No two ways, it’s CRIME

Two years ago, when the poaching of elephants, rhinos and tigers skyrocketed, WWF, the global conservation organization, and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoringtrade-monitoring network, launched a campaign to mobilize global action. TUNZA talked to WWF’s Janos Pasztor about the problem, the campaign and what we all can do to help.

“Make no mistake, wildlife trafficking is crime – as serious and profitable as human trafficking and the drugs trade. Fighting it isn’t simple. Organized crime, vast amounts of money and, inevitably, corruption are all involved. And together these have the potential to destabilize governments. Last year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council that wildlife trafficking is ‘a grave menace to peace and security’.

“To maximize the effect of our campaign, we’re working with a wide array of local, national and international governments and organizations including, crucially, both UNEP and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). We’ve also reached out to ordinary people through the global web movement to bring people-powered politics into decision making.

“We need to act at three levels – to improve local wildlife management and protection where the animals live; to break-up supply routes through effective and tough policing and regulation; and to lessen demand for the products of endangered species – such as elephant ivory and rhino horn in Asian countries – often thousands of kilometres from where the wildlife lives.

“Protection is improving. In Cameroon, after 300 elephants were killed for their ivory by foreign poachers, the government sent 600 elite troops to improve its border security and is now recruiting and training an additional 2,500 rangers; in Gabon, a new Jungle Brigade has being created to investigate wildlife crime; in Namibia, with the help of Google, WWF is training rangers to use drones in the battle for conservation; and in China, dogs are being trained to sniff out illegal wildlife products.

“Around the world, sentences for wildlife crime are increasing. Recently in South Africa, a rhino-horn smuggler was sent to prison for 40 years; in Russia a tiger poacher was sentenced to 14 months in prison and fined US$18,500 for shooting one animal; and in Japan wildlife crimes can now attract prison sentences of up to five years. And, around the world, countries including China and the Philippines have destroyed stockpiles of confiscated ivory – and this week Hong Kong began to burn it’s stockpile of more than 28 tonnes of contraband ivory.

“Protection and policing are vital, but while the demand for wildlife products remains, there will always be people ready and willing to meet it. And even though 178 of the world’s governments have pledged to close their markets to illegal wildlife products, a lot of the trade now happens on the internet. It may sound corny, but we really have to make endangered species products un-cool – and ultimately unacceptable – whether as ornaments, clothing or jewelry, as medicines or food.

Stars have raised their voices – Leonardo Di Caprio greatly helped us get 1.6 million signatures on an Avaaz petition that led to the Thai government totally banning the sale of ivory. Political leaders have been active too – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton initiated Wildlife Conservation Day at their embassies around the world while the Chinese government has banned sharks’ fin soup from all official banquets. And religious leaders across Africa, of the Thai Buddhist community and Indonesia’s Islamic community, have raised awareness among their constituencies about the illegal wildlife trade, and offered prayers and support for the protection of threatened species.

“Things are happening everywhere, and we are winning a lot of battles. But we’re involved in a war on wildlife crime, and one that will take years to win. We need everyone’s help. There’s a lot you can do too: remain vigilant about what you buy; talk to your friends and families about wildlife crime – you could even download and play WWF Rhino Raid from iTunes, the Samsung App Store or Google Play; and sign petitions or write to your politicians demanding concrete action. Remember, the natural world needs your help.

Janos Pasztor is Acting Executive Director, Conservation, at WWF International.

Photos: Upper: WWF-Hong Kong/Lam Chun Yuen; lower: WWF/Konstantin Ivanov

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