A speech by The Duke of Cambridge on the illegal wildlife trade at the World Bank

Published 08 December 2014

I am determined not to let the world´s children grow up on a planet where our most iconic and endangered species have been wiped out.

Dr Kim, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your extremely warm welcome on this my first visit to Washington.

I am grateful for the opportunity to talk to you about a subject extremely close to my heart, the illegal wildlife trade.

The World Bank is a fitting place to make this speech, founded as it was not only on expertise, but on ideals.

70 years ago, at its birth, it was a Bank for a war-shocked world, needed to reconstruct the shattered economies of Europe, and so prevent future conflict.

But even then the World Bank had a wider purpose: to raise living standards everywhere and, in the words of John Maynard Keynes, “to make the resources of the world more fully available to all mankind”.

That task of worldwide development remains a noble ideal and a vital service to humanity.

As you know, huge progress has been made. In our lifetimes, millions of people will have lifted themselves out of poverty.

But stubborn impediments to development remain, of which corruption is one of the most persistent and damaging.

Tomorrow is UN Anti-Corruption Day, and I pay tribute to the courageous individuals who labour against corruption worldwide, often risking their jobs and even their lives.

At its heart, all corruption is an abuse of power; the pursuit of money or influence at the expense of society as a whole.

Worst of all, it weighs most heavily upon the world’s poorest and most powerless people.

It deepens their hardship, stifles opportunity, distorts justice and undermines development.

Where corrupt hands tear down faster than clean hands can build, escaping from the trap of poverty or conflict is much more difficult.

In my view, one of the most insidious forms of corruption and criminality in the world today is the illegal wildlife trade.

Here, criminal gangs turn vast profits from the illegal killing or capture of wildlife; armed groups and terrorists swap poached ivory for guns; and middle-men oil the wheels of the trade in return for reward.

Together they loot our planet, to feed mankind’s ignorant craving for exotic pets, trinkets, cures and ornaments derived from the world’s vanishing and irreplaceable species.

I was inspired by my grandfather and my father, who have championed international conservation for over fifty years.  They helped to bring about a revolution in attitudes towards our natural environment.

From them, I learned that our relation to nature and wildlife goes to the heart of our identity as human beings: from our sheer survival, to our appreciation of beauty and our connection to all other living things.

Seen in this light, the extinction of any of the world’s species of animals is a loss to all humanity.

But furthermore, wildlife crime goes to the heart of our security.

It recognizes neither national borders nor national interests. It distorts economic development, undermines the rule of law and fuels sources of conflict. Unchecked, it can be a factor in the spread of infectious diseases, with a devastating toll.

The illegal trade threatens to wipe out the natural endowment of affected nations by depriving future generations of their heritage, and of their right to develop those resources in legitimate ways.

Indeed, it suits traffickers that areas rich in natural resources remain under-developed or conflict-ridden, so that they can go on plundering without restriction.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is wrong that children growing up in countries vulnerable to wildlife crime are losing their birthright in order to fuel the greed of international criminals, and that those children will face greater hardship and insecurity as this crime traps them in poverty.

For within the last decade, the illegal wildlife trade has mutated from low-level, opportunistic crime to large-scale activity by international criminal networks.

The trade is only exceeded in value by the illegal market for drugs, arms and trafficked human beings, and generates as much as 20 billion dollars a year in illegal profits - profits which are used to fund organized criminal networks and non-state armed groups. I don't need to tell you that this holds alarming implications for our global security. And this trade is on the rise.

According to INTERPOL, recent seizures of illegal wildlife products are the largest ever seen. In 2011, the 17 largest seizures by customs officials netted a staggering 27,000 kilograms of ivory - equivalent to the tusks of at least 3,000 elephants.

As these figures suggest, traffickers are taking advantage of globalisation, hiding within the huge flows of goods across borders and exploiting technology - from helicopters and precision weapons to the borderless market of the internet.

As wildlife crime has become more organised and more sophisticated requiring specialised skills, it has become even more brutal.  More than 1,000 rangers have been killed over the last ten years.  That is, on average, two rangers dying every week, for a decade.

As rare animal populations are shrinking, demand is surging, with the perverse effect of making trafficked wildlife more valuable.

Some endangered species are now literally worth more than their weight in gold, which makes it even harder for governments and international bodies to counter this trade. For example, according to some reports, in China and South East Asia the wholesale street price of ivory has increased from $5 to $2100 per kilogram in 25 years. And this is reflected in increases in poaching.

In South Africa, the number of rhinos killed by poachers in 2007 was 13. In 2012, it was more than 600.  In 2013, more than 20,000 elephants were killed on the African continent, with numbers poached now exceeding the rate of births. And there are now only 3,200 tigers left in the wild.  I could go on.

