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The illegal wildlife trade - can the Royal Conference provide a way through ?


              President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon – fighting poaching is all about political will


Yesterday’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Meeting at St. James’ Palace was a mixture of the predictable and the hopeful. 


Both the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge made presentations, with Prince Charles stressing the need for urgency, new approaches, collaboration, much better law enforcement, demand reduction and provision of employment alternatives to poaching. He said we are involved in a race against time. Prince William stressed the need of youth to become more involved as it is their heritage that is being destroyed. Prince Charles promised a further meeting on the issue in the autumn, this one to involve Heads of State.


Their comments were a breath of fresh air in contrast to those of some other presenters, who are beginning to look like they have been at too many similar meetings and keep saying the same things. David Higgins of Interpol mentioned the need to coordinate the gathering and analysis of data on the syndicates, the need to professionalize the wildlife crime investigators and prosecutors, and the need for more cooperation and political will to combat the illegal trafficking. John Scanlon of CITES said the significant gains made by CITES over the past 40 years were under threat and that the trends were disturbing. He said when put against ruthless opponents, a commensurate response was needed. He said we know the way forward, and what is lacking right now is the will by many to take strong action. He called for better financing and rigorous efforts to identify and prosecute the kingpins as targeting the poachers themselves was not going to deliver substantive progress. He mentioned that for the first time there were people speculating on extinction to drive up the prices of animal products, and said that CITES would use it’s “teeth” – compliance measures – to ensure a lessening of the illegal trade. 


Sabri Zain of TRAFFIC and Peter Knights of WildAid both stressed the need for demand reduction but disagreed to some extent on the process. Zain mentioned that to date demand reduction has not been seen to be particularly effective as the issues involved were complex – including factors like social status, lifestyles and outward expressions of wealth to curry favours in business transactions. He felt that demand reduction would be most effective if Government-led. He also mentioned that there were good examples of demand reduction working in the past and mentioned that Japan, historically a major ivory consumer, had seen a great reduction in demand thanks to awareness campaigns and Government action. Peter Knights agreed to some extent, but mentioned that demand reduction in countries like Japan had been followed by demand increases in other consuming nations due to newly emerging rich economies. These newly affluent countries had therefore stimulated a new round of poaching to satisfy their demands. He said it was imperative to target society via celebrity campaigns and the social media, and that public outreach campaigns were not a strong point of Governments. 


I had been looking forward to hear what Thea Carroll of the Department of Environmental Affairs of South Africa was going to say. Predictably, she reported South Africa was mounting a “strong response” to rhino poaching by an integrated effort among police, the South African Defence Force, the National Prosecuting Authority and the wildlife ranger force. She said it was imperative to find long-term solutions and involve communities. The reality is that since the beginning of the year 353 rhinos have been poached in South Africa - a rate of one every ten hours heading for a predicted total of over 900 in 2013. 


Jorge Rios of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said poaching was not a conservation issue any longer but had evolved into a transnational organized crime. He said national legislations were largely incapable of dealing with wildlife crime and that current conventions on organized crime and corruption needed to be implemented. 


The presentations ended with those of Ian Craig of the Northern Rangelands Trust of Kenya and Lee White, Executive Secretary of the National Parks of Gabon. Craig urged the involvement of communities in leadership, care and commitment to wildlife through the establishment of community conservancies. White, in a quiet and carefully worded speech provided in my opinion the best presentation. He said the reason why Gabon was doing relatively well in protecting her wildlife was because there was the tremendous political will to do so. President Ali Bongo Ondimba had earlier stated “Gabon has a policy of zero tolerance for wildlife crime and we are putting in place institutions and laws to ensure this policy is enforced.” Gabon burned her ivory stockpile in June 2012 (unfortunately not an example taken up by many others) and has also mobilized their army and police forces and all government departments in a coordinated effort in what is rightly seen as a trans-border crime. Gabon is a shining example of how political will can make a decisive and meaningful difference in cutting through obstacles to achieve conservation of her wildlife heritage. 


Contrast that determination to the remarks made at the conference by Owen Paterson, the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He said the UK government was “determined” to play a part in fighting wildlife crime, that the UK was “committed” to develop the tools to do so and that failure would shame us all. Meanwhile his department has significantly cut funding to the police National Wildlife Crime Unit, only reluctantly and by public pressure agreeing to extend some financial support for one year. Paterson did announce a department “awareness raising” programme called “If They’re Gone” for just four species – elephants, rhinos, tigers and orang-utans. As mentioned by Peter Knights, public outreach is not going to be well-handled by governments – in this case by a government that has ignored that 60% of wildlife species in the UK have declined drastically in the past 50 years and that one in ten species are now in danger of extinction.


