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A speech by The Prince of Wales at the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference

Published on 21st May 2013

Secretary of State, Ministers, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am enormously grateful to you all I must say for taking the trouble to attend this unbelievably important meeting, as I know that some of you have travelled tremendously long distances and may very well be suffering from some appalling jetlag or other.

I also am hugely grateful to Kate Silverton for giving up her precious time. I know she’s taken a huge interest in this particular subject for some time. Having been lucky enough to sit next to her at dinner once or twice I know how much she minds. So it really is very kind of you Kate, today.

I particularly appreciate the fact that Mr. Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has agreed to join me in hosting this meeting, and I also owe a particular debt of gratitude to W.W.F. U.K. (of which I became President two years ago), as well as to TRAFFIC and the I.U.C.N. Their knowledge and expertise have been invaluable to the members of my I.S.U. in putting together this very productive gathering.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the fact that my son is here today, too, in order to support his aging father is hugely appreciated, as I know that his knowledge of, and indeed love for, Africa, its wildlife and its people has not only helped him to understand why this gathering is so important, but has meant that he has already been much involved in the field of conservation with for instance the Tusk Trust of which he is patron and indeed other organizations. I’m only sorry of course that my father could not be here. He of course has been involved for some many years in this whole question of conservation and indeed the relationship between species and their habitats and those communities who depend so much on those habitats and the biodiversity that they provide.

So ladies and gentlemen we come together today to find tangible ways to combat the explosion of trafficking in wildlife that has been occurring in recent years. In this room, we have brought together many of the key countries engaged in this battle along with non-governmental and multilateral experts and of course private sector representatives. In convening this particular group, we sought the expertise not only of wildlife conservationists, but also of those with experience in fighting organized crime and promoting national security.

It is particularly important at this crucial time to recognize that illegal trade in wildlife is a serious crime that is not only decimating critically endangered species, but is also a pervasive instrument in destabilizing economic and political security. Finding a solution will require people from many different sectors to work together. I would like, if I may, just to take a moment to review what has brought us here. I have already used the words “combat” and “battle” and I have barely begun my remarks! I use these words quite intentionally.

We face one of the most serious threats to wildlife ever, and we must treat it as a battle, because it is precisely that. Now many in this room, I know, come from organizations and agencies that are operating in the front line of this battle and I am full of admiration for your heroic efforts in an increasingly dangerous situation. Organized bands of criminals are stealing and slaughtering elephants, rhinoceros and tigers, as well as large numbers of other species, in a way that has never ever been seen before. They are taking these animals, sometimes in unimaginably high numbers, using the weapons of war – assault rifles, silencers, night vision equipment, and helicopters. And because these criminals must kill the animals to profit from the black market sale of wildlife “products”, they are pushing many species towards extinction at an alarming and unprecedented rate. Experience shows that with the removal of such species it is only a short step, as I’m sure Professor Lee White has explained, to the subsequent removal of their habitat and with it the bio-diversity on which we all depend ultimately for our very survival. Organized crime has become heavily involved in the illegal wildlife trade because, quite obviously, there is a lot of money to be made, and the risk of being caught is relatively low.

Skyrocketing demand – primarily, but not exclusively, from Asia – for ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts, as well as other products, is fuelling this astonishing explosion in poaching. The bulk of the intended use is no longer for products that can be classified as traditional medicines. Instead, many more people in the rapidly growing economies are seeking exotic products that reflect their economic prosperity and status.

In this regard, it is clearly vital to tackle the demand for such products amongst consumers by recruiting the help of every form of media to communicate more widely and effectively its disastrous consequences. There are, I see, quite a few representatives of the media here today, so I can only appeal to all your parent companies, networks and agencies to join with us urgently in this battle before it is quite literally too late. Governments, non-governmental organizations and multilateral institutions have been working incredibly hard to fight back. However, despite all of this good work – and despite the conservation efforts of the last several decades – it is clear that new approaches are urgently needed. This situation should be of the deepest concern to all of us and therefore I am immeasurably heartened by your presence here today as it is, at the very least, encouraging evidence that you recognize the need for urgent action.