The cumulative effect of wildlife crime is shocking. The abundance of the world’s species has decreased by almost a third over the last 100 years.  This hugely impoverishes all of us.

We need new efforts to drive wildlife trafficking from our lands, our seas, and our skies. And time is not on our side.

Over the last two years, through The Royal Foundation, we have brought together seven of the world's preeminent conservation organisations into a new collaboration entitled United for Wildlife, of which I am proud to be President.

We work alongside others in a wide range of areas: from the protection of endangered species through anti-poaching programmes, to projects to reduce demand for wildlife products, efforts to strengthen legal systems, and support for local communities.

But increasingly, our work has highlighted the desperate need for international cooperation to combat trafficking itself.

Last year, the Royal Foundation commissioned a report from the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC. It showed that even though national law enforcement is improving and shipments are being seized, loopholes and shifting trade patterns mean that the volume of the trade has not diminished substantially.

The report brought to life the hidden routes and means of wildlife trafficking - from small-scale smuggling in suitcases to vast shipments via plane or container freight companies.

It revealed that private sector actors are often ignorant of the role they play in the trade chain.  A rhino tusk sawn off in East Africa ends up in the hands of consumers thousands of miles away in Europe, America or Asia, often having crossed multiple borders, without the knowledge of those transporting them.

If we are to crack down on wildlife crime, this trade must be stifled.

So I am very pleased to say that, under the auspices of United for Wildlife, a taskforce is to be formed, specifically designed to work with the transport industry - from airlines to shipping lines - to examine its role in the illegal wildlife trade and identify means by which the sector can break the chain between suppliers and consumers.

The task force will bring together key partners and representatives of the transport sector, underpinned by expert legal advice.

It will draw together existing evidence and information about the illegal wildlife trade, identify gaps in knowledge, and commission research to plug those gaps.

The taskforce will call on companies to implement a “zero tolerance” policy towards the trade. Criminals are able to exploit weak and corrupt standards, so we must raise those standards, collectively.

I am delighted that William Hague, the former British Foreign Secretary and chair of the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade held earlier this year, is here today and has agreed to chair an international taskforce.

Within a year, the taskforce will work with the transport industry to develop recommendations for how it can play its part in shutting down wildlife trafficking trade routes; with the sole intention that the implementation of these recommendations will lead to a tangible and significant reduction in the illegal wildlife trade.

Cooperation is our greatest weapon against the poachers and traffickers who rely on evading individual national initiatives. By taking a truly international approach, we can get one step ahead of them.

Our collective goal must be to reduce the wildlife trade by making it harder: denying traffickers access to transportation, putting up barriers to their illegal activities, and holding people accountable for their actions. Those who look the other way, or spend the illicit proceeds of these crimes, must be held to account.

Some people may say that this is an impossibly difficult task. It is true that like any organised crime, the illegal wildlife trade is a many-headed hydra. Tackling it will be a complex challenge.

But complexity brings out the best in human ingenuity. Here in America, for example, is the groundbreaking Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory, the world’s only science lab devoted to crimes against wildlife, capable of extracting DNA from trafficked goods which can be used to trace the traffickers.  Another highly commendable example is in China, where the Government working in partnership with local NGOs is successfully curbing the trade in shark fins.

There is also great potential in the application of data analytics to model and predict trade flows.

Furthermore, recent research on behalf of Born Free USA shows there is a relative concentration of transit points along the supply chain from Africa to Asian consumer markets. The bulk of the trade may involve as few as 100-200 shipping containers a year, 10 “chokepoint” transhipment ports, and three airports.  If we can identify those transit points, enforce regulation and cooperate with the private sector then we can begin to clamp down on illegal wildlife trafficking.

Some members of the private sector are already leading the way. Air New Zealand recently set an important precedent on the transport of wildlife parts by banning the carriage of all shark fins on its planes - whether or not it was legally obtained. Many other airlines followed their lead, and although this was perhaps a simpler ban to implement as all shark fins require a permit, it does demonstrate the powerful role that the private sector can play in interrupting the supply chain, if they choose to do so.

In criminal justice, INTERPOL recently issued a list of nine fugitives most wanted for environmental crime, spearheading a stronger institutional response to wildlife crime.

The taskforce will build on these positive developments to encourage global action to shatter the illegal wildlife trade.

As we consider the growing threat to wildlife, the corrosive impact of the trade on human dignity and development worldwide, and all the means we have at our disposal to combat it, we should be utterly determined to see this goal through to success.

You are all experts and senior policy-makers in this field, and today I make a plea for your support.

I am determined not to let the world´s children grow up on a planet where our most iconic and endangered species have been wiped out.

I hope you will join me.

Thank you.

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