WWF UK Blog  

Are we winning the battle?


I remember as a young child thinking how appalling it was that people would buy and sell wildlife into extinction. It seemed so senseless and unnecessary. I thought when I grew up I had to do something about it.

Deborah Meaden holding illegal tiger skin seized at Heathrow airportGrant Miller and Deborah Meaden with tiger skin seized by the UK Border Force. Products like this are just some of the many illegal items that are seized coming into this country. © WWF-UK / James Morgan

It’s illegal and wrong, I reasoned, so it couldn’t be that complicated to fix could it? You just educate people and enforce the law. However, it’s not such an easy task. In the last six years alone, in the UK 2,853 seizures of illegal wildlife products have been made by the UK Border Force.

Often those in the UK reading about the problem believe it’s an issue from across the globe, but the fact is the UK does play a role as a transit and destination country for these illegal wildlife products. And the illegal wildlife trade is one of the biggest threats to iconic species such as wild tigers, rhinos and elephants. This infographic shows that 257, nearly 10%, of these seizures are related to the parts of tigers, rhino horn and elephant ivory. This trafficking can’t go on.

Trademapper infographic showing UK Border Force seizures for ivory, rhino horn and tiger products and countries of origin, 2009 - 14Trademapper infographic showing UK Border Force seizures for ivory, rhino horn and tiger products and countries of origin, 2009 – 14

Here in the UK, the UK Border Force is working hard to tackle this trade head on. However traffickers are using new methods to smuggle items. They’ve hidden wildlife parts inside anything from wooden statues to a parcel of ball bearings.

It’s been over a year since the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in February 2014 – attended by government high level representatives from around the world, plus TRH the Prince of Wales, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry. The London Declaration agreed there by 41 governments set out commitments to strengthen legislative frameworks, improve law enforcement, seek sustainable livelihoods for local communities and eliminate the market for illegal wildlife products. Since then the UK government has undertaken measures to tackle this trade including:

  • Providing training to countries where the species and their products are sourced from, transited and used and;
  • Allocating £5.3 million for 19 global projects through its Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund.

Important progress has also been made internationally, as highlighted at the recent Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in Botswana:

  • Increasing levels of law enforcement action, especially in Africa, which have led to a rise in ivory seizures, and;
  • 13 tiger range countries in Asia committing to a zero poaching framework and toolkit, which could be used as a blueprint for curbing poaching worldwide.

A steep hill to climb

However, despite some progress reported, there is still a steep hill to climb. We need to see an increase in resources and action to tackle this illegal trade at a greater level, given that this is a serious crime. That’s why the Kasane Statement agreed in Botswana on 25 March, building on the London Declaration, is a good place to help to strengthen government action against illegal wildlife trafficking.

The statistics are depressing, but all too real, like over 20,000 African elephants poached each year – which exceeds natural growth rates and means populations are in decline. 1,215 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa alone in 2014.

But there is hope

Over the last four years Nepal has twice celebrated zero poaching for 365 days. This was achieved through government commitment up to the highest levels, strong action from local communities, cooperation with neighbouring countries and innovative solutions.

I was fortunate to be able to visit a community based anti-poaching unit when I was in Nepal a few years back, and I was humbled by how a community that had little themselves put so much of their energy and resources into protecting their neighbouring wildlife. There were the tiniest of women putting themselves in harm’s way to scour the forests for snares. But it’s that sort of dedication that helped lead to the success in Nepal.

That is success which I hope will, and really needs to be reported in other countries. And soon.

When I think about the fight to tackle the Illegal Wildlife Trade, there’s no one simple solution as I thought when I was a child, but there are known effective solutions and strategies – they need to be implemented now at the necessary scale to #endwildlifecrime

What do you think of Heather’s blog? Leave us your comments.

Related posts