Royals mobilise help for wildlife

By Michael McCarthy

Across Africa thousands of elephants are being shot every year by poachers for their tusks as the illegal wildlife trade soars. Photo / Getty Images
Across Africa thousands of elephants are being shot every year by poachers for their tusks as the illegal wildlife trade soars. Photo / Getty Images

The world has a real chance this week to halt the soaring slaughter of African elephants, rhinos and other animals which over the past five years has built up to an unprecedented wildlife crisis, threatening the existence of iconic species and the stability of the countries involved.

A major international conference in London is bringing together all the key states involved in the illegal wildlife trade, whose profits are now so big - up to US$19 billion ($23 billion) annually - that organised crime gangs, rebel militias and even terrorist organisations are being drawn in, pushing the killing to ever greater heights, and compromising national and international security.

Across Africa, as many as 50,000 elephants are shot every year for their tusks to satisfy the booming ivory market, in China above all, and rhinos are being slaughtered in record numbers for their horn, believed in some Asian countries such as Vietnam - erroneously - to have important medical properties.

The poaching rates mean both animals are on the slope to extinction and more than 1000 wildlife rangers have been killed trying to stop the poachers.

The unparalleled butchery has seemed during the past year to be entirely out of control, but this week's conference will seek an international political commitment to end it.

The meeting is the brainchild of the Prince of Wales and Prince William and is being hosted by the British Government in London on Friday. It will be attended by high-level delegations from about 50 countries, with, crucially, a delegation from China, whose presence was not assured until recently. The presidents of Chad, Gabon, Botswana and Tanzania will be attending.

On Wednesday and Thursday there will be a preliminary scientific symposium at the Zoological Society of London in Regents Park, involving the world's largest wildlife conservation charities, which have been brought together in a special alliance named United for Wildlife, by Prince William. The two royals released a video urging people all around the world to come together to support the anti-wildlife-trade cause.

"Despite the terrible crisis that we now face, we both continue to be optimistic that the tide can be reversed," Prince William says in the video. "We have to be the generation that stopped the illegal wildlife trade, and secured the future of these magnificent animals, and their habitats, for if we fail, it will be too late."

The British Government wants a strong declaration of intent to act from the countries involved, and it will be seeking to make the conference an annual event to check progress. At the moment the United Nations wildlife trade enforcement body, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meets in full every three years.

UK ministers have already promised 10 million in funding to back their approach, which will focus on three areas: strengthening law enforcement and the criminal justice system; supporting the development of sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by poaching; and reducing demand for illegal wildlife products.

Many conservationists believe the only way effectively to end the poaching crisis is for China to get rid of illegal ivory and outlaw the sale of legal ivory as well.

- Independent

Ivory trade

* An estimated 25,000 elephants are killed each year by poachers, many linked to organised crime. In some places the species is close to being wiped out.

* 2012 was said to be the worst year ever for the illegal ivory trade in Africa. In 2011, authorities seized more than 23 tonnes of ivory, which represented about 2500 individual elephants killed.

* A 1989 ban outlawed the international trade in ivory. Since then, countries with elephant populations have twice been allowed to sell stockpiled ivory taken from elephants that died naturally.

* In the past few years, ivory has been destroyed in the US, Gabon, Kenya, China, France and the Philippines.

- Observer

- NZ Herald

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