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The countdown begins to the London 2018 Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference


In October 2018, London is set to host global leaders for a conference on the illegal wildlife trade. The momentum towards this is already starting to build, as the UK Government hosted a high level reception to launch the conference on 30 October 2017. Tackling the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is one of our priorities at WWF and we want to make sure this stays high on the international agenda until it is no longer the major threat to wildlife that it is today.

Another conference?

Don’t worry if you’re getting a feeling of ‘déjà vu’ – yes, London has already hosted a conference on illegal wildlife trade back in February 2014. This landmark conference brought together over 40 governments who committed to strong action to tackle illegal wildlife trade through the ‘London Declaration’. In my role as Chief Adviser on Wildlife at WWF, I was involved in preparing for this conference – you can read more in my 2014 blog. We were pleased that countries committed to 25 strategic activities including: addressing corruption, adopting legislation for tougher penalties against wildlife crime, reducing demand for illegal wildlife products and supporting community livelihoods. And it still holds today as one of the key moments that heightened political will on this important issue.

London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade © Foreign and Commonwealth OfficeGlobal leaders at the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in 2014 © Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Since then there have been further IWT conferences in Kasane, Botswana, in 2015 and Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2016 to keep the momentum going. Only with the political will in key governments can we mobilise the much-needed resources, trained staff, legislative change, and community incentives to put an end to the poaching and illegal wildlife trade.

What has happened since 2014?

So there’s been a lot of talk, but has anything actually changed over the past three years? Well there’s definitely been some significant global achievements; such as the first ever UN General Assembly resolutions on illegal wildlife trade, the inclusion of wildlife crime targets in the Sustainable Development Goals, and a growing global recognition of and response to wildlife trafficking as a serious organised crime.

We’ve also seen global action to shut down domestic elephant ivory markets; with the US implementing a near-total ban in 2016 and China also working towards a closure of its ivory market by the end of 2017 – a truly game-changing move for elephants in Africa.

On the ground we’ve seen a reduction in rhino poaching numbers in South Africa and increasing seizures of illegal wildlife parts. There have also been some strong convictions for criminals guilty of wildlife crime, such as the sentencing of a Kenyan ivory kingpin to 20 years in jail.

An eco-guard displaying seized poached elephant tusks and poacher's weapons, Oyem, Gabon. © WWF-Canon / James MorganAn eco-guard displaying seized poached elephant tusks and poacher’s weapons © WWF-Canon / James Morgan

Here in the UK, our government committed an additional £13 million to tackling illegal wildlife trade across the globe at the Hanoi Conference last year. The government also recently announced plans to close the UK’s domestic ivory market – we want to see this confirmed by the London Conference next year.

But despite positive developments, the reality is the criminals are still winning far too much. The illegal wildlife trade remains the fourth largest global illegal trade in the world, after drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking. We continue to lose around 20,000 African elephants and more than 1,000 rhinos to poaching every year. The illegal wildlife trade is also decimating lesser-known species such as pangolin and serow.

Cape pangolin © Photoshot License Ltd / Alamy Stock PhotoThe illegal trade in pangolins is the greatest threat to their conservation © Photoshot License Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

In many countries, a shift in political will to focus on the solutions that matter could make all the difference. It’s time for wildlife criminals to face higher risks and efforts, and receive lower rewards.

What next?

The London Conference 2018 will be the fourth conference in this series and we want to make sure it’s not ‘just another meeting’. We hope the event will focus on specific themes that really will benefit from increased political commitment including:

  • Corruption and money laundering associated with wildlife trafficking
  • Professionalisation of the ranger force to assist those on the frontline tackling the poaching crisis
  • Demand reduction for illegal wildlife products using an evidence based approach to change consumer behaviour
  • Closing domestic ivory markets to help stop the elephant poaching crisis

At the reception earlier, I was pleased to hear speeches from Mark Field, Therese Coffey and Rory Stewart set the right level of ambition for the conference. I certainly hope the next year will build the awareness and political momentum that is needed to help stamp out wildlife crime for good.

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