Lions received no mention at the conference, perhaps because there is still not the realization that lions are greatly affected by destructive trade. Much of this trade has the veneer of legality – trophy hunting – that has nevertheless contributed significantly to the relentless decline of the species. Also, there is as yet little realization that lions are now being targeted for their bones as a substitute for tiger bones in the traditional medicine markets. Trophy hunting provides a strange bedfellow to the poaching crisis – for example, in 2010 Cameroon exported close to 70 elephant trophies while mobilizing the army after 40 elephants were killed by poachers in March 2013. Until the realization hits that trade in species of wildlife in rapid decline – legal or illegal – must be stopped, lions will continue to draw the short straw of being ignored until it is too late.  


So, as I said, a mixed bag of messages with some high points. The Prince of Wales can do much good as he is non-political yet very influential. Together with a slowly growing number of Heads of State like Ali Bongo and Ian Khama of Botswana the African political will to conserve their national heritage is growing. Rather than moving from conference to conference where the same messages are being repeated, there needs to be a sense of building on progress. As Prince Charles said we are now in a race against time. In a following blog I will show that we have ignored all past trends since it seems that we can only respond to crises. And the crisis now is that we have no more room for error and complacency, our backs are now securely pinned against the wall. The choice is clear and unavoidable – action by deeds or extinction. 


Picture credit – James Morgan/WWF 



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Categories: wildlife crime

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 18:15

A short history of Kenya's proposals to CITES

 At the ongoing CITES Conference, Kenya submitted two proposals for consideration. The first was a proposal to place a moratorium on rhino trophy hunting in South Africa – Kenya was of the opinion as echoed by very many in the world community that the “legal” exports of trophy rhino horns was a means to leak illegal horns onto the market. There was considerable evidence for this, as South Africa had long allowed “pseudo hunting” of rhinos whose horns entered commercial markets against CITES regulations. The second proposal was to place a ban on all further ivory trade initiatives from CITES member states until 2017.

 Kenya withdrew the rhino trophy hunting moratorium and also looked to withdraw the ivory trade proposal.


History repeats itself.

 In 2010, Kenya proposed to have no further submissions for ivory trade for the next 20 years. Withdrawn.

 In 2007, Kenya proposed no trade in raw or worked ivory for 20 years. CITES instead allowed a “one off sale” of many tons of ivory to China and Japan from Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

 In 2004 at CITES CoP 13, Kenya proposed uplisting African lions from Appendix II to Appendix I based on concerns about trade and the declining lion populations. Kenya backed down, accepting conferences among the lion range states to determine population numbers and national conservation action measures. Nine years on, no substantive progress has been made. Indeed, Kenya and Namibia were charged by CITES in July 2011 to produce a Periodic Review of lion populations. All reporting dates have been missed.


Kenya is seen by many as a conservation-minded African nation. Indeed, many western Governments and many NGOs put their faith in Kenya with programmes and dollars. Whenever Kenya announces their conservation stand to upcoming CITES conferences, many come knocking on the door of the Kenya Wildlife Service to express solidarity, support, and funding.


Does Kenya deserve this status? CITES recently included Kenya in their Gang of Eight nations involved in and facilitating illegal ivory trafficking. CITES say trade sanctions might result.


Can Kenya continue to be taken seriously? Is Kenya really a nation that we can look to for progressive wildlife conservation formulas? Does Kenya really have the backbone to push through proposals at CITES or, as evident once again at CoP 16, does Kenya always fall at the last hurdle?


Ever since 2004 Kenya has significantly failed to progress on any of her very good agendas. That is to be regretted, decried and perhaps carefully assessed as to the reason for constant failures. CITES does unfortunately not consider much science, but they do respond to effective lobbying. 

 Shouldn't Kenya learn to play the game better and meanwhile cease to submit half-hearted proposals?


Picture credit:


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Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 13:31

The future of wildlife conservation?

Tuesday 5th March 2013

The future of wildlife conservation?


On the 22nd February 2013, Raabia Hawa gave an impassioned speech at the Global Issues Services Summit at the International School of Kenya.


Please listen to this heartfelt plea – you too will weep with her as she describes the relentless and needless slaughter of elephants and lions in Kenya.

To support Raabia's walk for Wildlife, please email



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Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 13:34

European Parliament Workshop on Wildlife Crime

We were delighted to be invited to participate in a new, innovative workshop, organised by Mr Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy ((MEP, Netherlands) and Mr Kriton Arsenis (MEP, Greece), on the subject of Wildlife Crime.

"The EU does not tackle the problem of wildlife crime sufficiently. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put the issue high on the agenda of the USA. It's high time for the EU to also develop  an action plan to fight wildlife crime" said Mr Gerbrandy.


The event took place on the 27th February in the European Parliament in Brussels and lasted for 2.5 hours.  Our 16 minute presentation can be viewed by clicking the link here.



If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you. 


Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 19:17