Curbing illegal wildlife trade

I arrived at London Heathrow on Sunday 9 February. Little did I realise that I would immediately discuss the illegal trade in wildlife within minutes of my arrival.

As I approached the UK immigration officer, I was asked a few standard questions –one being, “What is the purpose of your visit to the UK?” I responded saying I was going to speak at the Illegal Wildlife Trade symposium at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) which triggered a lengthy conversation about poaching, smuggling and the challenges faced by border security forces.

After nearly 15 minutes of deep conversation, recognising that everybody else in line were being held up, the officer sent me on my way with best wishes. Thoughts about this being a rather propitious start to the upcoming week kept ringing as I walked.

The week’s activities included the two-day symposium at ZSL on Tuesday and Wednesday, overlapping by a day with the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade organised by UK’s Foreign Secretary’s Office. This involved 46 countries, and 11 international organisations, coming together to negotiate commitments to address poaching and reduce demand for endangered wildlife in key places globally.

The symposium was organised under the auspices of the United for Wildlife consortium led by the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, of which Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is a founding member.

United for Wildlife is an alliance of seven of the world’s global conservation organisations.  FFI’s Deputy CEO Ros Aveling, fourth from left, next to United for Wildlife President, HRH The Duke of Cambridge. Credit: United for Wildlife.

United for Wildlife is an alliance of seven of the world’s global conservation organisations. FFI’s Deputy CEO Ros Aveling, (fourth from left), stands next to United for Wildlife President, HRH The Duke of Cambridge (centre). Credit: United for Wildlife.

Successes and lessons learned were shared by a range of distinguished field practitioners, policy experts, government representatives, donors and public relations experts. The areas of focus were:

  1. securing wildlife strongholds –what’s working well and what isn’t
  2. dealing with wildlife trafficking as a transnational criminal activity – the tools and tactics needed to be employed accordingly
  3. international policy frameworks and dimensions to dealing with wildlife trafficking
  4. addressing demand and altering consumer behaviour in reducing demand for illegally taken wildlife or illegal wildlife products.

Of the many presentations, I really appreciated hearing Naftali Honig of the Project for the Application of Law for Fauna (PALF) of the Republic of Congo on combating corruption that nurtures wildlife crimes. In his presentation, Naftali shared the model of the Eagle Network which goes after isolating corruption networks that facilitate wildlife trafficking. He made a strong case for all those organisations involved in anti-poaching efforts to not rule out providing assistance in exposing corruption, since it is a perennial problem that underpins wildlife trafficking everywhere.

Another important presentation came from John Sellar, an independent anti-smuggling, fraud and organised crimes consultant who spent years as a police officer and CITES enforcement official. His presentation focused on making sure we deal with wildlife crime as we would with any other organised crime, employing similar tools used to combat drugs and weapons trafficking.

Nav Dayanand presenting at the ZSL symposium. Credit: FFI

Nav Dayanand presenting at the ZSL symposium. Credit: FFI

The highlight of my experience was preparing for, and experiencing, an interruption to my talk – on free trade agreements as policy tools to combat wildlife trafficking – by the arrival of HRH the Duke of Cambridge. I was happy to oblige, and his remarks on United for Wildlife, and the much needed resources and political will to combat wildlife trafficking, made the symposium very memorable.

Overall, I found those two days to be positive, results oriented and practical. At a dinner event, Ian Douglas-Hamilton treated us to a spectacular retelling of his life’s experiences in Kenya trying to save elephants from poaching.

Christine Dawson, a senior representative of the U.S. Department of State shared the signing of the U.S. National Strategy on Combating Wildlife Trafficking, which was produced in fewer than 180 days (setting a record) since the signing of the Presidential Executive Order last year. There was much reason to celebrate as the U.S., among making many commitments, announced a domestic ban on the commercial trade of elephant ivory to and from the U.S. except under a very few exceptions.

The London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade, which overlapped the symposium by a day, was celebrated at the Natural History Museum in the presence of HRH the Duke of Cambridge and UK’s Foreign Secretary Rt. Hon. William Hague.  Also in attendance was a spectacular array of guest including representatives from several countries, international organisations and celebrities such as Jackie Chan.

As the London Conference unfolded, more firm commitments from several countries were announced. Chad will destroy its entire stockpile of ivory on 20 February.

Tanzania’s Minister for Natural Resources and Wildlife, Lazaro Nyalandu, said, “We are saying no to poaching; we are saying no to this trade.”

Many more commitments are expected.

The London conference is touted to be a summit of summits on this important issue setting high goals to meet – gaining political commitment and action to deliver upon its three-pronged objectives:

  1. strengthening law enforcement and the criminal justice system
  2. reducing demand for illegal wildlife products
  3. supporting the development of sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by illegal wildlife trade.

As the London conference drew to a close, the coming months will be a true test to gauge the viability of commitments that were made. I’ll be following these developments, as I expect many will, with keen interest.