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A speech by HRH The Prince of Wales at the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, Lancaster House

Published on 13th February 2014

Foreign Secretary, Your Excellencies, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, knowing the many calls on your precious time, it is a particular pleasure to welcome you to Lancaster House for this vitally important "London Conference" on the appalling trade annihilating our threatened wildlife.  Today, you are breaking new ground by coming together and committing – at high levels never before seen at a conference on this topic – to take urgent action to put a stop to this trade, which has become a grave threat not only to the wildlife and the people who protect them, but also to the security of so many nations.

To be frank, it saddens me deeply that I have found myself having to play a part in helping to bring together this very important gathering.  A little over a year ago, a group of Presidents from Africa – including President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon – approached me and made an impassioned plea for help.  The situation they described was indeed dire.  The scale of the poaching crisis their countries were facing had reached unimaginable heights.  Organized gangs, terrorist groups and militia were slaughtering ever greater numbers of elephants for their ivory and rhinoceros for their horns.  Most threatened of all, they said, is the elephant – an integral part of the ecological and social fabric of the African continent and a keystone species.  Their slaughter in both forests and savannahs had created frighteningly silent and sterile places.  And without the elephants, some of whose populations are no longer viable and yet are often irreplaceable agents in seed germination, the long-term ecology or many forests is fatally disrupted.  No elephants, no forest.

So as never before, Africa was at war to save its wildlife.  And its leaders needed help from countries around the world to beat back the sophisticated and well-armed criminals behind the conflict.  This tragedy, of course, is not confined to Africa alone.  It is crucial to understand that Asia's, specifically India's, wildlife is also being decimated and if the world's focus remains solely on Africa we risk losing South-East Asia's wildlife, which includes 20 per cent of the world's species.

In response to these requests for help, I organized a meeting in May of last year at St. James's Palace to begin to muster action.  I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment to join me in hosting that meeting and I was particularly pleased that my eldest son, William, was also able to lend his support.

The St. James's Palace meeting brought together governments, multilateral organizations, security services, N.G.O.'s and other experts to lay the groundwork for a global meeting of Heads of State and Government – in other words the London Conference occurring here today.  I am pleased to note, that while the process of planning this important Conference was occurring, tangible momentum began building to take decisive action against the trade.  May I also thank the media for having responded so admirably to the challenge of ensuring that this desperate trade receives the coverage it so badly needs.

The governments of the United States, China and France all recently destroyed substantial stockpiles of seized ivory.  African leaders came together in Botswana and Paris to plan concerted action.  Snow leopard range states met in Kyrgyzstan in October and pledged to protect that rare and elusive species from poaching and other threats.   Over the last several months, the world’s major faiths – including Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Daoism – have all begun to speak out forcefully against the wildlife trade.  In late January, the U.N. Security Council for the first time authorized the use of sanctions against those engaged in the trade.  And this week, a wide variety of groups, including my son's United for Wildlife partnership, have made announcements pledging new action and resources.

These actions built on others that came before.  For example, the Global Tiger Initiative (G.T.I.) – led by China, India, Russia and the ten other tiger range states – has in its five years of operation demonstrated how a sustained high-level political commitment to a shared goal can result in significant accomplishments on the ground.  Almost a year ago in Bangkok, countries made encouraging commitments to protect elephants and rhinoceros at the C.I.T.E.S. Conference of the Parties.

Today, the government leaders assembled here will sign "The London Declaration", committing to several bold new steps forward, including new pledges to address what is the most significant problem in my view – that of demand for and consumption of specific products from critically endangered wildlife.  Most recently, demand from Asia – particularly China – has fuelled the trade, but we also know that the United States and Europe are contributing to it. 

Frequently, I hear policymakers and others say that demand for wildlife products is the most difficult part of the equation to solve – in effect throwing up their hands in despair and concentrating the bulk of their efforts on law enforcement.  As vital as strong enforcement is, we can – indeed we must – attack demand.  It has been done before and done successfully. 

All we need do is look at the example of shark fin soup to see that the combination of public awareness campaigns, plus government action, can reduce demand significantly – and rapidly.  Late in the last decade, an aggressive public campaign led by Wild Aid and Chinese athlete Yao Ming – combined with government bans on the use of shark fin soup at government functions – caused a dramatic drop in public demand for the product.  Several surveys completed after these actions were taken showed that 80-85 per cent of those in major cities in China had reduced consumption – or completely stopped consuming – shark fin soup.

This is a potent example – a success story that so urgently needs to be replicated.  I could only urge all of the representatives present today to put an especially sharp focus on the commitments made to reduce demand – and to look for additional ways to address the problem.

For my part, I will continue to do what I can to help bring key players together to find a way to end this trade.  Next month, I hope it will be possible to convene a meeting to encourage governments, banks, accounting firms, security agencies and others to make greater use of financial tools to tackle organized crime engaged in the illegal wildlife trade.  As many experts are telling us, if we "follow the money" and take back organized crime's ill-gotten gains – now done, of course, to combat trafficking in drugs, weapons and people – we can send a strong message to criminals that there are serious consequences when they kill endangered wildlife for profit.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to thank you most warmly for participating in the London Conference today and for the strong commitments you've all made.  Now, of course, the most difficult work begins – to turn such commitments made at a very high level into action on the ground.  There is not a moment to lose if we are to save the species whose loss will not only diminish us all, but also expose their abandoned habitat to ever greater risk of destruction, with dire consequences for humanity.

Excellencies, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would now like to hand over to the Foreign Secretary to continue with this most important meeting.