OPINION: Taking hands to fight illegal wildlife trade

Ashleigh Dore

At the end of this week, in London, government representatives and NGOs will come together in joint commitment to tackle illegal wildlife crimes, specifically illegal wildlife trade.

Illegal wildlife trade is one of the greatest threats faced by species globally. In South Africa, nothing makes this point clearer than the rhino poaching we have experienced since 2008 to supply the illegal market with rhino horn. This is but one of the species targeted, and the effects have been devastating.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust's (EWT) Wildlife in Trade Programme (WITP) is committed to tackling illegal wildlife trade, undertaking various diverse initiatives to reduce trade-related threats that negatively affect the survival of wild animals and plants.

We welcome conferences such as the upcoming 2018 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade and those that came before it (held in London, Kasane, and Hanoi), as they provide valuable platforms to strengthen partnerships, share information and reaffirm commitments to tackle illegal wildlife trade.

Reflecting on past conferences, we hope that this conference will provide key opportunities to address the most pertinent illegal wildlife trade issues including, but by no means limited to, addressing corruption, tackling illegal wildlife trade as a serious organised crime, and influencing consumer markets to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products.

The 2018 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade will focus on three themes:

1.      Tackling illegal wildlife trade as a serious organised crime: strengthening end-to-end law enforcement and addressing associated corruption;

2.      Building coalitions: engaging the private sector, NGOs and academia, and harnessing technology and innovation; and

3.      Closing markets for illegally traded wildlife.

These themes address some of the key issues currently faced in combatting illegal wildlife trade, such as taking an "end-to-end approach", recognising that capacity and awareness raising need to be built at all levels, from law enforcement to prosecutors to the judiciary.

Another key issue is to build constructive coalitions. The EWT notes and welcomes the specific mention of building coalitions with NGOs to combat illegal wildlife trade. This position is incorporated in South Africa's National Integrated Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking and is wholly supported by the EWT; we are stronger working together towards the same goal.

The EWT previously partnered with the British High Commission (BHC) on a project aimed at empowering local officials and villagers who are seriously impacted by non-reporting and commission of wildlife crimes, in Hluvukani village, which borders the Kruger National Park. Earlier this year, the EWT also worked with the BHC to convene a regional prosecutor's workshop, aimed at enabling a networking opportunity among key stakeholders to discuss issues related to capacity building and regional harmony. This is a partnership that we aim to uphold and maintain, in line with the conference theme of "building coalitions".

The EWT welcomed the opportunity extended by the conference organisers to submit pledges. The EWT submitted such a pledge – and extends the opportunity to you to take the same. This pledge is in connection with the EWT's Wild 'n Free Project, which strives to keep carnivores in their natural, wild habitats. The pledge is: "I pledge to keep our carnivores Wild 'n Free by not petting, walking, feeding or taking selfies with them. I promise to be an ambassador for this cause and encourage others not to support any organisation that promotes any of these activities."

It is our hope that this conference will showcase best practices, which can be adapted and adopted to tackle illegal wildlife crimes globally, and that in the wake of the conference coalitions of governmental and non-governmental actors will stand united in efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade.

- Dore is programme manager of the Wildlife in Trade Programme at the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

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