Elephants and rhinos, rhinos and elephants – what else would an international summit meeting in Nairobi on wildlife crime be talking about?
Well, UNEP is hosting UNEA this very week, and if those acronyms are news to you as they are to me, they are respectively the UN Environment Programme and the UN Environmental Assembly. The meeting has the potential to be hugely important for these two iconic and endangered species in particular.
The opening session saw the launch of the Wild For Life campaign, asking you and me, governments and corporation to stand with the UN against wildlife crime and trafficking by making our personal pledge. Here is my certificate:
Kenya set the scene for the Assembly with its recent highly-publicised Burning of the Ivory last month. The country is showing it is serious about wildlife crime, and in spite of problems with corruption, its “investment in new legislation, strengthening anti-poaching effort on the ground and training investigators, prosecutors and judicial officers has paid off. The deterrent effect of all this effort is working. Poaching in Kenya has declined by 80% in just 3 years: this is the most spectacular demonstration of impact in any elephant range state.”
With ivory and rhino horn top of the agenda in Nairobi, environmentalists and all lovers of wildlife are keeping fingers and toes crossed that the UNEA conference will bring Swaziland and South Africa into the global consensus. That consensus being that all markets must be closed down and ivory and rhino horn put firmly beyond economic use. (South Africa’s Supreme Court, just this week, rejected the government’s appeal against the legalisation of domestic trade in horn. And Swaziland has announced it is putting a proposal to CoP17 summit of CITES members to take place in Johannesburg this August, to relax the ban on international trade.)
It’s time to put aside our differences and forge a global alliance based on our shared commitment to save African wildlife. Every day we delay, more elephants – and those whose job it is to protect them – will die. All the UN resolutions and the efforts by states will be in vain as long as wildlife criminals are able to operate with impunity and – if caught – to walk free from the courts.
The UN is now calling for “each country to prohibit, under national law, the possession of wildlife that was illegally harvested in, or illegally traded from, anywhere else in the world.”
“There is tremendous international goodwill on this right now. No one is going to stand up and say that wildlife trade should be less regulated,” said Theodore Leggett author of a new report for the UN.
Can you believe that as it stands, there is no internationally agreed definition for “wildlife crime”? That’s hard to credit in 2016 when we’ve arrived at a state where the world’s wildlife is under unprecedented threat from criminal syndicates.
The 182 CITES signatory countries also have widely differing penalties for CITES infringements, with many failing to recognise them as serious crimes.
Tanzania doesn’t appear to be underestimating the seriousness of elephant poaching though. Just this week they arrested ‘the Ivory Queen’, Yang Feng Glan, a Chinese grandmother. She is charged with trafficking 706 elephant tusks worth over $2 million, and allegedly ruled a network that linked local poachers to powerful Chinese buyers. It beggars belief that a person could oversee the slaughter of these beautiful animals out of sheer greed. If Tanzania can get a conviction the Ivory Queen faces up to 30 years in jail.Let’s hope she won’t be one of them to walk free from the courts.
And wildlife crime is not just a problem in Africa and Asia. The Liberal MEP Catherine Bearder says: “Organised criminal gangs are exploiting the minor penalties against wildlife trafficking in some European countries to accrue massive profits. Time is running out for many of our most beloved species. The penalty of wildlife trafficking must fit the seriousness of this crime.”*
Here in the assembly at Nairobi, as everywhere else when it comes to discussion about poaching and trafficking of the iconic big beasts, delegates struggle with this knotty problem – on one side, the advocates of a ‘sustainable’ trade to provide much-needed funding for anti-poaching protection and ‘conservation’, and on the other, ‘environmentalists who object to any financial commodification of animal species, particularly endangered ones.’ For more on this complex issue see Man, Money & Rhinos – Unraveling the Tangled Knot of Poaching
We won’t lose hope. We can turn our sadness and anger into action, and start with taking the pledge.
With special thanks to Garry Rogers for blogging about the Nairobi summit. This is Garry’s comment on the proceedings:
All Earth’s creatures need protection from humans. Sad that the ones that serve as the top regulators of ecosystem function are also the most visible and therefore subject to our purposeful abuse.
(Special mention of friend Christina Edwards who is acting as an interpreter at the Nairobi summit!)
*The World Wildlife Crime Report from The United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC) identifies nearly 7,000 species that have been illegally traded and seized, including reptiles, mammals, corals, birds, fish and others. 164,000 seizures from 120 countrie
August 21st 2016 Namibia and Zimbabwe have filed petitions to CITES to lift the international ban on the ivory trade. They may find an ally in South Africa – Focusing on Wildlife