The illegal wildlife trade gets the royal treatment

The campaign against wildlife trafficking has no dearth of celebrity support, and among its star-studded roster of activists is a member of royalty. Prince William visited the United States earlier this week on a several day, multi-event tour condemning the illegal wildlife trade.

In his first visit to Washington on Monday, he addressed the World Bank on the issue.

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.

[Wildlife crime] 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.

Prince William went on to explain that the illegal wildlife trade has “mutated” into an massive industry run by increasingly sophisticated and nefarious criminal networks. By way of evidence, he pointed to recent INTERPOL data on the seizure of illegal wildlife products, the escalating violence against rangers, and the rise in demand for wildlife products that threatens endangered species.

After highlighting loopholes in the current enforcement regime, William announced a task force to partner with the private sector (and the transport sector in particular) to “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 task force 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.

Within a year, the task force 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.

He concluded his remarks before the World Bank by asking that the international body support the task force and the policy recommendations it will ultimately offer.

While also in the U.S., Prince William met with President Obama to discuss the illegal wildlife trade and joined Chelsea and Hillary Clinton at an event for various conservation groups.

This U.S. tour wasn’t Prince William’s first foray in the fight against wildlife trafficking. Indeed, the organization responsible for the task force he announced to the World Bank is his very own United for Wildlife, which he founded in 2013. And this past February, in an early campaign as part of his newly-formed organization, he and his father Prince Charles released this video:

Some wildlife activists have been critical of Prince William’s activism however, arguing that his sport-hunting of wild boar and shooting of grouse render him a hypocritical champion for conservation. While these activities are legal and popular across Europe, his critics contend that they nonetheless muddle William’s message.

“Conservation doesn’t start with telling foreigners what to do: it starts with doing the right thing yourself.” reporter Simon Barnes said. “If you’re in a public position, you should being doing the right thing loudly and clearly. That consistency has eluded Prince William.”

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