Tackling the illegal wildlife trade

China and the UK have both recently hosted meetings calling for a united international crack-down on the illegal wildlife trade. Conservation organisations and law enforcement agencies have expressed growing concern at the rising demand for products derived from threatened and endangered wildlife, used both in traditional Asian medicine, and as luxury items that are associated with status in a number of Asian countries. Poaching not only puts pressure on the survival of vulnerable species, it also threatens the viability of conservation programs designed to save them. Speaking at the UK meeting held in May, the chief executive of WWF-UK David Nussbaum said the multi-billion pound trade also fuelled other types of crime, and had a devastating impact on some of the planet’s poorest people.

“With poaching and wildlife trafficking at record levels, we hope that this meeting will be the start of a ground-breaking initiative in the fight against this deadly and destructive trade,” he said.

Hosted by the UK Government, 2012_Suedchinesischer_Tigerand His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, the conference attracted high level representatives from several European, African, and Asian countries, as well as Australia, and was a forerunner to a Heads of State meeting to be held in London later this year, at which the world’s governments will be urged to commit to actions designed to reduce the global demand for endangered wildlife and related products, strengthen law enforcement and criminal justice practices, and assist rural communities to establish long-term viable alternatives to trafficking wildlife.

High level discussions addressing the need for increased protection of species targeted by wildlife smugglers have also been held in China recently. During May wildlife law enforcement agencies met in Guangxi Province, both to review strategies to combat wildlife crime that were adopted in 2012, and to realign their collaborative efforts to halt the trade.

Supported by TRAFFIC, the the Guangxi meeting brought together members of Guangxi Provincial Inter-agency CITES Enforcement Coordination Group (PICE-CG), as well as representatives from Forest Police, and the Border Police and Industry & Commerce Department.

The head of TRAFFIC’s China Program Jianbin Shi, said the efforts in Guangxi were a positive indication of China’s efforts to link its PICE-CG with neighbouring countries in South-East Asia.

“Last year’s meeting between China and the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network has established a national platform under which Guangxi’s PICE-CG is playing a key role in protecting China’s biodiversity, as well as combating transboundary trade with South-East Asia. Long-term efforts are needed to address wildlife smuggling in Guangxi effectively,” he said.

This meeting was followed by one held in Beijing in June that involved representatives from the traditional Chinese medicine, and Tibetan medicine industries. It was jointly hosted by TRAFFIC, the China Wildlife Conservation Association, and the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies, and discussions centred on strategies to improve the protection of species considered to have a high medicinal value, and how these might be achieved. Delegates also reaffirmed their commitment not to use body parts from endangered animals such as tigers.

The take-home message for all conference delegates was that greater cooperation, communication and understanding was vital in the global campaign to stop the illegal wildlife trade, as was the importance of raising community awareness about the need to eliminate the unnecessary demand for medicinal ingredients derived from species protected by international conventions and domestic laws.

According to Zhilin Dong, president of the Pan European Federation of traditional Chinese medicine Societies, the public needs to understand that ingredients such as tiger bone and even tiger bone substitutes: “have no place in updated traditional medicine practices”.

While the joint effort of all stakeholders had proved effective in significantly reducing the inclusion of tiger bones, and body parts from other endangered species in traditional medicines, TRAFFIC’s senior China Program officer Ling Zu said it remained vital: “to work together and remain vigilant to counteract this ongoing threat.”

TRAFFIC’s senior program director for Asia told the Guangxi meeting that the illegal trade chain could only be broken through the targeted efforts at source, transit and consumption points, while the message from the organisation’s director of Advocacy Sabri Zain to London delegates was that demand had fuelled the poaching crisis.

“There’s an urgent need for us to explore new approaches to understanding and influencing the drivers behind consumer demand for endangered wildlife – going beyond just raising awareness or hoping that consumers sympathise with our cause. We need to achieve real and long-lasting consumer behaviour change if we are to save the world’s endangered wildlife,” he said.

During 2012 WWF and TRAFFIC launched a global campaign to raise the profile of illegal wildlife trade as a serious crime, and to spur governments and international institutions to tackle it as such.


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