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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

Act now or our wildlife could face extinction leaders warn

At a conference in London bring in businesses, governments and experts come together to protect Earth's fragile wildlife

 President of Botswana Mokgweetsi Masisi warned corruption still played a key part in the illegal wildlife trade. He held talks with the UK's Prince William beforehand. 
 President of Botswana Mokgweetsi Masisi warned corruption still played a key part in the illegal wildlife trade. He held talks with the UK's Prince William beforehand. 

Upgrading the fight against illegal wildlife trading to a full spectrum battle is the only option to prevent whole populations of some of the world’s most loved animals falling extinct in the wild.

A global summit in London heard that gangs behind the trade operated with near-impunity and were also involved in the movement of drugs, people and guns via the same networks used for the wildlife trade.

The Illegal Wildlife Conference, which brought together representatives from over 80 countries to discuss how to shatter the trade and stop its disastrous effects. To hammer down on the “ruthless” criminals, estimated to be generating as much as $23 billion, groups involved had to be dealt with in the same way as crimes such as money laundering and human trafficking.

African countries were at the forefront of the calls for a worldwide war, pointing out it was not just a development issue. Botswana’s president Mokgweeti Masisi, said corruption remained a key issue despite his countries “comparatively high” ranking in the transparency index. “Corruption plays an important role facilitating wildlife crimes and thus undermining efforts to enforce laws against such crimes.”

His Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni said education was also vital across communities in African countries. A social “metamorphous” had to take place that helped ordinary, poor civilians obtain legal jobs and provided a livelihood prosperous enough to stay away from the illegal wildlife trade.

The host country wants to use its historic position as an imperial power in Africa to drive a recantation of the glamorisation of big game hunting and other harmful human behaviour towards animals.

“It is heart breaking to think that by the time my children are in their twenties elephants, rhinos and tigers might well be extinct in the world. I for one am not willing to look my children in the eye and say that we were the generation that let this happen on our watch,” said Prince William, the royal family member who has campaigned constantly on the issue.

“We must remember it is crucial to work together across government agencies, civil society and the private sector and across borders and continents. Only a full integrated approach where we work together will work at all,” he added.

Prince William praised the international community’s approach to the ivory trade, noting its price had dropped by 75% in recent years – but said more needed to be done.

Britain’s foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said a key problem was the adaptability of such criminals: “(They) don’t respect borders; if one nation toughens its laws, the smugglers will move into a neighbour. I we improve the protection of one endangered wildlife population, they will target another species. Our response has to rest on international cooperation.”

British Prime Minister Teresa May addressed attendees in a pre-recorded statement.

“Thousands of animals, birds, reptiles and plants are put at risk by unscrupulous poachers and smugglers. We need to treat this billion-dollar enterprise in the same way we do other serious and organised crimes by shutting it down from every possible angle,” she said.

Part of this had to come through a reformed legal approach said Prince William, who rubbished the sentences handed out to convicted smugglers by some countries. Often these can amount to only a few months in prison or even just a fine, although representatives from African nations present such as Botswana and Gabon said they were enacting heavier sentences.

“It’s the rule of law that forms the foundations of everybody’s safety and prosperity. Future generations of the world must not say the nations of the world sat back or responded with actions that was too little or too late before our great species disappeared for ever,” said US attorney general Jeff Sessions.

“President Trump fully supports the strong prosecution involved in the wildlife trade and so do I. We must use our god given legal resources to advance and defend the survival, not the alienation of (these) majestic creatures,” Mr Sessions said.

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Read more:

UK launches taskforce to clamp down on illegal wildlife trade

Illegal wildlife trade an 'industrial scale pillage' says conservationist

Sudanese militias moonlight as poachers in Central African Republic's badlands

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“Over a 1000 rangers have been killed in the line of duty in the last decade. Poaching levels may well be decreasing in some areas but overall, they remain too high. As the ivory market is closing down in some countries, it is being displaced elsewhere. Pangolin scaled, rhino horns and body parts of big cats are still easy to find all around the world,” he told the conference audience.

Prince William urged community-led solutions that took in the “expert” opinions of civil society groups and NGO’s that operated on the ground.

On the last day of the conference, over 50 nations adopted the London 2018 declaration, committing to action to protect endangered species around the globe, with more expected to sign today and in the coming days.

The declaration included commitments to take strangle the funding of illegal wildlife trading, improving local job prospects and involving local communities in protecting wildlife populations, as well as working to lessen the demand for species or illegal animal products.