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Will the world walk the talk about illegal wildlife trade?

Alex Kennaugh

Posted February 13, 2014

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Luminaries of the wildlife world filed into a London meeting room this week to talk about wildlife trade: Jane Goodall, Iian Douglas-Hamilton, Stanley Johnson, and others. They were joined by ranks of unsung heroes, nearly 200 professionals who have also dedicated head and heart space to solving one of the most immediate environmental challenges of our day. 

We asked how do we make sure that 30,000 elephants aren't butchered again next year for ivory trade? How do we make sure that 1,000 rhinos aren't killed for their horn? How do we close porous ports and slippery shipping routes from east Africa of wildlife products bound for table ornaments in China and hangover cures in Vietnam?  How are we going to slay the dragon of demand? 

After two days of talk, the problem is still a little murky. But the solution is clear. 

Seize. Crush. Cease. And desist.

Seizing smuggled shipments of endangered species is the first step. Experts told us this that we need better paid, better trained men and women on the frontlines who can stop those stealing, smuggling and selling our natural resources in their tracks. And we need state-of-the-art evidence gathering and sharing to get convictions of what should be treated as serious global conspiracy crimes. By closing the net on criminal activity, we at least raise the cost of business for illegal traders.

Stopping legal trade that let's illegal trade happen in the shadows is also a next step. Domestic trade bans for high-demand products, such as ivory, rhino horn, tiger skins and bones, and pangolins, should be put in place in all countries involved in sourcing, transiting, or buying endangered species. The United States announced its domestic trade ban this week, so we hope this sets the bar for others to follow. That said, bans are blunt policy tools that will stun the dragon but not slay it.

In the long term, we must desist. The only permanent solution is reducing the demand for wildlife products. That requires more robust environmental laws in consumer countries. That requires more severe penalties for wildlife crime. It requires strong market signals that discourage trade in wildlife. And some really, really smart marketing strategies.

If you have stuck with me so far, then I know you're the kind of reader who has already noticed that I skipped over crushes. That's because crushes aren't critical and folks have mixed feelings about them. Some feel they encourage stockpiling as the bad guys hoard their stashes because they know regulation is coming which could increase the value of their assets. Most feel they are strong signals of political will to end the trade of ivory and other iconic species. Me? I think crushes sound more like crunches. One, two, four footsteps along a rocky path.

What we need now is momentum to get up the hill. A wave of political will.

Today the list of political luminaries filling the room is even more impressive: Princes, High Commissioners, Prime Ministers, state officials, and many others with the political capital or authority to make these things happen. Please, world leaders, send out strong signals—followed by actions—that the time has come to end illegal wildlife trade. 



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Adam OldacresFeb 13 2014 05:14 PM

Very good article, I am glad some people are standing up for those beautiful animals without a voice of their own, I respect everyone who was present at that meeting encouraging the ban on wildlife trade.

Let's keep it up.

The Only Thing That Needs An Elephant Tusk is An Elephant!

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