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It’s a jungle out there and someone has to police it

 

Some time ago now when I was a teenager I was lucky enough to go on a family holiday to Kenya and see the most amazing wildlife including elephants and rhinos, with the stunning back drop of the African savannah. Back then I was unaware that this might become an all too rare sight within my lifetime and all because of the demand for their tusks and horns!

This post was written by Sarah Goddard

Even more surprisingly I didn’t know then that one day I would be working on protecting those very species in my own back yard. Yes that’s right animals only seen on safari or by camera traps in the foothills of the Himalaya’s – if we are talking about tigers – are roaming our streets as illegally traded items to buy on market stalls, as pets, ingredients in medicines and as antiques for auction.

It’s a jungle out there and someone has to police it. This is where the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) comes into being. People tend to think that wildlife crime – and in particular poaching and killing of elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horn – are issues only affecting Africa and Asia, whilst the UK is hardly affected by such issues. This is unfortunately not true. Criminal gangs that have been stealing rhino horn across Europe over the last couple of years shows how this is now a serious and organised crime and business venture that is affecting the globe –  including our very own little corner of it.

Dragon's Den star Deborah Meaden with the UK Border Force with illegal ivoryDragon’s Den star Deborah Meaden with the UK Border Force with illegal ivory

Every country has a part to play to ensure the criminal networks behind this trade are dismantled. The NWCU is our dedicated team of police officers that assist police forces, and the Border Force across the country with wildlife crime investigations and seizures of illegal goods. One of their priorities is trade in protected species covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) such as elephants, rhinos and tigers. People in the UK are profiting from the illegal trade in these species, encouraging and sustaining poaching and pushing these species to the brink of extinction. With 1,004 rhinos killed in South Africa alone last year,  I am encouraged to see the UK Government taking this threat to the survival of these species seriously by acknowledging the part we have to play in wiping out this illegal trade for ever, and by funding the NWCU for a further two years. I would however like to see an even longer term effort being made to support this vital unit in enforcing wildlife crime, as it will unfortunately take longer than two years to resolve.

As you probably will have seen in the news the UK Government are hosting a global conference to make commitments to tackle the illegal wildlife trade at a two day summit in London on 12-13 February. David Cameron will attend the conference along with heads of government and other high level representatives from as many as 50 nations.

Seized poacher's weapons and poached ivorySeized poacher’s weapons and poached ivory

Countries invited include those where poaching is threatening the survival of wildlife, and the biggest markets for illegal wildlife products, including Vietnam and China. I have high hopes that those attending this summit will agree to take strong action to tackle this destructive trade, and implement those measures afterwards. I am pleased to see my country taking a stand on the issue of combating the illegal wildlife trade and supporting our police and border forces here in the UK to ensure our back yard is free of elephant, rhino and tiger products! I hope this support continues until these endangered species are no longer threatened by this trade, and if I am fortunate to get the opportunity to visit Africa again, I can be safe in the knowledge that I have every chance of seeing an elephant or rhino alive.

What’s your opinion about the illegal wildlife trade? Leave a comment on Sarah’s blog.

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