I’m an optimist by nature, but during my six years working here at WWF to stop the illegal wildlife trade, I’ve seen and heard about the deaths of a lot of animals – and it can be hugely depressing.
Believe me, if you’re upset by the photos we sometimes publish of animals that have been butchered by poachers, you should see the ones we don’t show you. But those gruesome images push me on all the more to help tackle these horrific crimes. And this could be a big week in our fight.
World governments are meeting in Geneva this week to talk about international wildlife trade and how to prevent it causing species extinctions. WWF is at the meeting to make sure there’s progress, especially for our affected flagship species like elephants, rhinos and tigers.
Right now there are 175 governments, or Parties, signed up to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). They meet at the Conference of the Parties (CoP) every three years, and a 16-member Standing Committee (including the UK) oversees things between those CoPs. That’s who’s meeting this week.
The five-day meeting will include discussions about improving the regulation of legal wildlife trade – that’s the allowable buying and selling of some wild plants and animals – as well as how laws controlling the illicit trade in wildlife contraband (such as elephant ivory and rhino horn) are enforced in specific countries.
Sadly, in recent years a lot of species have been facing an unprecedented attack. For instance the number of rhinos illegally killed last year reached 448 in South Africa alone – that’s a mind-blowing 3000% increase from 2007. This year is shaping up to be even worse, with the toll there now already over 260.
Wildlife crime doesn’t just affect the particular wild animals involved either, but people and communities too. Many rangers have been killed protecting wildlife, and the crimes can destabilise societies, affect the rule of law and fund regional conflicts. It’s also associated with organised criminal networks who are sometimes involved in other illegal activities, such as drug smuggling, human trafficking etc.
Illegal wildlife trade is the fifth largest illicit trade worldwide – behind only drugs, counterfeiting, people and oil – and is estimated to be worth around $7.8 – 10 billion.
So wildlife crime deserves serious attention – and we want governments to recognise that fact. That’s why we’ve launched our Wildlife Crime Scorecard to coincide with this week’s CITES meeting. The scorecard assesses 23 of the key countries who face the highest levels of illegal trade in elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts, and how well they’re complying with and enforcing the commitments they signed up to under CITES.
The results make it very clear that some countries need to make much more effort, and show which countries have taken action, and which have struggled to make progress in tackling wildlife crime. We hope the CITES Standing Committee will reflect that too, by being firm with those countries that aren’t complying.
You’ll be hearing more about this campaign shortly, but in the meantime if you’d like to follow the important CITES discussions in Geneva this week, see the updates on Twitter from our species team leader out there, Wendy Elliott