CITES Secretary-General's address on “Global Community United to Address Wildlife and Forest Crime” - A special event at the 23rd Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Vienna, Austria

John E. Scanlon

CITES Secretary-General
13 May 2014, Vienna

Ambassadors, Executive Director Fedotov, distinguished guests, friends and colleagues.

Over the past few years we have witnessed a serious spike in the scale, and a change in the nature of, wildlife and forest crime: 

  • In Africa, close to twenty five thousand elephants are being poached each year.
  • Over one thousand rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa last year – the most ever poached in a single year.
  • And illegally-harvested timber is being smuggled out of Madagascar at unprecedented levels.
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Wildlife and forest crime is one of the most lucrative criminal activities worldwide and transnational organized criminals are deeply involved in it.

These crimes are having a devastating effect on our wildlife – threatening the survival of many species, from charismatic mega-fauna to lesser-known plants and animals.

And they are also destroying the natural resources on which many national economies – and the livelihoods of rural communities – depend.

These consequences are hardest felt by developing countries that are the source of many illicitly-traded wildlife products – and it is undermining their efforts to eradicate poverty and develop sustainable economic opportunities for their people.

Yet, encouragingly, we have also seen strong statements made and bold action taken as the understanding of these impacts on people and on wildlife has grown:

  • In 2012, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development explicitly recognized the economic, social and environmental impacts of illicit trafficking in wildlife.
  • Last year the UN Crime Commission adopted a draft Resolution encouraging States to make illicit trafficking in wild fauna and flora involving organized crime groups a serious crime, which has since been adopted by ECOSOC.
  • And last year also saw the UN Security Council adopt Resolutions on sanctions targeting armed groups in Central Africa financed by activities such as poaching and wildlife trafficking.

We have also seen significant high-level political support to combat these crimes, such as through the CITES Conference of the Parties in 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand, and several recent high-level political events, including in Botswana and the United Kingdom.

There has clearly been a global awakening at all political levels and across multiple agencies as to the severity, and breadth, of the impacts of these devastating crimes.

We know the scale and nature of the risk, we know what needs to be done, we have the political momentum, and we must get on and do it and in quick time.

And bold action is being taken, across the entire enforcement chain and illegal supply chain. Source, transit and destination States are working together to bring this illicit activity to an end such as through:

  • The implementation of the ICCWC Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytic Toolkit which is being rolled out in seven countries,
  • The completion of Operation Cobra II, a coordinated enforcement operation across 28 States resulting in many arrests and seizures,
  • And the training of enforcement officers in techniques not previously used in wildlife enforcement, such as controlled deliveries, anti-money-laundering tools and forensic analysis.

It is only by persisting with efforts such as these – and by continuing to work together to build support and investment to combat wildlife and forest crime – that we can stop this wanton destruction of the world’s natural and cultural heritage.

I would like to recognize and sincerely thank the European Union as a sponsor of this special event, as well as our good friends and colleagues at UNODC for hosting it, and in particular Executive Director Fedotov whose personal commitment to these issues is an inspiration to all of us.

I thank you and wish you well for today’s special event.


See more: As crime commission opens, UN official urges vigorous response to wildlife crime