And by urgent, I mean urgent! The animals being slaughtered to fuel this entirely unnecessary trade provide many benefits to humans, as well as to those other species that share their habitat. It is surely unthinkable that these creatures, which have roamed the planet for thousands, if not millions, of years, could disappear completely within a decade, or even less. As a father and a soon-to-be grandfather, I find it inconceivable that our children and grandchildren could live in a world bereft of these animals. Humanity is less than humanity without the rest of creation. Their destruction will diminish us all. Perhaps those of us in this room will know how difficult it can be to convince others of the importance of preserving and protecting wildlife and its habitat as part of our heritage and “natural capital”. How, then, can we encourage more people to share our concern and turn that concern into action?

Well, first of all, perhaps we need to make it clear that the threat to wildlife has also become a threat to the rule of law and to global stability. Wildlife crime alone yields profits of about ten billion U.S. Dollars per year, and often occurs with other crimes, such as corruption, money laundering, passport fraud and murder. The same routes used to smuggle wildlife and wildlife products through countries and across continents are often used to smuggle other contraband, most notably drugs. When the illegal trade in wildlife is coupled with crime involving timber, the illegal trade in flora and fauna is ranked as the fourth biggest transnational crime – with a value of seventeen billion U.S. Dollars – just behind trafficking in weapons, drugs and people. Increasingly sophisticated, well-financed groups are now doing the poaching, which means it really has become a form of trafficking. In some cases, rebel militias are killing elephants, and when park rangers try to protect the animals from assault, they are often killed too.

Equally disturbing, the profits from wildlife trafficking have in some cases been traced to terrorist groups. So, these are not the local poachers operating alone that countries encountered just a few years ago. Secondly, wildlife trafficking directly threatens economic security. Those who work in tourism – a vitally important industry for many countries – or as park rangers, as well as many other related occupations, depend on healthy populations of wildlife. Their livelihoods are now threatened directly by rampant poaching.

Surely, any one of these arguments should convince more people to enlist in this fight? To borrow a few words from the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton – who I know has already done so much to raise the profile of this issue. She said, “…there is something for everyone. If you love animals, if you want a more secure world, if you want our global economy not to be corrupted by this illicit behaviour, there is so much we can do together”.

Ladies and Gentlemen, stamping out the illegal wildlife trade needs to be placed very near the top of the global agenda. And it needs to be addressed by world leaders as an urgent priority. Indeed, that is the premise of this meeting today, which I am pleased to say, will lead to a meeting of Heads of State this Autumn that will be hosted by Her Majesty’s Government. Today’s meeting is important, therefore, because it will lay the groundwork for the action that world leaders will decide to take in a few months time.

I understand that there have been a number of presentations this morning discussing various solutions to the problem, including the need for stronger law enforcement, campaigns to discourage demand for wildlife and wildlife products, and support for programmes that provide alternatives to poaching. In addition, several speakers mentioned the need for governments to develop an international strategy to combat trafficking and address the issue internally as one of national security. But ladies and gentlemen perhaps the most important priority is the reduction of consumer demand in key countries which TRAFFIC and Wildaid know only too well since they are working so hard in this crucial field but they clearly need more support from governments and the media.

I know the governments represented here will meet this afternoon to consider these and other ideas. I can only encourage you to be bold and to develop effective, practical solutions for consideration at the Heads of State meeting. Along with so many others who share my concern, I also urge you to act swiftly as we are in a terrible race against time to save species whose loss will be an immeasurable stain on the whole course of human history, as well as an enduring and irreversible tragedy.

Thank you again, Ladies and Gentlemen, for your presence here today and for your commitment to this important issue. I much look forward to hearing the results of your discussions and, after the next meeting, of the commitments made by Heads of State.