convening this important meeting.

I want to challenge the paradigm ‘if it pays it stays’ and change it to ‘if it stays it sometimes pays but we must make sure it stays anyway’.

This approach would require a different way of thinking but is not without precedent. Many countries, including many represented at this meeting, have concluded that some things are so intrinsically valuable that, rather than entrusting their future to the volatility of the markets or to the mood of the moment, investment by the State on behalf of society as a whole is justified and, indeed, essential. Museums across the world are a prime example of this approach, museums that almost exclusively display human-created artefacts we value so much. Why then, as a species, do we seem to find it so hard to embrace that approach when it comes to the natural treasures of our planet, natural treasures everyone in this room and hundreds of millions if not billions of global citizens deeply value and appreciate?

Why must wildlife, living creatures, have to pay their way based in a simplistic, crude economic model?

We, here in Europe, understand that, without support, areas critical for the survival of wildlife in the wild will be lost forever. Hence our farmers receive financial support to set aside land for the conservation of biodiversity. It is does what it says on the tin – it is called ‘set aside’.

Truly I doubt whether sustainable use is really ‘sustainable’. I believe that a fully applied, independent A-Z analysis of so-called ‘sustainability’ when it comes to the exploitation of wildlife would conclude that it is, in fact, unsustainable. Think about it….the flights, the cars, the services, the consumables…

I believe we have moved beyond true sustainability. So let’s not call it something that it really is not.

We moved beyond sustainability some time ago and it is only going to get worse. The 7.4 billion people living on the planet today will rise to 11 billion by the end of this century. Africa’s human population of about 1 billion today will rise to 4 billion in the same period, according to the UN. Kenya has 45 million citizens today. This will rise to 160 million by 2100.

My point is this:

If you are tempted to agree with me, how can our future policies and strategies create the long-term financial, social and conservation framework that will sustain the global protected area network, the community lands set aside for wildlife, and the earth’s biodiversity for the future. How can we do this if we only protect species because they ‘pay their way’?”

The panel on the stage before me seemed reluctant to meaningfully engage.  Maybe they were uncomfortable with the idea that the decades-old mantra, ‘use it of lose it’, might be losing ground, that the institutional empires built on the notion of ‘sustainable use’ might be under threat, or maybe it was my conclusion – that there are simply too many of us and too few of them, whoever ‘they’ are.

During the week when we celebrate World Wildlife Day (3rd March 2016), the world’s wildlife is under relentless pressure. We are the problem. The ongoing, so-called ‘sustainable use’ of species is not,  in my view, the solution.

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