Caption: London Conference on The Illegal Wildlife Trade, Group photo of the London Conference on The Illegal Wildlife Trade, 13 February 2014.
Forty-six countries on Thursday agreed a declaration to tackle the illegal wildlife trade that is killing thousands of elephants, rhinos and other endangered species each year.
The foreign secretary, William Hague, said he believed that the unprecedented high-level event in London would turn out to be a historic conference and a turning point in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade, which is worth up to £12bn a year and is rated as the fourth most valuable to crime after human trafficking, the arms trade and drugs.
The London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade, was held at Lancaster House, and attended by the Prince of Wales, and his sons, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, four African heads of state, and a flurry of celebrities speaking out against poaching, including the action film star Jackie Chan, the footballer David Beckham, and the former NBA basketballer Yao Ming.
People in China, the world’s biggest market for ivory, had turned against ivory products in the past five years, Chan suggested. He compared the generational change in Chinese views on ivory consumption to the shift that had taken place in younger Chinese people against smoking.
The 13-page London declaration, which was agreed at the meeting, describes the trade as having “significant scale and detrimental economic, social and environmental consequences”.
The countries at the meeting agreed to a series of actions, including addressing corruption, adopting legislation for tougher penalties against poachers, and recruiting more law enforcement officers.
Hague singled out as significant the promise in the declaration that governments would not procure wildlife products officially. “I believe today we have begun to turn the tide.”
Demand from an increasingly affluent Asian middle class, in particular in China and Vietnam, has driven the price of rhino horn to more than $60,000 (£36,000) a kilo – an amount that is more than the value put on gold and cocaine. Ivory has been selling at $2,000 a kilo.
A study this week showed that five countries in central Africa lost 65% of their forest elephant population between 2002 and 2011 despite an ivory sales ban in 1989. Gabon had the biggest losses.
South Africa alone lost more than 1,000 rhinos to poachers in 2013, a 50% increase on the year before, and up from just 13 of the animals in 2007.
Conservation groups welcomed the declaration, which WWF described as strong-worded, and the Environmental Investigation Agency said contained “meaningful actions”.
Prince Charles told the summit: “Today you are breaking new ground by coming together and committing – at high levels never before seen at a conference on this topic – to take urgent action to put a stop to this trade, which has become a grave threat not only to the wildlife and the people who protect them, but also to the security of so many nations.”
Prince William, who thanked Chan personally for his support of the initiative, said: “We are, as a family, so honoured to be part of this movement. We will stay the course with you until you succeed. We are here with a single shared purpose, to use our collective influence to put a stop to the illegal killing and trafficking of some our world’s most iconic and endangered species.”
Hague said the wildlife trade was not just an environmental crisis. He said: “This is now a global criminal industry, ranked alongside drugs, arms and people trafficking. It drives corruption and insecurity, and undermines efforts to cut poverty and promote sustainable development, particularly in African countries.”
Ali Bongo Ondima, the president of Gabon, one of the four African leaders attending the summit, alongside the presidents of Chad, Botswana and Tanzania, said the trade had been a national security issue that “creates safety issues and makes money for rebel organisations”.
Ethiopia, Botswana, Chad, Rwanda, and Uganda launched an elephant protection initiative at the summit. Botswana will host a follow-up high-level meeting in 2015 to discuss progress on tackling the wildlife trade.