The last 2 weeks has seen a lot of coverage of Cecil the Lion’s demise in Zimbabwe. Conservation and hunting have had an uneasy relationship for decades though perhaps what some of the recent uproar may tell us is that the general public were largely unaware of this relationship. . We’re not going to rehash the argument for and against here but here is a good article from Professor David Macdonald, ex-Chair of the Darwin Expert Committee whose tag was on Cecil the Lion.
David has led numerous Darwin projects over the years including this project in Zimbabwe which was looking at offtake levels of Leopards to support the development of a National Leopard Management Strategy. For more details of David’s projects see the Darwin website.
One issue that was regularly being confused by commentators in the last 2 weeks was the confusion between legal and illegal wildlife trade. Not all wildlife trade is illegal – wild plants and animals from tens of thousands of species are caught and harvested from the wild then sold legitimately as pets, food, ornaments, leather, medicines etc. Legal trade is determined by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, with parties responsible for controlling all imports, exports and introduction from the sea of species covered by the Convention. This can range from the pretty fish in your aquarium to the leather on your shoes.
Illegal wildlife trade, often discussed as poaching, operates entirely outside of these legal channels. Classic examples are the poaching of elephant tusks for the ivory trade, or the trade in tiger bones for traditional medicine. The bad news is that unlike big game hunting, illegal wildlife trade is pervasive in our society – sometimes even in plain sight as highlighted by recent articles highlighting the volume of ivory that is traded by Ebay.
As well as the devastating consequences for biodiversity and the environment, illegal wildlife trade is a serious criminal industry worth billions of pounds, which damages local communities and undermines sustainable development. There is evidence that illegal wildlife trafficking is funding organised crime including terrorism. In 2014, the UN and Interpol released a report that suggested that illegal wildlife trade worth up to $213 billion dollars a year is funding organised crime.
Also in 2014 the UK Government hosted the London Conference which brought together global leaders to discuss and agree ways to help eradicate illegal wildlife trade and better protect key species from the threat of extinction. Progress on these commitments was reviewed at a follow-up Conference in Kasane, Botswana in March 2015.
32 countries plus the EU and 9 international organisations met, and agreed the Kasane Statement. The Statement contains 15 new commitments to action on demand reduction, the legal framework for tackling money laundering linked to the illegal wildlife trade, tougher law enforcement, and involving communities in protecting their wildlife resources.
Recognising the impact illegal wildlife trade has, the UK Government launched the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) Challenge Fund in 2014. This has funded 19 projects around the world, with total funding in the region of £5 million.
Given the importance of the subject the UK government has once again announced it will be providing up to £5 million in funding to projects looking to tackle illegal wildlife trade through the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund. The Fund is open to applications until 12th October.
For more information on what the fund can support see the details here. Some of the funded projects can be viewed here as well.