Wildlife Crime

This week I visited the Born Free Foundation in Horsham, ahead of a House of Commons debate I've called on international wildlife crime.

The charity, which campaigns to stop wild animal suffering and protect threatened species, is run by Will Travers, whose parents starred in the famous film ‘Born Free'.

Our debate will be held ahead of an international conference to be hosted by the Government next week.  Its aim is to secure action to conserve endangered species by ending the global criminal trade of their parts.

The UN estimates that wildlife crime is the third most lucrative illegal trade after narcotics and human trafficking, worth a staggering $19 billion a year.

The conference will focus on protecting three of the most extraordinary animals on our planet, elephants, tigers and rhinos, all of which have seen catastrophic declines in numbers. 

In 1979, there were estimated to be 1.3 million wild elephants in Africa.  Now there are fewer than 400,000.  Three of the nine known species of tiger became extinct during the 1980s and there may be just 3,400 left in the wild.  Around 1,000 rhinos were killed illegally in South Africa last year, up from just 13 in 2007.

The illegal trade has other serious effects.  As William Hague warned this week, evidence is emerging that the illegal ivory trade is funding terrorism and conflict in Africa.

So both policing and conservation measures are vital.  But they will not be enough.

The surge in killings is being driven, in part, by a spike in demand for traditional medicine.  Powdered rhino horn is worth $100,000 per kilo on the black market, more than gold or platinum.

Eradicating that demand, so that people understand that these products have no medicinal value, is essential.

In 2009 I warned that we needed to choke the demand for "blood ivory", not stoke it through misguided sales of ivory stockpiles.

When sales have gone ahead, poaching has only increased.  That lesson must be learned.  Last month, the Chinese Government took a lead by publicly destroying 6 tonnes of ivory, rather than selling it.  A similar ivory crush will be held in London on Monday.

I will never forget visiting the Kaziranga National Park in northern India and hearing the electrifying roar of a tiger.  It would be a tragedy if magnificent animals like these were lost from the wild.  Next week's conference offers a real chance prevent that happening.

Christopher N Howarth